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oil of
chrism

This is a collection of notes relating to Oil of Chrism and its preparation.  This is not a full treatment of the subject.

The practice of the Roman Catholic Church is to use Balsam.  Traditionally this would have been Balsam (or Balm) of Gilead.  Balm of Gilead is very difficult to obtain.  The shrub from which it is extracted grows only in a very restricted area.  Balsam of Peru, Balsam of Tolu, and Copaiba Balsam are often used today.   There is a Canadian balsam called Balsam of Gilead, but this is not related to the middle-eastern one and has a distinctly different smell.

The Orthodox practice is to use a Chrism (“myrrhon”) which is composed of the essences of 48 sweet-smelling flowers and sweet-smelling herbs, exclusively made by the Ecumenical Patriarch and other Bishops together on Great and Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday).  A portion of the Chrism from the previous year is added to maintain continuity and “pass the blessing from generation to generation”.

Investigation two years ago led to the conclusion that the Anglican Church has no consistent practice.

St Paul’s in London uses floral fragrances.

The Cathedral in Philadelphia uses Bergamot because "It has a wonderful fragrance but no color, so the oil remains its natural color.", they say.  Whether this is indeed a benefit is arguable.  On the other hand, an issue with relation to Balsam is that it does not dissolve in oil.

A reference from a Canadian priest was "Many years ago I took liturgics from Massey Shepherd and he developed a formula which I believe contained olive oil, oil of wintergreen or peppermint, and oil of cloves. The wintergreen/peppermint gave it a feeling of warmth, while the cloves provided a spice odor."

One essential oil supplier believes that Oil of Nard has been used in Chrism.  Incidentally, he suggests that there is a tradition that the "Gold" of the Magi was Oil of Nard (apparently the Hebrew dhb is used for both Gold and Balsam).

On the issue of strength of fragrance, apocryphally Chrism has such a powerful fragrance that a church is filled with it.  Given the volume of a large church or cathedral it is not clear how any fragrance can fill such a space in a short time.

Notes on the following pages cover:

 
The Oil for Anointing as given to Moses
The composition of the Holy Chrism as used in Wakefield in 2006
An article from the Catholic Encyclopedia relating to Chrism
An article from the Catholic Encyclopedia relating to Balsam
An article from A Modern Herbal relating to Balm of Gilead

 John Hadjioannou
The Baptism of Christ, 2002

Copyright © 2005-8, Fr John Hadjioannou