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Maundy Thursday Morning
The gentle pace of Monday to Wednesday in Holy Week is now interrupted by a series of major liturgical events. The first of these is what is called the Chrism Mass held customarily on the morning of Maundy Thursday . In every Cathedral, Diocesan bishops gather with their fellow bishops, clergy and Lay Ministers and lots of lay people, many of whom come to show support to their parish ministers.
At this gathering of the Diocese, the focus is on the theme of 'service'. Another word for this derived from Latin is 'ministry'. The Bishop (or another of the senior clergy as delegated by the diocesan bishop) preaches about the challenges and joys of ministry in today's society.
We then renew our ordination or ministerial vows - the solemn promises we made when we first entered upon the ministries we now exercise in the Church. Prayers are then said for all kinds of service in the world as well as the Church.
Just before the Eucharistic Prayer 3 batches of olive oil are blessed for use. Each for a specific purpose. Oil of Baptism, Oil for the Sick and the Chrism Oil (which gives its name to this entire gathering). The Oil of Baptism is used to anoint candidates after they have declared their Decision and before their actual baptism with water; the Oil for the Sick is used when someone who is ill or in crisis is formally prayed over, hands laid on and then anointed by a priest as an expression of God's healing power. The Chrism Oil has fragrant herbs added to it, making it in fact into a kind of perfume, and is used by the Bishop at confirmation services and ordinations as an expression of the power of the Holy Spirit. So 3 kinds of consecrated oil for use throughout the Diocese over the coming year. After the service each parish and chaplaincy takes away this oil in small pots, duly labelled to be kept locked away securely until it is time to use it or dispose of it (by burning it preferably) in preparation for next year's Chrism Mass. Each parish which uses these oils in their designated fashion is also declaring unity and a common purpose with their Diocesan Bishop and one another.
All these ceremonies are then taken up in the Eucharist which follows and Communion is received before we are all sent back to our chapels and parish churches to celebrate the Triduum. To understand why today of all days is the customary day for this annual service we have to remind ourselves of the themes of love, unity and service particularly to the fore in 2 great stories told during Holy Week. The first is the episode of the woman with the costly jar of perfume who anoints Jesus' feet and thus prepares him for his burial. The second is Jesus himself taking a towel and washing the disciples' feet as a sign of service with the new commandment that his disciples are to love and serve one another. This Chrism Mass renews us in our vocations and we are sent directly by our bishop to fulfill that commandment of Jesus. Suitably reinvigorated we return and prepare for the Great Three Days.
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