Preparing oils for Chrism Mass a labor of love

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email
Bishop J. Mark Spalding will celebrate the Chrism Mass at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 4 at Sagrado Corazón Church in the Catholic Pastoral Center. The annual Mass will include the blessing of the oils and the consecration of the Sacred Chrism. Tennessee Register file photo by Katie Peterson

For more than 25 years, Greta Menke has had a hand in the sacramental celebrations in every part of the Diocese of Nashville, from Cookeville to McEwen, from Loretto to Springfield.

Menke, a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Incarnation and a former teacher at St. Joseph School in Madison, is one of the women who prepares the bottles of the sacred Chrism, the Oil of Catechumens, and the Oil of the Sick that the pastors of the diocese will bring back to their churches after the Chrism Mass each year. Those oils are used in the sacraments for the next year.

“The Chrism Mass is always one of my favorite things to do,” said Menke, who has filled a variety of roles at the Cathedral over the years. “I love the symbolism of them. I love seeing the priests coming together. I love seeing the priests I’ve worked with before. I love every aspect of it.”

This year’s Chrism Mass will be celebrated on Tuesday, April 4, at Iglesia Sagrado Corazón at the Catholic Pastoral Center, 2800 McGavock Pike in Nashville. There will be an open house at the Catholic Pastoral Center before the Mass from 4:30-6 p.m., and the Mass will begin at 6:30 p.m.

One of the highlights of the Chrism Mass each year is the priests of the diocese renewing their promises to the bishop and the laity. The other highlight, which gives the Mass its name, is the blessing of the sacramental oils that will be used in the coming year.

First, Bishop J. Mark Spalding will bless the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens.  

The Oil of the Sick is used during the celebration of the Anointing of the Sick.  

“St. James bears witness to the use of the Oil of the Sick,”  according to The Order of Blessing the Oil of Catechumens and of the Sick and of Consecrating the Chrism. “It offers the sick a remedy for infirmity of body and soul, so that they can bravely endure and fight against evils and obtain pardon for sins.”  

The Oil of Catechumens is used in the Baptism of catechumens being initiated into the Church at the Easter Vigil.  

“The Oil of Catechumens extends the effect of the baptismal exorcisms: it strengthens the candidate with the power to renounce the devil and sin before they go to the font of life for rebirth,” according to the OBO. 

Following the blessing of the first two oils, “the high point of the ritual” comes with the consecration of the sacred Chrism, which is used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders, as well as for the consecration of altars and the dedication of churches. It comes from a mixture of olive oil and balsam to add fragrance.  

“Sacred Chrism shows that through Baptism, Christians have been incorporated into the Paschal Mystery of Christ,” according to  the OBO. “Having died, been buried and risen with him, they are sharers in his kingly and prophetic Priesthood. Through Confirmation, they are given the spiritual anointing of the Holy Spirit.”  

Before Bishop Spalding says the Prayer of Consecration over the oil, he will breathe over the opening of the vessel holding the Chrism, recalling “the spirit of God ‘moving over the face of the waters’ at creation (Gen. 1:12) and Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the disciples in which ‘he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’’ (John 20:22),” according to the USCCB.  

The people gather

In recent years, the Chrism Mass has become a moment for people from throughout the diocese to gather to witness the blessing of the oils and the renewal of the priests’ promises.

But the preparations begin days before, Menke said.

“There are a lot of things we have to take with us” from the Cathedral to Sagrado Corazón, including the large, silver urns that will be filled with new olive oil to be blessed during the Chrism Mass, Menke said. 

“We have to empty the old oil out of the urns  and make sure it’s disposed of properly,” she said.

Labels are put on the bottles that will hold the new oil for each parish and in a change from the past, each of the bottles will be filled with new oil ahead of the Mass, Menke said. The filled bottles will be put into containers and brought to the altar to be blessed by Bishop J. Mark Spalding during the Mass. 

Parishes will receive 4 ounce or 16 ounce bottles, depending on their preference, Menke said.

After the oils are blessed, they are carried back to the cry room at Sagrado Corazón, where they will be prepared to hand to the pastors after the Mass, Menke said. This year, Menke will be joined in preparing the sacramental oils for the parishes by Susan Brigance and Janet Wilgenbusch.

“Father Gervan has us very well organized,” Menke said of Father Gervan Menezes, one of the bishop’s master of ceremonies and the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Cookeville.

Subscribe to our email list

Keep your finger on the pulse of Catholic life in Middle Tennessee by subscribing to the
weekday E-Register here.

* indicates required