On March 27, rostered ministers from Northwest Ohio will be gathering for the annual Affirmation of Vows Chrism Mass. This special service includes the blessing of oils and a renewal of the commitment these leaders have made to serve the body of Christ.

The blessing and use of oil (chrism) is nothing new. In fact, the use of oil is mentioned a great deal throughout Scripture, with “oil” appearing 224 times and “anointing” appearing 170 times. Biblically, oil was used to anoint queens, kings, and priests, as a sacrifice, and as an agent of healing.

Today, oil is still used in a variety of contexts with some similarities to biblical practice. The oil used is simple olive oil, often mixed with a hint of perfume. Oil is used as a part of Holy Baptism to make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the newly baptized. While the cross is made, the presiding minister speaks the words, “child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” Oil is also used during the service of Healing during the laying on of hands. One of the responses read is “Receive this oil as a sign of forgiveness and healing in Jesus Christ.” This response is based on James 5:13-16:

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

Oil is being used more often as part of the sending rite as well. In this, the community comes forward and hands are anointed for service in the world. This anointing links baptism with Christian vocation.

But the blessing of oils is not the only purpose of the Chrism Mass.

Traditionally, the Chrism Mass is held on Maundy Thursday, as this day in the early Church was a final day of preparation before the sundown that began the journey to Easter. Some traditions also believe that Maundy Thursday was when the first ordinations took place.

Maundy Thursday has become the day to bless the oils (chrism) that will be used for Easter Vigil baptisms and, since clergy come together with their bishop for the blessing of the oils that they receive to use in their parishes, the time is also used to renew the vows they took at their ordination. Although many synods do not hold Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday, it is generally still held during Holy Week and is recognized as a holy and spiritual time of reflection.

There is no doubt that Holy Week demands a great deal from our ministers in both body, mind, and spirit. But this time of worship, fellowship, and renewal with the Bishop and colleagues can be a time of spiritual preparation for Lent and Holy Week.

As it says in the ELCA Worship Formation and Liturgical Resource on Oils:

“Worship is more than words. It is the action of an assembly gathered together to offer prayer and thanksgiving and to receive from God the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Signs and earthly elements, such as oil, can help communicate in a powerful way the reality of our participation in God’s unending life, and our participation in the healing of the world accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus.”

We invite you to pray for our rostered ministers as they join together and renew their commitment to serving God in Northwest Ohio.