Attendance at Chrism Mass
Date: March 15, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC
Q: Are all the priests of the diocese obliged to attend/concelebrate at the Chrism Mass to show the unity of the presbyterate? -- J.T., India
A: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) explains the significance of concelebration with the bishop:
“203. To be held in particularly high regard is that concelebration in which the Priests of any given diocese concelebrate with their own Bishop at a stational Mass, especially on the more solemn days of the liturgical year, at the Ordination Mass of a new Bishop of the diocese or of his Coadjutor or Auxiliary, at the Chrism Mass, at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, at celebrations of the Founder Saint of a local Church or the Patron of the diocese, on anniversaries of the Bishop, and, lastly, on the occasion of a Synod or a pastoral visitation. In the same way, concelebration is recommended whenever Priests gather together with their own Bishop whether on the occasion of a retreat or at any other gathering. In these cases, the sign of the unity of the Priesthood and also of the Church inherent in every concelebration is made more clearly manifest.”
To this may be added the explanation given in the rubrics for the Chrism Mass itself:
“4. This Mass, which the Bishop concelebrates with his presbyterate, should be, as it were, a manifestation of the Priests’ communion with their Bishop. Accordingly, it is desirable that all the Priests participate in it, insofar as is possible, and during it receive Communion even under both kinds. To signify the unity of the presbyterate of the diocese, the Priests who concelebrate with the Bishop should be from different regions of the diocese.”
Expressions such as “it is desirable” and “insofar as possible” would suggest that we are not before a strict obligation to attend the Chrism Mass. However, they also demonstrate the Church’s desire that as many priests as possible concelebrate in this Mass. Indeed, liturgical law grants specific faculties to bishops and priests in order to make it as easy as possible.
Therefore, if celebrating the Mass on Holy Thursday makes it difficult for priests to attend this Mass, the rubrics foresee that “the Chrism Mass may be anticipated on another day, but near to Easter (Rubric 3).”
This occurs above all in territorially extensive dioceses, many of which celebrate the Chrism Mass on Monday or Tuesday of Holy Week, thus allowing the priests to return to their parishes in time for the Easter triduum.
Also, GIRM 199 mentions the Chrism Mass as one of those occasions in which concelebration is prescribed by the rite itself as this is a means through which “the unity of the Priesthood, of the Sacrifice, and also of the whole People of God is appropriately expressed.” This number also recalls that “On Holy Thursday, and for the Mass of the Easter Vigil, it is not permitted to celebrate Mass individually.”
Furthermore, GIRM 204 grants the exceptional faculty to concelebrate twice in the same day: “a Priest who has celebrated or concelebrated the Chrism Mass on Thursday of Holy Week may also celebrate or concelebrate the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.”
All of these indications highly recommend priests to gather around their bishop for the Chrism Mass for the Eucharist, for the blessing of the holy oils, and to renew their priestly promises, first made on the day of ordination. In this way, they manifest a Church in which the people of God are united around the celebration of Christ’s holy sacrifice.
As GIRM 4 says, commenting on the preface of the Chrism Mass:
“In truth, the nature of the ministerial Priesthood proper to the Bishop and the Priest, who offer the Sacrifice in the person of Christ and who preside over the gathering of the holy people, shines forth in the form of the rite itself, on account of the more prominent place and function given to the Priest. The essential elements of this function are set out and explained clearly and extensively in the Preface for the Chrism Mass on Thursday of Holy Week, the day, namely when the institution of the Priesthood is commemorated. For in the Preface is made clear how the conferral of Priestly power is accomplished through the laying on of hands; and, by the listing one by one of its duties, that power is described which is the continuation of the power of Christ, the High Priest of the New Testament.”
“… For by the anointing of the Holy Spirit
you made your Only Begotten Son
High Priest of the new and eternal covenant,
and by your wondrous design were pleased to decree
that his one Priesthood should continue in the Church.
For Christ not only adorns with a royal priesthood
the people he has made his own,
but with a brother’s kindness, he also chooses men
to become sharers in his sacred ministry
through the laying on of hands.
They are to renew in his name
the sacrifice of human redemption,
to set before your children the paschal banquet,
to lead your holy people in charity,
to nourish them with the word
and strengthen them with the Sacraments.
As they give up their lives for you
and for the salvation of their brothers and sisters,
they strive to be conformed to the image of Christ himself
and offer you a constant witness of faith and love ….”
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