Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Oldest Text of the Chrism Mass

It is one of the Church’s most ancient customs to bless the oils which are used in the celebration of the Sacraments on Holy Thursday. This is attested all of the pertinent liturgical books of the Roman Rite as far back as we have them, and indeed, the Wurzburg lectionary, the very oldest of the Roman Rite, has as its title for Holy Thursday the words “Quando chrisma conficitur – when the chrism is made”, but not the words “Coena Domini”, which are added about a century later in the lectionary of Murbach.

The earliest Roman sacramentaries attest to the custom by which the blessing of oil was done at a separate Mass from that of the Lord’s Supper, while a third Mass was celebrated for the reconciliation of the public penitents. The earliest form of this Mass given in the Old Gelasian Sacramentary makes it very clear why this was so.
The Chrism Mass in the Gellone Sacramentary, ca. 780 AD.
The Roman Holy Week is a conceptual unity, the various parts of which frequently refer to the other parts. For example, it is the only rite in which the celebration of the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem is shown to be part of His Passion by actually reading the Passion at the Mass of Palm Sunday. Speaking only of the Roman Rite, this custom is, as far as we know, much older than the blessing of palms and procession. In a similar vein, the Epistle added to the blessing of the palms in the 10th century, Exodus 15, 27 – 16, 1, was clearly chosen in reference to the Lord’s Supper, His Passion and death, and His Resurrection; and furthermore, in reference to specific ritual details of Holy Week, such as the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday, and the incomplete character of the Mass of the Easter vigil.
This intertwining of references unites all the ceremonies of Holy Week as parts of the same Paschal mystery. Here, however, the word “mystery” should not be taken in its modern sense of “something incomprehensible”, but rather, referred back to its Greek root “mueō – to initiate.” Holy Week is the season of Christian initiation par excellence, not only for those who are to be baptized at the Easter vigil, but also for those who are already baptized, or, to put it another way, already initiated into the Christian Faith. The crucial events of our salvation, as Pope St Leo the Great says, “are not so much remembered as a thing past, but rather honored as a thing present.” (non tam praeteritum recoli quam praesens debeat honorari. Sermon 64, 13th on the Lord’s Passion). This is also why the Church continued to read in the liturgy of Lent and Easter Biblical passages which were clearly chosen as lessons for the catechumens and neophytes, even long after the adult catechumenate had largely disappeared.
The blessing of oils, therefore, is historically presented by the Church in light of this, and the oldest form of the Chrism Mass refers repeatedly to the use of the oils in the baptismal rituals of Easter night. I here present my own translation of it with some explanatory notes, following the text of Dom Leo Mohlberg’s critical edition of the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, printed in 1960. This manuscript represents the state of the Roman Mass as it was in about the year 700, but the manuscript itself is from about 50 years later.
Chrism Mass celebrated in the Roman Rite in Vaduz, Lichtenstein, in 2013. 
Collect Lord God, who in the regenerating of Thy peoples makest use of the ministry of priests, grant us to serve with perseverance in Thy will, that by the gift of Thy grace, the people made holy unto Thee may be increased in our days both in merit and in number. Through (our) Lord (etc.)
Many Masses in the Gelasian Sacramentary, but not all, have two or even three collects, a phenomenon which admits of no simple and consistent explanation. The second collect for this Mass is:
Grant us, almighty God, both to exercise the remedies of the human condition with true service, and to fulfill them with the perfection of salvation. Through.
Secret May the power of this sacrifice, we ask, Lord, both mercifully wipe away our oldness, and increase for us both renewal and salvation. Through.
(Preface) Truly is is worthy… to humbly beseech Thy clemency, that for those who are to be regenerated by the baptism of spiritual washing, Thou may strengthen this creature of chrism for the mystery of perfect salvation and life; so that, being infused with the sanctification of anointing, and the corruption of its first birth being destroyed, the holy temple of each one may be redolent with the innocent fragrance of an acceptable life; so that in accord with the mystery established by Thee, being imbued with the royal, and priestly and prophetic honor, they may be clothed in the garment of an incorruptible gift. Through (our Lord, Jesus Christ, through) whom the angels praise Thy majesty…
Infra actionem (the standard rubric for introducing a variable Communicantes, also in the Missal of St Pius V) the Communicantes as above. (i.e., in the previous Mass, that for the reconciliation of penitents; “Communicating, and celebrating the most holy day, on which our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed; but also (venerating) the memory…”)
Note that all three of these Masses use the same variable Communicantes, which does not refer to either the reconciliation of the penitents or to the blessing of the oils. These events are rather placed solidly within the context of the Lord’s Supper as one of the days of the Paschal mystery. The same is true of the following, the variable Hanc igitur, which is not marked by a rubric. Variations of both these texts are still used on Holy Thursday to this day.
We therefore beseech Thee, O Lord, that Thou may peaceably accept this offering of Thy servants and handmaids, which they offer to Thee for the sake of the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ gave to His disciples the Mysteries of His Body and Blood to be celebrated; and in Thy holiness may Thou grant that though the course of many years, in safety and good health, they may merit to offer their gifts to Thee, the Lord; and (to dispose) our days…
Like many early medieval rubrics, those that follow here would be barely intelligible in a literal translation, and here I will paraphrase them. After a header, “The blessing of oil”, a rubric indicates that the celebrant speaks “to the people”, followed by a citation of the opening words of a fixed speech, “This oil for anointing the sick.” Before Per quem haec omnia, the blessing is said as follows; this is still the custom of the Roman Rite to this day.
Send forth from heaven, we beseech you, o Lord, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, upon this richness of oil which Thou hast deigned to produce for the refreshment of mind and body. And may your holy blessing be for everyone who anoints, tastes and touches it protection of body soul in spirit, to take away all pains, all infirmity, all sickness of mind and body, from which Thou didst anoint priests, kings and prophets and martyrs, Thy perfect chrism, blessed by thee o Lord, abiding within us, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The canon is then resumed at Per quem haec omnia.
After the Lord’s Prayer and the fraction, the corporal, which was much larger in those days, is pulled over “the gifts of the altar”; the celebrant goes to the seat. “And there, the other oil is offered by the deacon to be blessed,” and he begins with, “The Lord be with you”, and “Let us pray”. This prayer is still used for the blessing of the oil of the catechumens to this day.
O God, the rewarder of all spiritual increase and growth, who strengthenest the beginnings of weak souls by the power of Thy Holy Spirit: we pray thee, o Lord, that Thou may grant to those who come to the laver of blessed regeneration, by the anointing (they receive from) this creature, the cleansing of soul and body; that so, if there remain any stains fixed upon them by their spiritual enemies, they may depart by the touch of this holy oil. May wicked spirits find no place there; may the powers that have been put to flight have no sway; may there be no lurking place left to insidious evil ones, but rather, may Thy servants that come to the Faith, and are to be cleansed by the operation of the Holy Spirit, find the preparation of this anointing profitable to salvation, which also they are to receive in the Sacrament of Baptism, by the birth of a heavenly regeneration. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall come to judge the world by fire. Amen.
Here there follows the standard preface dialogue, and a long preface, which is also still used in the blessing of oils. However, in the pontifical of Clement VIII, most of the preface of the Chrism Mass given above has been added to the end of it. Note the references to the first and second prophecies of the Easter vigil, the Creation of the world in Genesis 1, and the story of Noah in Genesis 5-8.
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should always, and in all places, give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Eternal God: who, in the beginning, among the rest of thy gifts of Thy bounty and goodness, didst command the earth to bring forth fruit-bearing trees, among which should be born the olives, which provide this most rich fluid, whose fruit was to serve for the holy chrism. For David, knowing aforehand by the prophetic spirit of the sacraments of Thy grace, sang that our faces were to be made glad with oil: and when the sins of the world were of old being expiated by the flood, a dove announced that peace was restored to the earth, showing this through an olive-branch, unto the likeness of the gift to come, which in these last ages has been declared with manifest effects, since after all the sins of men have been washed away by the waters of Baptism, this anointing of oil makes our countenances joyful and calm. Thence also didst Thou give the commands to Thy servant Moses to establish his brother Aaron priest by pouring this oil upon him, after he had first been cleansed with water. A greater honor came to it when Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, had made John baptize him in the waters of the Jordan, and the Holy Ghost being sent upon him in the likeness of a dove thou didst show Him to be thine Only Begotten Son, in whom thou wast well pleased, by the witness of the voice that followed, and proved most clearly that this was what the prophet David had sung, that he would be be anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows. We therefore beseech thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty everlasting God, through (the same) Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, that thou deign to sanctify the richness of this creature, by thy blessing, this thy creature oil, and infuse into it the virtue of the Holy Ghost, through the power of Thy Christ, from whose holy name it received the name of Chrism, from which thou didst anoint Thy priests, Kings, Prophets, and Martyrs, that it may be for those who shall be reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, the Chrism of salvation, and Thou make them sharers in eternal life and co-heirs of heavenly glory. Through the same our Lord etc.
This is followed by the “making of the exorcized oil”, in which balsam is mixed with oil, and the mixture blessed as follows.
I exercise thee, creature of oil, in the name of God, the Father almighty, and in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, that in this invocation of the threefold power and strength of the godhead, thou every most most wicked power of the adversary, every ancient malice of the devil, every approach of violence, every confused and blind spirit be routed out and put to flight, and depart from the creature of this oil appointed for the use of men, so that this anointing for the divine sacraments may be purified for the adoption of flesh and spirit for those who shall be anointed from it unto the forgiveness of all sins that it may become in them a body sanctified for every spiritual grace, through the same our Lord Jesus Christ who shall come in the Holy Spirit to judge the living and the dead and the world through fire through the Lord.
Then another preface.
Truly it is worthy ... almighty everlasting God, who revealing the secrets of Thy mysteries, didst show a grove of trees to the eyes of Noah, witnessed the mouth of a dove, so that they who dwelled in the ark might learn through the Holy Spirit and the oil of an olive that the glory of liberation would return to the world. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall come to judge the world by fire. Amen.
The last rubric instructs the celebrant to resume the Mass from the comingling, to omit the peace, to receive Communion, and reserve it for the Mass of the Presanctified the next day.

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