The Chrism Mass, a profoundly sacred liturgy, with roots in antiquity and hopes in eternity, was celebrated at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral in Anchorage on March 16.
Sacramental oils, used throughout the 138,000 square mile Anchorage Archdiocese were blessed by Archbishop Schwietz at the annual Mass. Two-dozen priests gathered with the archbishop and Bishop Renato Mayugba, visiting from Laoag Diocese in the Philippines. The clergy renewed their commitment to the priesthood and loyalty to the archbishop — an integral part of the ancient liturgy.
The full church resonated with music, and incense filled the air as altar servers, deacons, priests and the archbishop entered the church in solemn procession. In his opening prayer, Archbishop Schwietz explained the dual purpose of the unique liturgy.
“Chrism Mass is one of the principal expressions of the fullness of the ministry of Christ in this local church,” he said.
Chrism, from the Greek word chrisma — meaning ointment — is one of the three holy oils consecrated during the Mass. The others are the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Infirm. Together these three sacramental oils are used in parishes throughout the year during the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders, as well as the consecration of churches, altars, chalices and other sacred items. They are also used to anoint the sick and dying
As the worship aid for the liturgy stated, “God’s gift of oil, made from the fruits of the earth has been an essential part of human history.” Used for cooking and fuel, it is also a salve, which soothes and strengthens. “Oil has been used to designate a change in the relationship of a person within the community.”
The First Reading from Isaiah exemplified this change: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me…to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”
The Second Reading from Revelation, addressed to the seven churches in Asia, recalled that the sacraments are, as Archbishop Schwietz said, “the means of establishing, strengthening and manifesting ecclesial communion.” That communion extends back to the earliest years of the Christian faith. Early church councils set chrism apart for sacred purposes and for the sanctification of humanity.
In the Gospel reading from Saint Luke, Jesus is in the synagogue proclaiming the words of Isaiah referenced above. He completes his recitation of the prophet’s words by simply saying, “‘Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.’”
Citing Isaiah’s and Jesus’ words in his homily, Archbishop Schwietz compared the “year of favor” to Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of Mercy currently underway.
During the homily he noted that, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the faithful are to come trusting, in order to experience from Christ how much he loves his people so that they may follow the example and reach the marginalized, the poor, the captives and those who have been separated from Christ and his church.
Following the homily, the priests stood before the altar and renewed the promises made at their ordination. The people prayed for their priests and the archbishop so that all, shepherd and flock, may be kept in God’s charity and led to eternal life.
A solemn procession followed, as members of the archdiocese presented large silver vessels containing olive oil to the archbishop and formally requested his blessing.
The Oil for the Holy Chrism was the last to be presented. Archbishop Schwietz mixed this oil with essence of balsam, which preserves the oil from corruption. He then breathed over the open vessel containing the sacred oil. Its fragrance, which recalls the innate sweetness of Christian virtue and the outpouring of sacramental grace, mingled with the lingering aroma of incense.
Following Communion the oils, blessed and consecrated in time for Easter celebrations, were distributed. A litany of names of the 23 parishes and six missions of the Anchorage archdiocese was sung as representatives of each of these places came forward to receive the oils from Archbishop Schwietz.
Archbishop Schwietz spoke of the dual significance of the Chrism Mass. One, it is symbolic of the whole local church getting together to celebrate being a church.
“It gives us a sense of who we are as Catholics in Alaska,” he said.
Secondly, this unique liturgy draws the faithful together in a sacramental representation of Christ’s presence.
“The dual power coming from this is always powerful for me,” he observed.
A reception in the Lunney Center followed the liturgy. Many came from outside Anchorage and enjoyed fellowship with other Catholics they often only see on such occasions.