The church celebrates an important Mass every year, the week before Holy Week. We call it the Chrism Mass when the local ordinary, the Bishop, blesses or consecrates the three sacred oils used in several of the sacraments. On Tuesday, April 4th, the local church of the diocese of San Jose convened at Saint Joseph Cathedral basilica with three oil bearers from each parish and mission, along with other parish representatives, the priests, and our Bishop Patrick McGrath to bless the oil of catechumens, oil of the sick and the Sacred Chrism.
Anointing is an ancient practice in the life of the church, borrowed from our Greek ancestors who often used oil to anoint the bodies of athletes before physical contests. It was seen as a sign of strength, purpose and resolve. It was also a way to prepare oneself for the upcoming contest or even battle. Our Jewish ancestors had another view. The prophets were empowered to anoint the next leader indicating that this person had God’s blessing and was an agent or instrument of God for the good of the people. The church combined these two elements, oil a sign of strength and a sign of God’s spirit for those who are to be baptized, confirmed or healed.
Preferably the church uses olive oil, a natural plant based oil for each type of oil to be blessed. After the homily the bishop prays the prayer of blessing over each oil as it is presented by the oil bearers from each parish. It is a remarkable sight to see 150 plus representatives from each parish and mission process from their seats to the area around the circular altar to present these oils, each one in turn, to the bishop for the prayer of blessing. In song and prayer he calls upon God to bless each one for the purpose they will be used: Sacred chrism to be used in Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. He prays over the Oil of the Sick specifically to be used when the church prays over any who are seriously or chronically sick, asking for God’s healing power and grace during the Anointing of the Sick Sacrament. And then blesses the Oil of Catechumens to be used indicating an unbaptized person is taking another step to move from being an inquirer to a catechumen, one who is learning and discerning their journey towards sacramental initiation.
We rely on the sacraments to offer and lead us to God’s presence and healing graces. These same oils are then presented to the parish at the beginning of the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. Each parish receives its share of oil in communion with all the other parishes and the shepherd of the local church the bishop to show that we are one church but celebrating in multiple locations the sacraments of God’s presence among us.
Please note the ambry where these oils are displayed within the sanctuary. Soon we enter into the Sacred Triduum. Let us pray together!
Blessings, Father Larry