Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Article | April 26, 2024

Sacred Chrism – A Congregation Story 

Blog|Congregation Council

In the weeks since Easter, Grace Cathedral has been filled with the joy of Baptisms. This is the story of preparing the most ancient element of the baptismal service.

Walking across the cathedral courtyard early on March 23 – the Saturday morning before Holy Week – you would have been surprised to see a robust fire burning in a metal cauldron behind locked gates. The fire had been set by Cathedral Verger Michael Hendron as the first step in preparing the Sacred Chrism oil to anoint those to be baptized at the Great Vigil of Easter and in the coming months. By tradition, Chrism oil is created fresh each Easter, but only after the remains of the previous year’s oil have been consumed by fire.

Chrism oil has had many names through the centuries as it is among the most ancient of our faith traditions, dating back more than 3,000 years to the moment when GOD commanded Moses to create an anointing oil. This is recorded in EXODUS chapter 30: “The Lord spoke to Moses: Take the finest spices…you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil.”  GOD specified liquid myrrh, sweet-smelling cinnamon, aromatic cane (calamus), and cassia as the spices to be mixed with the purest olive oil. 

Once the fire outside had done its work and the flames extinguished, Verger Michael moved to the cathedral Sacristy to begin preparing the new Chrism oil. Just as Moses did, Michael followed the recipe specified in EXODUS starting with extra-virgin olive oil, followed by each of the four spices. The Sacristy soon filled with fragrant aroma. During the mixing process, a uniquely Grace Cathedral tradition will also be added. At a certain point, Michael will pour a few drops of historic Chrism, dating from 1966, into the new oil, establishing a link between past and present. A bit of the new oil will be added to the bottle of “mother” oil to keep the link alive for years to come.

Adding the 1966 Grace Cathedral tradition.

At Chrism Mass on Tuesday of Holy Week, Bishop Marc Andrus blessed and consecrated the holy oil as specified in the Book of Common Prayer. Afterward, the clergy of the Diocese of California lined up outside the Sacristy where Grace Cathedral congregants Robert Ward and Wai-Kit Ho filled individual bottles of the consecrated Chrism, enough for each of the churches in the Diocese.

At every Grace Cathedral baptism, after the water has been poured, the Sacred Chrism is used to anoint the forehead, representing the presence of the Holy Spirit. The oil once used by Moses to anoint the Ark of the Covenant now seals the newly baptized into the Body of Christ, the Church.

This Congregation Story is brought to you by the Congregation Council of Grace Cathedral.

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