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Holy oils blessed for the liturgical year

April 3, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

Many of us use olive oil in salad, and perhaps in sautéing vegetables, fish, or meat.

But, did you know that olive oil is also part of our Catholic sacraments?

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone celebrated the annual chrism Mass March 26, blessing the three types of oils to be used for anointing in the parishes and throughout the Archdiocese of San Francisco in the coming liturgical year. At the evening Mass, about 175 priests of the archdiocese also renewed the promises they made at ordination.

Archbishop Cordileone was joined on the altar by members of the Council of Priests, Archbishop emeritus George Niederauer, retired Santa Rosa Bishop Daniel Walsh, retired Auxiliary Bishop Ignatius C. Wang and Auxiliary Bishop William J. Justice.

In his homily, the archbishop, who enjoys cooking himself, reminded those gathered at St. Mary’s Cathedral that the oil of the catechumens, the oil of the sick and the oil of sacred chrism are all olive oil, created from crushed olives.

“The solemn use of olive oil is at the heart of our celebration,” Archbishop Cordileone said in his homily.

But before they can become oil, olives are crushed – as Christ was crushed by suffering and dying on the cross – to bring forth the healing oils that are used to anoint the people of God in the sacraments, Archbishop Cordileone said. “Yes, it is Christ’s sacrifice that restores us to peace,” he said.

In his homily, Archbishop Cordileone also asked for special mindfulness of Christians in the Middle East who are suffering persecution and death. “They are literally the martyrs of our time,” he said, citing Pope Francis’ call for special prayers for Middle East Christians.

At the chrism Mass, the archbishop blessed the oils, contained in special shining gold containers called ampullae which were brought ceremoniously to the altar by three deacons. The oil of the catechumens “is used to strengthen those” preparing for entry into the church to help them “to combat against evil in preparation for baptism,” the archbishop said.

“We bless the oil of the sick to heal those who are ill but also to prepare them for their final journey from this world,” the archbishop said. The sacred chrism oil is the only oil that must be blessed by the bishop of the diocese. The archbishop adds balsam oil to the olive oil before blessing the chrism oil and then breathes upon the oils as he prays to the Holy Spirit. Chrism is used to anoint in baptism and confirmation, to anoint the hands of the priest in ordination, and to anoint altars.

“What is the source of the power of these oils to illuminate, strengthen, heal and consecrate and so bring us God’s peace and joy?” asked Archbishop Cordileone in his homily. “It is the Holy Spirit, the gift of the risen Christ.”

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