How Things Used to Be

Q. I remember going to church on Easter Sunday morning in the 1950s and the blessing of the new oil and other things, but I do not remember the baptisms like we have now. When did all that change? I was busy raising a family and did not go to the vigil.

Frances, via e-mail

A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:

The 1950s were almost 60 years ago, so it’s possible that your memories are not quite accurate. As for “blessing the oils,” as far as my research suggests, that never took place on Easter Sunday during your lifetime. Up until 1956, the sacred oils were blessed (Oil of Catechumens and Oil of the Sick) or consecrated (Chrism) during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper — that is, the evening of Holy Thursday. Then, in 1956, the “Chrism Mass” was developed for both the Blessing of the Holy Oils (Chrism, Oil of Catechumens, Oil of the Sick), and the Renewal of Priestly Promises. The Chrism Mass is to be celebrated on Holy Thursday morning and is distinct from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday night.

The Second Vatican Council continued the liturgical renewal with the recovery of the Easter Vigil. Today, the Chrism Mass — celebrated by the local ordinary (bishop) with his clergy in attendance — can be celebrated earlier in Holy Week, and it provides not only the occasion for the annual Blessing of the Holy Oils but also the Renewal of Priestly Promises. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper commences the sacred Paschal Triduum. During this special Mass, the faithful witness the optional washing of the feet, the Eucharistic procession and Eucharistic vigil that lasts through the night. On the afternoon or evening of Good Friday, the faithful may participate in the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. Then, after sundown on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil takes place. It is during the Vigil that baptisms and confirmations take place, as well as the renewal of baptismal promises, the Blessing of the Easter Candle and the Blessing of the Water.