Chrism Mass & the Real Presence of the Holy Spirit

by Robert Feduccia

Here’s a theological thought that completely blew my nice and tidy, don’t rock the boat theological mind.

I was with a theologian that I greatly respect. Master’s degree from Franciscan University. Doctoral degree from Marquette. Franciscan and Jesuit in his spiritual background, he is a prayerful theologian who wants to think in harmony with the Church and proclaim the eternal truths of the Church. I mention all of this so that you get the sense of trust I placed in him and, of course, I’m making the case for you to do the same.

This is one of those moments that you don’t forget and it lingers with you forever. OK. I’m going to get into now lest you think this is a click bait Internet ad.

This theologian and I were visiting a church that neither of us had been in before. We were standing next to the Ambry. The Ambry is the cabinet or enclosed niche where the sacred oils are reserved. While we stood near these three sacred oils, the oil of the infirmed, the oil of the catechumen, and sacred chrism, I turned toward the altar and reverently and profoundly bowed as a devout wannabe liturgist should. Then this exchange happened.

Theologian: Why did you bow?

Me: I bowed to the altar?

Theologian: But why did you bow to the altar?

Me: Because it has been consecrated.

Theologian: What consecrated it?

Me: Sacred chrism.

Theologian: Yes. Sacred chrism.

At this moment the theologian pointed to the tabernacle and definitively said: “The Real Presence of Jesus.”

He then pointed to the Ambry and asked, “The Real Presence of the Holy Spirit?” He walked away with a wry grin and left me dumbfounded.

Since then, I have had a deep devotion to the sacred oils and it is why I love the Chrism Mass. 

“Why are you Catholic?” has as many answers as there are Catholics. For me, I am Catholic because of apostolic succession. Other answers may relate to the Eucharist and those are great answers, but I believe in the Eucharist because the apostles and their successors did.

In the West we split baptism from confirmation because we believed that the presbyters should baptize, but we wanted to hold the conferral of the Holy Spirit with the bishop.

During the Eucharistic prayer, the priest is to breathe on the bread and wine as they are being transformed into the Sacred Body and Precious Blood.

Similarly, the bishop breathes on Sacred Chrism. The bishop has the fullness of the priesthood and our Catholic theology says that the conferral of the Holy Spirit uniquely is with the bishop.

These thoughts have gravely transformed the way I look at the Ambry and the way I participate in the Chrism Mass. I hope it blows your mind, too.

(By the way, check out our free resource: Prayer at the Ambry – an intentional prayer service to highlight the Ambry — the cabinet that houses the oils that were blessed during Holy Week by the Bishop. The focus of this prayer service is to pray for the truths of these oils to be felt in our lives.)