Chrism Mass Conundrum, or, Order of Oils

Without going into the complex history of the Chrism Mass or Mass of the Oils, and leaving aside the two options of when to bless the oils (Oil of the Sick during the Eucharistic Prayer, Oil of Catechumens and Oil of Chrism after Communion, or all three together after the Liturgy of the Word), I am sure others with diocesan responsibilities have noticed some oddities in the way things unfold in this rite.

In the preconciliar rite, the oils were received and blessed in the following order:
1. The Oil of the Sick, announced and blessed during the Canon of the Mass
2. The Oil of Chrism, and
3. The Oil of Catechumens
both blessed after Communion

In the 1970 postconciliar rite, continued in the 2016 re-translation, we find this:

The oils are processed in the following order (leaving aside the balsam, which precedes the oils if the bishop wants to do his own mixing during the rite):

1. The Oil of Catechumens
2. The Oil of the Sick
3. The Oil of Chrism

The oils are then announced and received, but in a different order:

1. The Oil of Chrism
2. The Oil of the Sick
3. The Oil of Catechumens

The oils are blessed in a different order again:

1. The Oil of the Sick
2. The Oil of Catechumens
3. The Oil of Chrism

Finally, at the end of the service the oils are processed out again, but no order of procession is given. Some commentators have suggested that the order be the same as the order in which they entered, namely:

1. The Oil of Catechumens
2. The Oil of the Sick
3. The Oil of Chrism

These variations seem inexplicable, and the rite provides no rationale for them. The “tradition” handed down said that the reason the Oil of the Sick was blessed ahead of the others was because it might be needed at any moment, and was therefore more urgent than the other two.

In case anyone is wondering, the aborted 1998 Sacramentary has a further variation:

Procession: as above —
1. The Oil of Catechumens
2. The Oil of the Sick
3. The Oil of Chrism
Announcement and Reception: same as the procession
1. The Oil of Catechumens
2. The Oil of the Sick
3. The Oil of Chrism
Blessing: as above —
1. The Oil of the Sick
2. The Oil of Catechumens
3. The Oil of Chrism

Surely the logical thing to do — and in fact many dioceses do precisely this — would be to process and announce the oils in the same order in which they will be blessed:
1. The Oil of the Sick
2. The Oil of Catechumens
3. The Oil of Chrism.

The alternative is to be constantly referring to your list to check the order at every stage, since they are all different.

Furthermore, a number of hymn and chant texts are available to accompany the procession of the oils. Unlike O Redemptor, which concentrates only on the Oil of Chrism, they treat the different oils and their attributes in the same order in which they will be blessed.

Perhaps someone reading these lines will have an insight as to why all this, at least on the surface, is an example of what seems a needless complication. “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; […] they should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation.” (SC 34)

2 comments

  1. Others may see differently, but the rationale to me appears to be this:

    Oils are processed in the normal order of hierarchy with the most significant coming last – Catechumens, Sick, Chrism.

    They are announced in the same order of hierarchy, with the most significant first – Chrism, Sick, Catechumens.

    The order of blessing seems to be determined by their relative placement in the rite. Because the Sick can be blessed within the Eucharistic Prayer, it is placed first. Then the other two. It prevents having two different orders of blessing depending on whether the blessing takes place after the Liturgy of the Word or not.

    1. I noticed this once, too. I came to a similar understanding as Joshua on the switching of the order.

      A better choice, though, would be to bless only Chrism at the Mass and to change the orations to remove the split-foci of “anointing” and “clericalism circus.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.