ROME, 16 MARCH 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ
Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina
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
"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.
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
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.
Follow-up: Why Only One Chrism Mass [3-30-2010]
Somewhat related to the question regarding two Chrism Masses
(see March 16) is one from a Brighton, England, reader regarding
how to store the holy oils. The reader asked: "I want to display
the three oils. I have been told one should be elevated. If this
is true, which one should be elevated (of the three)?"
We dealt in part with this question on Oct. 4, 2005. Since the
practice of visibly displaying the holy oils is of very recent
coinage, there are practically no official norms describing the
manner of their reservation.
The U.S. bishops in their document "Built of Living Stones" do
establish some parameters:
"The Place for the Sacred Oils
"§ 117 § The consecrated oil of chrism for initiation,
ordination, and the dedication of churches, as well as the
blessed oils of the sick and of catechumens, are traditionally
housed in a special place called an ambry or repository. These
oils consecrated or blessed by the bishop at the Mass of Chrism
deserve the special care of the community to which they have
been entrusted. The style of the ambry may take different forms.
A parish church might choose a simple, dignified, and secure
niche in the baptistry or in the wall of the sanctuary or a
small case for the oils. Cathedrals responsible for the care of
a larger supply of the oils need a larger ambry. Since bright
light or high temperatures can hasten spoilage, parishes will
want to choose a location that helps to preserve the freshness
of the oil."
Thus, no official document requires elevating one of the oils.
Should a parish for aesthetic or pastoral reasons desire to
elevate one of them in the ambry, the obvious candidate is the
sacred chrism. This is because of its important part in baptism
and ordination and its essential role in confirmation.
It is also the only oil that must be blessed by the bishop in
both Eastern and Western liturgical traditions. The other oils
are either habitually blessed by the priest, as in most Eastern
Churches, or at least may be blessed by a priest in emergencies,
as is the case for the oil for anointing the sick in the Roman