Bishop Douglas Crosby, centre, presided over the service for the Mass of Chrism at Hamilton’s Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King on April 15 to begin Holy Week. The liturgy was attended by people representing all segments of the Catholic population. Photo courtesy the Diocese of Hamilton

The Mass of Chrism

By  Monsignor Murray J. Kroetsch, PH
  • April 25, 2019

In the Diocese of Hamilton, the annual celebration of the Mass of Chrism takes place at the Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King on Monday of Holy Week. 

It is a high point in the liturgical life of the diocese, for it is a celebration in which the whole Church is gathered around the altar to celebrate the Eucharist. The bishop, together with the priests, deacons, consecrated religious, lay faithful and members of the Elect, who will be initiated into the sacramental life of the Church at Easter, all come together for this celebration of the Eucharist.

On April 15, Bishop Douglas Crosby, OMI, presided over this year’s Mass of Chrism.  As usual, the Cathedral Basilica was packed to overflowing with people representing the 118 parishes and 28 missions, which make up the Diocese of Hamilton. Almost 200 priests concelebrated the Mass. 

Among the principal concelebrants were Bishop Anthony Tonnos, Emeritus Bishop of Hamilton, and Bishop Matthew Ustrzycki, Emeritus Auxiliary Bishop of Hamilton, who this year celebrates the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Principal concelebrants also included the members of the Episcopal Board and priests celebrating 25th and 50th anniversaries of ordination. In keeping with a longstanding tradition, those who exercised liturgical ministries during the Mass of Chrism represented the parishes throughout the diocese where the jubilarians currently serve or have served in the past. The Diocesan Choir, consisting of singers from several parishes, led the music for the celebration.

One of the unique features of this year’s Mass of Chrism was the proclamation of the second reading of the Mass in sign language, a way of recognizing the deaf community whose members participate regularly in the Chrism Mass.      

Since 1970, at the request of Pope St. Paul VI, one of the important elements of the Mass of Chrism has been the renewal of commitment to priestly service. Following the homily in which Bishop Crosby reminded all present of Jesus’ mission and ours to be the sign of God’s love and mercy to the little ones, he called upon all priests present to renew the promises they made at their ordination.

He invited them to be united with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and to serve God’s people willingly and joyfully, prompted by their love of the Lord. The priests were also invited to renew their resolve to be united with the bishop as stewards of the mysteries of God, celebrating the Eucharist and carrying out their office of teaching solely out of zeal for the salvation of God’s people. 

Following the priests’ renewal of commitment, Bishop Crosby called upon the assembly to pray for their priests and to pray for himself, that he might be “a living and more perfect image of Christ, the Priest, the Good Shepherd, the Teacher and Servant of all.”

This renewal of commitment to priestly service, coming as it does at the conclusion of the Lenten season of conversion and renewal, is a powerful experience for both the priests and all present. 

Not only do priests affirm the promises they made at their ordination; they also call to mind with gratitude the privileged vocation which is theirs to act in the person of Christ on behalf of God’s people. In solidarity with the bishop and their brother priests, the joy and enthusiasm they experienced on the day of their ordination is rekindled. 

For the members of the assembly, the renewal of commitment to priestly service is always a powerful reminder of the ways that God has been present to them through the ministry of priests, who have celebrated the sacraments with them, and who have taught them and accompanied them at significant moments in their lives. 

The central feature of the Mass of Chrism is, of course, the blessing of oils and the consecration of oil for Sacred Chrism. Since at least the seventh century it has been customary for the bishop to consecrate oil for Sacred Chrism at a Mass celebrated on Holy Thursday morning just before the beginning of the Easter Triduum. This was done so that there would be fresh oil for use in the sacraments of Christian Initiation at the Easter Vigil. 

As in many other dioceses in Canada, the Mass of Chrism has more recently been celebrated earlier in Holy Week and at a time when many of the faithful can participate. 

This year the oils for blessing and consecration were presented by the three men who will be ordained priests for service in the Diocese of Hamilton in May. Each of these deacons was accompanied by representatives from parishes throughout the diocese for whom the oils have special significance at this time.

The first oil to be blessed was the Oil of the Sick. It was presented by Deacon Gregory Merkley, who was accompanied by Cleary Percy, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Burlington. Mr. Percy has recently been anointed with the Oil of the Sick and strengthened through this holy anointing.  As the oil was presented to the bishop, the choir sang: “Christ, our healer, in your mercy raise us up and make us whole; bless this oil to bring your people health of body, peace of soul.”

The second oil to be blessed was the Oil of Catechumens. It was presented by Deacon Vivek Trindade. He was accompanied by Lindsay and Tyler Gore and their children, Olivia and Brielle, from St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Waterdown. 

They will be anointed with the Oil of Catechumens and strengthened in preparation for their baptisms during the Easter feast this year. As this oil was presented to the bishop, the choir sang: “Christ our leader, single handed you have brought us victory; bless this oil to keep your people strong and watchful, bold and free.”

Finally, oil was presented for Sacred Chrism. It was presented by Deacon John Schnurr.  Accompanying him with the balsam, a scented oil derived from the fir tree, was Noah Tamburello, who will be anointed with Chrism when he is confirmed during Easter week at St. Basil Parish, Brantford. As this oil and balsam was presented to the bishop, the choir sang: “Christ, our king, our priest, our prophet, sealed as God’s beloved Son, with your chrism you anoint your people.  Make them holy, keep them true.” 

After mixing the balsam with the olive oil, Bishop Crosby breathed on the oil, recalling the breath of the Spirit which, in the beginning, brought to life all creation. All who are anointed with Sacred Chrism receive a share in the life and mission of Christ. In the solemn prayer which follows, the bishop, in union with the priests of the diocese, prayed with hands extended over the oil, asking God that those anointed with this oil may be united with Christ and may receive eternal life.   

All of the oils blessed during this year’s Mass of Chrism will be used during the coming year in parishes throughout the diocese for the celebration of the sacraments. 

Anointed with the Oil of the Sick, the infirm are forgiven their sins and restored to health; they are given strength to bear their sufferings in union with Christ. Anointed with the Oil of Catechumens, those preparing for Christian Initiation are strengthened to turn away from sin and deepen their resolve to know Christ. Anointed with Sacred Chrism, the faithful share in the life of Christ, the Anointed One, and are sealed with God’s Spirit for witness and service.

It is significant that the priests, the ministers of the sacraments, are united with the bishop as he blesses the oils and consecrates the Sacred Chrism. It is also profoundly meaningful for many of the faithful to be united in prayer with their bishop and priests for the blessing and consecration of oils through which the saving power of God will be communicated to them in the sacraments.

The annual Mass of Chrism is a truly wonderful celebration, all members of the Church gathered together in prayer, one heart and soul, with their bishop at the Table of the Eucharist. It is a great prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of the sacraments by which Christ, through the ministry of priests, nourishes and strengthens all members of the Church. 

If you missed this year’s celebration, plan to join us next year!

(Monsignor Murray J. Kroetsch, PH, is Vicar General and Chancellor of the Diocese of Hamilton.)


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