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March 31 - April 13, 2013

Ordinary olive oil becomes sacred

The Chrism Mass takes place during Holy Week and is celebrated only once a year to bless the oils used in the church throughout the coming year. On March 26, Cardinal George celebrated the annual Mass at Holy Name Cathedral. More than 80 gallons of olive oil was transferred into vessels so the cardinal could bless the oils of the sick and catechumens and consecrate the chrism. Then they were taken to the cathedral's side chapel where a small army of volunteers transferred the oils into small bottles, which were packed up and distributed to parish representatives who attended Mass. Those representatives would deliver those oils to the parish, often during the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday.Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

By Joyce Duriga

Staff Writer

Photos by Karen Callaway

Photo Editor

Holy oils are used often in the life of the Catholic Church. They are used in acts such as anointing the sick, consecrating altars, churches and priests and bishops and anointing catechumens entering the church at the Easter Vigil.

The tradition of using holy oils for anointing is found throughout Scripture and predates the church, such as when the Israelites anointed their priests, prophets and kings.

“To be anointed was to be chosen,” said Todd Williamson, director of the archdiocese’s Office for Divine Worship.

There are three oils used in church life: oil of the sick, oil of the catechumens and chrism oil.

The first two are blessed and the last is consecrated.

“A consecration asks God to send the Spirit onto or into whatever is being consecrated. The Eucharist is consecrated. The church and the altar are consecrated. The chrism is consecrated,” explained Williamson.

Chrism is consecrated because it is used to consecrate other things that are in the image of Christ.

“The chrism itself is an image of Christ,” he explained. “Like the olives were crushed to produce this life-giving oil so Christ was crushed to bring life,” he said.

Each year, holy oils are blessed and consecrated by Cardinal George during the Chrism Mass held during Holy Week. This year’s Mass took place on March 26 at Holy Name Cathedral.

About 80 gallons of average, everyday olive oil was blessed during the Mass. The archdiocese purchases the olive oil from a food service vendor and buys the balsam added to the chrism oil from Holy Rood Cistercian Monastery in Massachusetts.

After Cardinal George blesses and consecrates the oils, a small army of volunteers behind the scenes at the cathedral transferred the oils into small bottles that parish representatives took with them. Some parishes have their own vessels for oils that were filled that day.

“We have extra that we keep for use throughout the year,” Williamson said, explaining that parishes often run out of oil for the sick in particular. Holy Name Cathedral stores the extra oil for replenishing.

Before the Chrism Mass, parishes are asked to dispose of the previous year’s oil to make room for the new batch. They do that by either burning the oil, as in a candle, or pouring it into the earth, Williamson said.