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How chrism is made

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placeholder April 1, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 7   •   Oakland, CA
Chrism Mass
Representatives of the diocese's 84 parishes carried parish banners and containers of oil into the Cathedral of Christ the Light March 14 for a Mass, music and consecration of the chrism, the holy oil used in confirmation, baptism and holy orders, and other sacred rites. Archbishop Alex J. Brunett consecrated the chrism, left, and the priests of the diocese renewed their vows. The Mass reflected the diversity of the diocese, with readings in Vietnamese and Spanish, and the Gospel reading in English. The universal prayers were offered in several languages.
All: josÉ luis aguirre/
The Catholic Voice

How chrism is made

Maura Bonnarens helps mix the oils.
MICHELE JURICH/The Catholic Voice

Chrism — the holy oil used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders — can only be consecrated by a bishop.

But before the chrism makes its way to the cathedral, to be consecrated at a Mass before Holy Week, the oil has to be prepared.

In the Diocese of Oakland, by tradition, the process to scent the oil to prepare it for its journey to the cathedral, and, for some, from there to the parishes, is the work of the masters of ceremonies of the bishop's office.

On the afternoon of March 7, three of the masters of ceremonies — Mark Hernbroth, Adrian Fulay and Maura Bonnarens — carefully prepared the oils.

While the master of ceremonies may be better known for the role of rehearsing and ensuring that large, complex liturgies run smoothly, the making of the chrism also requires concentration and accuracy.

The recipe changes slightly from year to year. Hernbroth created this year's recipe, which uses oils referred to in the Bible and some local offerings. Working in the parish hall at the Cathedral of Christ the Light, they measured and poured, pausing frequently to smell the concoction.

More than a dozen brown-glass bottles of essential oils lined their work table, as a series of measuring cups and devices, reserved just for this purpose, stood at the ready.

Olive oil is the key ingredient in chrism. "The olive oil is a gift of the Dominican sisters of Mission San Jose," Hernbroth said. The winter harvest oil was pressed from olives grown on trees at the sisters' motherhouse property near the old mission.

The fragrances were mixed separately. Fulay was in charge of the balsam mix, which includes frankincense, eucalyptus, balsam of Peru, myrrh and lavender.

Bonnarens, on the opposite side of the table, was measuring the florals, including lilac, gardenia and lily of the valley.

Once those were completed, the balsam and florals were mixed together and measured into the 12 gallons of waiting oil, which had been placed in colorful containers marked CHRISM.

After the chrism was prepared, it was set aside to age, where it would be shaken up, on the intervening Sunday before the Chrism Mass the next week.

Representatives of each parish would bring clean vessels to be filled with the chrism for use in their parishes.

Chrism is made new each year. Any leftover oils are buried or burned. At the Cathedral Parish, they are burned in the Easter Vigil fire.

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