Chrism Mass signifies the church’s unity

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz consecrated the sacred Chrism at the 2016 Chrism Mass. The Chrism is flanked by the oil of the sick and the oil of catechumens. The three oils are used to administer the sacraments at the 110 parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville. Afterward, behind the scenes, the Office of Worship bottles and distributes the oil to parishes in time for Holy Week services. (Record File Photo by Marnie McAllister)

By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor

In the first part of Holy Week, on March 27, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz will bless and consecrate three decanters of olive oil. The oils will be distributed to all of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s 110 parishes and used to administer the sacraments in the coming year.

Check out the guide — “Chrism Mass: What’s it oil about?”

All people of the archdiocese are encouraged to participate in this liturgy, called the Chrism Mass. The annual Mass is meant to be a sign of unity in the archdiocese, said Archbishop Kurtz, who will preside. It will begin at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. Fifth Street.

The Chrism Mass is packed with symbolism and rituals that are easy to overlook. 

The liturgy begins like most Eucharistic celebrations, but after the liturgy of the Word, the presbyterate — all priests of the archdiocese able to attend — renew the promises they made at ordination.

Less than a week later, on Easter, all Catholics will renew their baptismal promises.

Renewal is a central theme of the Chrism Mass, said Archbishop Kurtz in an interview about the Mass last week.

The Catholic faithful — clergy, religious and the laity alike — need opportunities to rekindle and renew their sense of the sacred, he said.

“In the routine of what we’re doing, there’s a freshness that needs to come,” he said. “There is a grace that stirs us” at the Chrism Mass.

As Catholics, members of the universal church, we ought not to seek renewal alone, he noted.

“It’s difficult to do that alone. When we are isolated and try to do that on our own, it becomes burdensome,” he said.

“The true character of the Chrism Mass ought to bring together 110 parishes,” he said. “Anytime someone is anointed throughout the year, the oil is a bond of communion in Christ.”

The church uses olive oil because of its prominence throughout Scripture, said Dr. Karen Shadle, director the archdiocese’s Office of Worship. The Office of Worship is responsible for preparing the Chrism Mass and other archdiocesan liturgies. In Scripture, olive oil was used for cooking, as fuel, for beauty and also was prominent in the spiritual lives of the Jewish people and early Christians, she noted. Olive oil is also a staple in many kitchens in the United States today. But if olive oil is unavailable, any plant-based oil is permitted, Shadle said.

Archbishop Kurtz prepares the oils for parishes by blessing the oil of the sick and the oil of catechumens and by consecrating the Sacred Chrism.

The oils are brought forth by people whose ministry is connected to one of the oils. Ministers to the sick present olive oil to the archbishop that will be used for anointing the sick.

Catechists and others who serve in formation carry oil to be blessed as the oil of catechumens. It will be used in infant baptisms and the sacraments of initiation of adults.

Finally, oil for the chrism is carried by a deacon. The archbishop stirs balsam — a fragrant plant-based resin — into the oil before he consecrates it. Sacred Chrism is used for baptism, confirmation, the ordination of priests and the dedication of altars and churches.

“The oils will be lavishly spread throughout the archdiocese throughout the whole year,” the archbishop added. And like the oil, the service of priests — fortified by a renewal of their promises — “will be lavishly spread throughout the Archdiocese of Louisville,” he said.

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