Why Only One Chrism Mass

Commemorating Saints in Lent

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ROME, MARCH 16, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I recently heard of a diocese with two co-cathedrals having two Chrism Masses each year. Is this proper, given the fact it seems to take away from the sign of the oneness of the diocesan celebration? Are their any norms or standard practices for dioceses with two cathedrals in regards to Chrism Masses? — D.T., Dallas, Texas

A: Apart from the rubrics in the Missal, the essential norms regarding this point are found in the Congregation for Divine Worship’s 1988 circular letter on the Easter celebrations, “Paschales Solemnitatis.” Regarding the Chrism Mass, this document says:

“35. The Chrism Mass, which the bishop concelebrates with his presbyterium and at which the holy chrism is consecrated and the oils blessed, manifests the communion of the priests with their bishop in the same priesthood and ministry of Christ. The priests who concelebrate with the bishop should come to this Mass from different parts of the diocese, thus showing in the consecration of the chrism to be his witnesses and cooperators, just as in their daily ministry they are his helpers and counselors.

“The faithful are also to be encouraged to participate in this Mass, and to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist.

“Traditionally the Chrism Mass is celebrated on the Thursday of Holy Week. If, however, it should prove to be difficult for the clergy and people to gather with the bishop, this rite can be transferred to another day, but one always close to Easter. The chrism and the oil of catechumens is to be used in the celebration of the sacraments of initiation on Easter night.

“36. There should be only one celebration of the Chrism Mass given its significance in the life of the diocese, and it should take place in the cathedral or, for pastoral reasons, in another church which has a special significance.

“The holy oils can be brought to the individual parishes before the celebration of the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper or at some other suitable time. This can be a means of catechizing the faithful about the use and effects of the holy oils and chrism in Christian life.”

Similar norms are found in the Ceremonial of Bishops, Nos. 274-278.

All of the relevant documents emphasize the importance of this Mass as an expression of the unity of the entire local Church; as many faithful and clergy as possible should be present. This is the principal reason why there must be only one chrism Mass in any diocese.

It is precisely in order to foment and optimize this unity that the norms grant flexibility regarding the time and place of the celebration.

Thus, in extensive dioceses where priests might not be able to reach the cathedral and get back on time for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, it is common to celebrate the Chrism Mass on Monday or Tuesday of Holy Week.

Likewise, when the cathedral is unsuitable for a major concelebration, another major church is chosen. In Rome, for example, the Chrism Mass is celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica rather than St. John Lateran, in order to cater for a multitude of concelebrants. Some ancient European cathedrals are so full of untouchable historic monuments that large concelebrations are a logistical nightmare.

The presence of con-cathedrals (or co-cathedrals) is not sufficient to justify breaking up the unity of the celebration. A con-cathedral is usually a church that once served as a cathedral but no longer serves this purpose. This can happen in several ways, such as when the bishop changes his principal town of residence; when dioceses are amalgamated; or when a new and definitive cathedral is built.

The presence of several cathedrals happens frequently in Italy; some modern dioceses embrace several extinct, ancient but tiny sees. For example, in the Archdiocese of Sorrento-Castellamare, I know of at least five churches that have the title of cathedral, including one on the isle of Capri which once had its own bishop. In this diocese, however, there is only one principal cathedral and only one Chrism Mass.

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Follow-up: Commemorating Saints in Lent

Subsequent to our comments on the celebration of saints during Lent, an attentive reader apportioned a small correction.

She wrote: “In your column of March 2, you stated that the feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem on March 18 ‘almost always falls during Lent.’ However, in reality the feast of St. Cyril always falls during Lent, since the earliest possible date for Easter is March 22, in which case his feast would be Wednesday of Holy Week.”

Our correspondent is correct. This is also true for April 25, the latest possible date for Easter. In this case, Ash Wednesday falls on March 10.

The two extremes are quite rare. Easter last fell on March 22 in 1818 and won’t fall again on that date until 2285. The April 25 occurrence is slightly more frequent; it last occurred in 1943 and will return in 2038. At least some people will twice experience the latest possible Easter.

Another reader asked if my answer also applied to the extraordinary form. I answered according to the norms of the ordinary universal calendar.

It is beyond the scope of this column to explain the complex rules of the extraordinary form’s liturgical calendar. However, both forms follow the same basic principles, and weekdays of Lent are ranked higher and have precedence over third-class feasts of saints of the universal calendar. Third-class feasts correspond roughly to the memorials found in the ordinary form.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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