Holy Thursday morning is a celebration of the sacraments of Holy Orders and the Eucharist. Uniquely, the Chrism Mass is celebrated by the local bishop in their own cathedral, with priest and deacons in attendance. The celebration of the Eucharist, with the local bishop is the only liturgy of the day, catholic parishes have no Masses celebrated in order for the clergy to commemorate the institution of Holy Orders by Christ. Even the vestments reflect the celebratory nature of the liturgy. The purple, that has been the color of the Lenten season is cast aside and white is now worn indicating both celebration and joy.
Traditionally during the Chrism Mass, the local bishop blesses the Holy Oils that are used throughout his diocese for the next year. The Oil of the Sick, Oil of the Catechumens and finally, Sacred Chrism are consecrated for their use during the administration of Baptism, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Orders.
The use of oil in the sacrament of Baptism is recorded by Saint Hippolytus in the Apostolic Tradition. He refers to the use of this oil as the oil of thanksgiving. In Baptism, the newly baptized becomes a member of the Body of Christ and also assumes the threefold identity of Priest, Prophet and King in reflection of Christ who is the ultimate Priest, Prophet and King.
The oil used in Confirmation is Sacred Chrism and it affirms and seals the Catholic faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. The confirming bishop, uses the formula, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” when anointing the forehead of the confirmandi. In the sacrament of Confirmation, the Sacraments of Initiation are completed and those now confirmed are fully initiated into the Catholic Church.
Sacred Chrism is used to anoint the hands of priests as part of the ordination ritual. It is also used in the ordination of a bishop and is poured over the new bishop’s head. Holy Chrism recalls that priests, prophets and kings in the Old Testament were sanctified with oil before they began their sacred roles. Sacred Chrism, is made different in two ways. It is mixed with fragrant perfume to signify it’s important use in the Sacraments, and the Bishop breathes over the oil to call down the Holy Spirit to sanctify the oil. The priests present also extend their right arms and share in the invocation to consecrate the chrism as an essential sign of God’s presence through the sacraments in which Sacred Chrism is used. This too is true today, as bishops and priests marked with Sacred Chrism are commissioned for ministry in the universal Church.
The oil of the sick, or infirmed is blessed at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday morning and this oil is used in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. It is intended to be healing and therapeutic in its application on the forehead of one that is ill. Most importantly, this oil is used to invoke God’s healing power and His mercy to all of his faithful people that are incapacitated either through a physical, mental or spiritual malady.
Effectively, the Chrism Mass ends the liturgical season of Lent. The Church on Holy Thursday morning casts off the robes of prayer and penance and celebrates Her sacraments. It is also a preparatory period because in the evening the Sacred Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. During this liturgy, the Church reenacts the dramatic events of Christ’s experience of suffering, death and ultimately His resurrection at Easter. Tonight, we recall the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the great journey that Jesus begins which fulfills the Paschal Mystery we celebrate each year. Christ had died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.
We are entering sacred time on Holy Thursday as we celebrate our faith as it has been handed on from Christ at the Last Supper to the Apostles in an unbroken tradition of beliefs in our faith. Enter into this sacred celebration and experience the mystery of Christ’s love in the Sacred Triduum.