I Went to the Chrism Mass!

I have a Ritual Mass Bucket List. Before I am called into the Heavenly Liturgy, I hope to attend as many different ritual Masses here on Earth as I can, and this week, I got to cross another off my list: the Chrism Mass. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a Chrism Mass until a few years ago, and thus I shouldn't have been surprised that a majority of the people I excitedly told about it replied "The what? What's a Chrism Mass?" So, forgive me if I now make the opposite mistake and tell you all about it.

The Chrism Mass is a special Ritual Mass that is supposed to be celebrated on the morning of Holy Thursday (but for pastoral reasons may be held earlier in Holy Week), at the cathedral, by the bishop. Priests of the diocese attend*, fully vested, in order to commemorate the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Orders by renewing their priestly vows in the same way that we the faithful renew our baptismal promises at the Easter Vigil. The evening Mass, the Mass of the Lord's Supper, is then celebrated to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist, and neither Incredibly Important Event gets upstaged. Also at the Chrism Mass, the bishop blesses all of the oils that will be used in the administration of the sacraments in the diocese for the entire year, and the priests bring them home. Since these oils can only be used by priests exercising their office, this shines a spotlight on the function and importance of priests to the church.

Being celebrated in the cathedral, by the bishop, this Mass certainly has a sense of elevated dignity. Though our cathedral is monstrously ugly, it was certainly impressive, and did manage to aid in conveying a sense of the importance of what happened there. Our archdiocese is huge; it took a full 30 minutes for the procession to finish, with at least a hundred deacons with their wives, and hundreds of priests in ranks four across, plus a handful of auxiliary bishops (including my favourite bishop), a thurifer carrying a thurible the size of a stockpot, servers with candles, and the Archbishop himself. The music was well performed, and it was stirring to hear pretty much everyone (meaning about 2500 people) singing together, supported by a skillfully played pipe organ bigger than my first apartment. (Yes, I would have chosen different songs, but whatever.)

Anyway, it was pretty neat. I felt like I got to participate in the priesthood of my church for a little while, in a limited capacity. I do like it when the texts of the Mass emphasize the priesthood of the entire church. It seems to me that that is the defining property of the post-Vatican-II era. We have still not perfected the art of exercising this privilege, either by performing to our full capacity or by staying within our limits, but the Chrism Mass certainly helped my perspective on priesthood a good deal. I want to go again!

And speaking of bucket lists, performing music in a cathedral liturgy just got added on to the bottom...

*(I went because our pastor was too sick to attend, and our associate pastor was consequently too overworked for the trip into Los Angeles, so I attended as our parish representative, and had the privilege of fetching the oils for our parish. Please pray for the health of our pastor.)


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