03.jpgArchbishop Nicholas Chia to bless the oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, and the oil of chrism; priests to renew their vows at Chrism Mass.

SINGAPORE - The Mass of Chrism comes once a year to the archdiocese. If you've never celebrated it, you're missing one of the most solemn and significant liturgies of our church. The Mass is a great gathering of the whole diocesan family, with priests and people coming together from all our parishes. It is a wonderful feast of good liturgy and liturgical music.

During the Mass, Archbishop Nicholas Chia will bless the oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, and the oil of chrism. These oils are to form an important part of the sacramental life of our communities during the year.

We use the oil of catechumens for adult catechumens and infants in preparation for baptism, the oil of the sick for anointing those who seek healing and wholeness, and the sacred oil of Chrism for post-baptismal anointing, confirmation, the ordination of priests, and the consecration of altars. The three oils are basically olive oil, yet to the sacred Chrism is added balsam or oil of flowers which fills the air with the scent of sweet perfume. One early church writer described the perfume of Chrism as "the Easter aroma, God's grace incarnate through the sense of smell!" Bishops have blessed oil from the days of the early church.

They baptized catechumens at the Great Easter Vigil and prepared Sacred Chrism fresh for the occasion. Later on, rather than overburdening the Easter Vigil with the blessing of oils, bishops blessed these oils at the previous celebration of Mass on Holy Thursday. After this celebration vessels of oil were then taken to all churches in the diocese. In Rome the one Mass of Holy Thursday served for the commemoration of the Lord's Supper and the blessing of oils.

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By the 13th century, the priests gathered for the liturgy were invited to join in the prayers of blessing with the bishop. With relatively minor adjustments, the liturgy remained the same through to the 20th century. In 1955 the rites of Holy Week were revised for the universal church.

The celebration of Holy Thursday became marked by two separate Masses, one in the morning for Chrism, the other in the evening for the Lord's Supper.

Only the bishop may consecrate the Sacred Chrism; therefore in a very special way the Chrism Mass highlights his ministry and our union with him.

The bishop is not able to baptize and confirm everyone in the parishes of the diocese, but his ministry is symbolically present in the chrism which the priests will use. Also in recent years, this Mass has also acknowledged the ministry of priests. It invites them to renew their commitment of service and to receive the prayers and support of the people.

The Mass of Chrism gathers the faithful of the diocese with their shepherd to prepare for celebrations of Christ in all our churches throughout the year. The holy oils are then solemnly received into our parishes during the Mass of the Lord's Supper or at another suitable time. The oils are placed in noble and dignified containers and stored near to the baptismal font in an ambry - a wall safe, often with a glazed door so that they are visible to the community.

Through the liturgy of the church, Christ acts to strengthen and protect, to heal and restore, to set apart and seal for ministry. The Chrism Mass serves to open up these realities to the community of faith.

(Adapted from an article by Michael Fountaine, Director, Clifton Diocese Department for Liturgy)

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