Blessing the Holy Oils

Categories: Around the Diocese

Annual chrism Mass is time of renewal, preparation

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

Every year right before Easter, the bishop of each diocese blesses the oils that will be used in its parishes for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, holy orders and the anointing of the sick at a special Mass called the chrism Mass.

Bishop Donald Kettler will celebrate the chrism Mass at 7 p.m. March 26 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. The oils are distributed to parish representatives following the Mass.

oilsAs part of the ritual, three types of oil are carried forward by “oil bearers” — people from across the diocese who have a special connection to the oils.

Sheila Gardner, director of religious education at Sacred Heart Parish in Flensburg, has attended the chrism Mass a number of times and wanted her students to have the opportunity to witness it, too. Six students from Sacred Heart set to be confirmed this year were chosen to present the chrism oil, including Braden Backowski, who feels honored to be part of this tradition.

In presenting the oils, he said, “I feel connected to my local church, the universal church and the church of the ages.

“The smell of the chrism oil reminds me of my baptism and soon my confirmation,” he said.

Through his formation, Backowski said he understands that confirmation completes his initiation into the Catholic Church.
“The chrism oil seals the gift of the Holy Spirit within me, so I will have the courage to be a witness to Christ in the world, in my family and in my church.”

Deacon Dave Lindmeier will be one of six to present the Oil of Catechumens — an oil used in baptism, most often for catechumens participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

Deacon Lindmeier is the primary coordinator of RCIA at St. Paul and St. Peter Parishes in St. Cloud. One comment he often hears from parishioners who witness the rites of Christian initiation at the Easter Vigil is how much courage it takes for catechumens to go through the RCIA process.

“Not only does it require a deep private commitment, but also an open and public statement of that commitment to the faith community at large,” he said.

“The oil of catechumens is symbolic of the strength and courage the elect [those to be baptized] need to sever the bondage of the past and to overcome that which separates them from God and one another so that the person may profess his or her faith, come to baptism and live as a child of God.”

Deacon Lindmeier said that the prayers and support of the parish community, the encouragement of the catechumens’ sponsors and godparents, as well as the instruction and inspiration they receive from their pastor and catechists becomes the “real” oil they are anointed with as they journey toward baptism.

Health care workers, faith community nurses and those who work directly in ministry to the sick and suffering in the diocese will be among those bearing the Oil of the Sick.

One of them is Caroline Jacobs, a parishioner and faith community nurse at St. Mary Parish in Melrose. She also is a registered nurse at CentraCare Health-Melrose Hospital and works with Project HEAL, a monthly clinic for low-income patients held in the church basement.

“I work with a lot of patients in the nursing home facing the end of life,” Jacobs said. “For those in our Catholic community, receiving the anointing of the sick is very important to them. It is often one of the first questions I hear. It is a very important experience to them to receive anointing before death.”

This sacrament is also administered to those facing serious illness or a life-threatening surgery or procedure.

Jacobs said witnessing the sacrament has made her stronger in her faith and more willing to ensure that resources are available quickly for those wanting to receive anointing. Her co-worker and fellow eucharistic minister, Linda Schmiesing, an LPN and member of Immaculate Conception Parish in New Munich, will join her in bearing the oil at the chrism Mass.

Renewing promises

At the chrism Mass, priests, deacons, religious and the laity also will be invited to renew their commitment to service to the church and to spreading the Gospel message.

This is an especially important moment for the priests, said Father Mitchell Bechtold, parochial vicar of parishes in Melrose, Greenwald, Meire Grove and Spring Hill. He will be attending his first chrism Mass as a priest since his ordination last June.

Renewing the promises he made last year at his priestly ordination can happen every day in the silence of his heart and through the devotion of his deeds, Father Bechtold said. However, it is at the chrism Mass that a priest has the special opportunity to renew his promises before God, his bishop and the church.

“The chrism Mass invites the priest to remember who he is in Christ and in the church,” Father Bechtold said. “It will be a Mass enriched by the memories of my first year of ordained priestly life, and one filled with hope for yet another year, equally rich in blessings and graces.”

About the oils

At the chrism Mass, Bishop Donald Kettler will bless the oil to be used for the sacraments in parishes throughout the year. Last year, 39 liters were blessed. If a parish does not use all of its oil from the previous year, it must be burned — possibly in the Easter fire — or buried. There are three different oils, all typically olive-based:

• The Oil of the Sick

This oil is used to strengthen those who are ill and free them from pain. In the rite, the community prays that those anointed with this oil may have the strength to bear suffering and be touched by the healing power of Christ.

“Most pastors use this blessed oil a lot,” said Father Steve Binsfeld, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Alexandria. “Many parishes celebrate the sacrament of the anointing of the sick regularly. We can also bless our own Oil of the Sick if we run out, but it is good to use the oil blessed by the bishop at the chrism Mass because it shows our solidarity with Christ the healer in our local parishes throughout the diocese.”

The Rite of Anointing states there is no need to wait until a person is at the point of death to receive the sacrament. Check with the parish priest if you are unsure whether to be anointed.

• The Oil of Catechumens

Catechumens are those who are preparing for baptism, usually as an adult through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process. This oil is used to strengthen the catechumen against evil, “like putting on the armor of Christ,” Father Binsfeld said.

During the prayer for this anointing, the assembly prays that the catechumens will have strength and wisdom to understand the Gospel and to accept the challenge of Christian living.

• The Holy Chrism

Holy chrism is the chief anointing oil, fragranced with a secret blend of aromatic oils, and can only be consecrated by a bishop.

“The chrism oil is a consecrated oil,” Father Binsfeld explained. “It is the Christ Oil. When we anoint with this oil, we pray, ‘As the fragrance of the oil fills the room, may the fragrance of Christ fill the person anointed.’

“It is used at the baptism of infants; to symbolically seal in the Spirit in confirmation; to anoint the hands of the priest as he is ordained to celebrate the Eucharist; to anoint a bishop-elect, poured on his head, reminiscent of the anointing of the priests and prophets and kings of Israel — the three-fold role to teach, lead and sanctify.

“It is also used to set a church building aside for sacred use — anointing the crosses on the walls, beneath the consecration candles and to consecrate the altar table where it is poured all over the top of the table and rubbed in, setting the table aside for sacred use.”

Once the oils have been blessed at the chrism Mass, they are dispensed into containers and typically marked with the letters SC, OS and OI. The oils are brought back to each parish and are usually kept in an ambry (a dedicated place for oils), or another reserved place, until their next use.