Dating back to the second month of Archbishop Melissa Skelton’s episcopacy, April 2014, the practice in the Diocese of New Westminster has been to gather the clergy of the diocese and also to welcome all the lay folks who would like to attend for a Tuesday of Holy Week Eucharist celebrated at Christ Church Cathedral at 12:10pm. Following dismissal the archbishop located herself in the west alcove and offered individual blessings to all those in attendance who were moved to participate and concurrently there was a buffet fellowship lunch. The Chrism Mass celebrates vocation and the liturgy consists of three parts not commonly part of a standard weekday Eucharist: The Litany for Ordination; The Reaffirmation of Baptismal and Ordination Vows: The Blessing of Holy Oils. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the first set of orders from the Provincial Health Officer given it what seems like “way back” in the spring of 2020, this liturgy did not take place last year. There was however an online devotional that featured an address by the 8th Bishop of the D of NW, the Right Reverend Michael Ingham. It is an excellent homily and worthy of a repeated viewing.
For 2021, livestreaming of liturgies from Christ Church Cathedral is the norm and the worship leaders at the diocesan cathedral have the gear, personnel and the process in place to provide quality broadcasts. The Chrism Mass: Blessing of Holy Oils and Reaffirmation of Vows has traditionally been a shared liturgy of the cathedral and the bishop’s office. This year the liturgy was celebrated at 12:10pm, Tuesday, March 30 and livestreamed. The sanctuary party consisted of: the Dean of the diocese and Rector of the cathedral, the Very Reverend Christopher Pappas; Deacon of the Word and Table, the Reverend Joyce Locht of St. James’; Liturgical Assistant/MC, Vincent Carey and Bishop John Stephens who was the presider and preacher. Donna Wong-Juliani, the cathedral’s Arts Associate was the reader and the music in worship (which is a substantial component of this liturgy) was led by organist, Director of Music, Rupert Lang and an SATB quartet consisting of members of Cathedral Choir: Margaret Ferguson, Bruce Hoffman and married couple Lucy Smith and Jake Grammit.
The lectionary components were: Isaiah 49: 1-7; Psalm 71 (the late Washington State composer Peter Hallock’s gorgeous version) sung by the quartet; 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31 and the Gospel, John 12: 20-36. In his sermon Bishop John made reference to the Old Testament reading and the Gospel, however much of the content was about the function, the importance and the history of holy oils and their connection to scripture and also to our contemporary world. (The sermon is available here on the diocesan website in video and text.)
The first page of the service bulletin contained the following information about the 2021 Chrism Mass and the addition of a third oil:
In recent history is has been customary to bless two oils at the Chrism Mass in Holy Week, the Oil of Chrism and the Oil for the Sick. In the tradition of the western church there is the provision of a third oil, the Oil of Catechumens. This year, the bishop will bless all three oils, allowing parishes access to the Oil for the Signing of the Cross in addition to the Oil of Chrism and the Oil for the Sick.
The Oil of Chrism, Baptism is the sacramental sign of our union with Christ, and of God’s gift to us of the Holy Spirit, to make us God’s children by adoption and grace, and to equip us for the share that all Christians have in Christ’s own ministry. The New Testament speaks of this gift of the Holy Spirit as an anointing ( John 2:20-27; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22). From an early date, it became customary to trace the sign of the cross in oil on the heads of candidates for baptism, and to anoint them again after baptism with the Oil of Chrism — a sign of incorporation into the prophetic, priestly and royal life of Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One. This oil has also come to be used (after practice in the Hebrew Scriptures) for the setting apart of people and things for a special place in the life of the Church, for bishops and priests at their ordination, for kings and queens at their crowning, and for churches and altars at their consecration.
The Oil of the Sick. The Letter of James urges its recipients to anoint the sick with oil (James 5:15), as a sign of the healing and forgiveness that are also given through the Holy Spirit (Mark 6:13). In earlier times use of this oil was largely restricted to persons in the Last Rites at the point of death. Thankfully it is now common practice to make regular use of this provision, as a sign of God’s longing for healing and wholeness for everyone.
The Oil for Catechumens (for those who wish to use it). In part of the tradition, the Catechumens, those preparing during Lent for baptism at Easter, were signed with the Cross near the beginning of their instruction. It has now become the practice in some churches for candidates for Confirmation or Reaffirmation to be signed with the Cross using this oil at the beginning of their course of preparation.
From 2014-2019, following worship, deacons from around the diocese would quickly gather up the large vessels containing the oils and portion them out so that clergy in attendance could take them back to their parishes for use through the coming year. However, this year the oils were portioned out into the small glass jars, returned to the cardboard packing cases and transported to the Synod Office for distribution. In 2017, Salal and Cedar gathering priest, the Reverend Laurel Dykstra worked with Métis herbalist Lori Snyder, to gather and prepare local medicinal plants. The oils look and smell a little different than in the previous years because they come from Coast Salish Territory. The base is olive oil, which of course is not native to this region. In recent years Zatoun a fair-trade Palestinian olive oil has been used which follows a diocesan tradition over a number of years to source Palestinian olive oil. The tradition of using oils prepared with local plants also continues.
Blessing the Oils:
Dear Friends in Christ: in the beginning, the Spirit of God hovered over the creation; and, throughout history, God, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, has empowered God’s people for service through Baptism, has consoled us and brought healing, has encouraged us on our pilgrimage of faith. Let us pray.
Gracious God, send your Holy Spirit on this oil that those who are sealed with this chrism may share in the royal priesthood of Christ. O God of peace, bless this oil that those who receive this holy unction may be restored to wholeness and strength. God, our strength and shield, bless this oil, that those signed with it as they prepare to renew their vows may know the triumph of the cross.