BRAINTREE -- A group of religious sisters gathered last month at Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley's Pastoral Center offices to prepare the sacred oils that will be blessed at the Chrism Mass which will be celebrated on Tuesday of Holy Week at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
Sisters of the Sisters of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth and Sister Disciples of the Divine Master worked to bottle nearly 400 sets of sacramental oils that will be distributed following the Chrism Mass, April 11.
The Chrism Mass serves as a symbol of unity in dioceses throughout the Catholic world as during Holy Week each year, the local bishop blesses the sacred oils used to administer sacraments for the coming year: the oil of catechumens, the oil of the infirm and the sacred chrism.
These oils will be used by the parishes, chapels, and shrines of the archdiocese, as well by priests who minister outside the parish and those who serve in hospital ministry.
"A morning's worth of work like today is very far reaching when you think of how many people are using these oils that the sisters have bottled," said Judith Haglof, executive assistant to the cardinal, who coordinates the preparation and distribution of the oils.
The Daughters of Nazareth have been assisting with the preparations for the Chrism Mass for the past four years, while the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master have been assisting for the past 10.
In years past, the sacred oils would be blessed only in large urns with spigots and, following the Mass, priests or their representatives would come with their own vessels to refill them. However, an unsteady hand or dripping spigot could result in the oils being wasted or spilled. The system of bottling is efficient and precise, and it makes the distribution of the oils following the Chrism Mass smoother as well.
"In an archdiocese the size of ours, it's always been a challenge for those who were responsible for coordinating the distribution of the oils to find a way to do it smoothly, respectfully, that really respects the dignity and importance of these oils," said Father Jonathan Gaspar, priest secretary to the cardinal and director of the archdiocese's Office of Divine Worship.
"When I was a seminarian, we used to do the distribution of oils, and priests would come in with all sorts of vessels to have filled with oils... it wasn't the most dignified way to transport these sacred oils," he continued, adding that seminarians still assist with the distribution today.
"So now we've come up with this system where we have all the oils pre-bottled so the cardinal blesses the oils" in their individual bottles during the Chrism Mass.
After they are blessed, the oils are packaged and distributed to the priests following the Mass.
"We have the oils ready in matching glass bottles, nicely labeled, with boxed sets of the three oils prepared for each parish," said Sister Emmanuel Kwak, PDDM.
"It's really nice to see the faces of the priests and people who claim the oils for their parishes go away from the Chrism Mass with happy and content faces," she said.
The oils are meant to last all year, although extra oil is also blessed during the Mass and is kept at the cathedral as a reserve if a parish or ministry runs out.
The current method of bottling and distributing the oils saves time, said Father Gaspar, as priests now wait only around 20 minutes to receive their oils at the end of the Chrism Mass as opposed to the hour they used to wait.
Still, said Haglof, "we're always fine-tuning it a little bit more and a little bit more."
For the sisters, assisting with the oils and the Chrism Mass is a pleasure.
"On a diocesan level, Chrism Mass is my favorite liturgical gathering of our local Church," said Mother Olga Yaqob, superior of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth.
"It is a profound and significant gesture of unity, first, between the priests and the bishop when they all come together with one heart and one voice and renew their priestly promises," as well as a "reminder of their unity with their flock that they have been called to shepherd."
"To serve in preparation for this mass and to witness the unity of our local diocese with the universal Church through this liturgy, it's a scene to behold and a sign of hope to ponder for generations to come," she said.
Postulant Mary Povencher of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth called the preparation of the oils "a great privilege and a deeply humbling experience."
"It was a joy and honor to pray as we worked, interceding for each person who God knows will be anointed with these oils in the coming year. It was a beautiful way to be present to all the parishes in the archdiocese, bottle by bottle."