The annual Holy Week event on April 11 is a unique celebration during the holiest week of the Church’s calendar leading to Easter Sunday. It’s not about the oil but about the consecration for mission which Christians are called to in this world, said Cardinal Thomas Collins in his homily.
“Consecration is not something we simply experience or enjoy. It is for a purpose,” Collins said.
Chrism oil, made from a mixture of olive oil and scented balsam oil, is used to consecrate people during the rites of baptism, confirmation, ordaining priests and ordaining bishops. Its use can be traced back at least to the second century. The early fathers of the Church, particularly Cyril of Jerusalem, referred to it as a physical representation of the Holy Spirit and the “seal of the covenants.”
At the annual Chrism Mass, the bishop of every diocese around the world blesses the oils to be used for the coming year.
The Greek title of Christ and the Hebrew title of Messiah given to Jesus of Nazareth means “anointed one.” In the ancient Mediterranean world anointing with oil was the rough equivalent of coronation for kings.
For Catholics, consecration is not the end point. Rather it is a means toward fulfilling Christ’s mission, said Collins.
“It (consecration with holy oil) is with profound recognition of the world we are missioned in.”
Christians are to be a consecrated people, but consecrated to be a light in a world often beset by darkness, said Collins.
“If we are to minister in this world, we must not be the blind leading the blind,” he said.
Collins brought up both the suicide bombings of Coptic churches in Egypt and Canada’s embrace of legalized euthanasia to illustrate the evils Christians are called to fight.
“We must be attentive to what it means to be consecrated,” he said.
Toronto’s Catholic archbishop used both his battered breviary and a quote from The Lord of the Rings to drive home his point.
“We cannot use the tools of evil to defeat evil,” said Collins, quoting J.R.R. Tolkein’s fantasy trilogy.
“We must always go deeper when we see chaos in our world, when we see battling in the Church,” he said. “We must not be naive, but we must not be cynical either.”
Collins recalled his last Chrism Mass as a priest, celebrated in Hamilton just one day before his appointment as Bishop of St. Paul, Alta., was announced.
“To be there with my brother priests, to prepare for another mission,” was a moment he will always remember.
The oil of catechumens and the oil of the sick, for use in accepting people into the Church and for the Sacrament of the Sick — often at the end of life — were also blessed at the Mass.