The Catholic Church uses lots of physical materials in the administration of its sacraments: water, wine, bread, and oils are typical examples. We have three kinds of sacramental oils: the oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick, and Sacred Chrism. This last is a kind of multi-purpose oils used for many kinds of sacraments and blessings.
Like all our sacred oils, Chrism is made from olive oil, although other vegetable oils can be used if olive oil is unavailable. And like the other two, Chrism is blessed at the end of Lent by the diocesan bishop, at a special liturgy called the Chrism Mass. Unlike to other sacramental oils. Chrism is scented, usually with essential oil of Balsam, giving it a woody, pine-like fragrance.
Sacred Chrism is used primarily for baptisms and ordinations. At baptism, after the baptism in water, the one being initiated into the Church is anointed with Chrism, alone with a prayer that recollects Christ being anointed priest, prophet, and king.
During a priesthood ordination, the hands of the ordinand are anointed with Chrism, while the bishop prays, “The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.” While this is happening, the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus is usually sung.
In addition to these sacramental uses, Sacred Chrism is also used to consecrate a new altar, and to bless church bells at their installation.
For centuries, this fragrant blessed oil has been a symbol of God’s overflowing grace and generosity. It’s a multi-sensory reminder of the goodness of creation, and of people and objects that are set apart from that creation to serve a sacred purpose.