QUAERITUR: sacred chrism

From a reader:

The time for the annual Chrism Mass is nearing and I would like to ask you and your readers a question about the various essences added to the olive oil during the sacred rites. 
Inquiry.  I am interested in knowing what mixtures various diocesan liturgists use in preparing the sacred chrism for the Holy Thursday Mass.  Over the years we have used the Holy Rood mixture which is very popular here in America.  I also remember a fine mixture from Steffen Arctander in the distant past which is no longer available.  I am interested in hearing and learning what other products are used in other parts of the world.  What essence is used in the papal Chrism Mass?


I have no idea.


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  1. wanda says:

    It’s pretty quiet in here..chirrpp..chirrpp..(crickets).

  2. Luke says:

    The following is all that I could find. There is a discrepancy between the use of red wine versus white wine. I’m fairly certain that we use a much simpler recipe here in America, but this is interesting. It also looks like a lot of work. I hope it’s some help to you. The Trappists also have their own chrism recipe which apparently is kept secret. Maybe somebody will come along with a more sensible recipe than the following one, but it seems to me that a person could glean their own recipe based on the account given to Moses.

    “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take the finest spices — 12 pounds of liquid myrrh, 6 pounds of sweet-smelling cinnamon, 6 pounds of sweet cane, and 12 pounds of cassia (all weighted according to official standard). Add one gallon of olive oil, and make a sacred anointing oil, mixed like perfume.”’ (Exodus 30:22-25)

    Holy Chrism is prepared chiefly from olive oil, but includes white grape wine and a great number and variety of incenses and other aromatic substances (57 different elements), which symbolize the variety of gifts of the Holy Spirit that the chrismated Christian receives. (St. Dionysius the Areopagite, in his Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, elaborates on the mystical significance of the large number of ingredients used.) The most ancient list of materials used for the preparation and making of the Holy Chrism–which is still used today–dates from the eighth century A.D. The care and purity with which Holy Chrism has been prepared since Apostolic times, is the marker the reverence and awe we should feel for this Mystery.
    Reverend Father Mark Arey’s translation of The Holy Myrrhon in the Eastern Orthodox Church includes the 57 ingredients used to make the anointing oil. The formula, which is Mediterranean in origin, includes:

    1. pure olive oil
    2. red wine
    3. flower extract
    4. rose extract
    5. pure mastic
    6. almond resin
    7. primula flowers
    8. aloe of Barbades
    9. pepper (long)
    10. nutmeg
    11. malabathrum
    12. angelica herb
    13. extract of styrax
    14. pure myrrh
    15. pepper (black)
    16. fragrant snap ring
    17. balsam resin
    18. sweet calamus
    19. Florentine lily
    20. saffron
    21. aristoloche
    22. fruit of the balsam tree
    23. cyperus rotundus
    24. sweet bay
    25. Celtic nard (valerian)
    26. black cassia
    27. pressed nut oil
    28. cardamom
    29. clove
    30. cinnamon
    31. wild nard
    32. fragrant mace
    33. Venetian terebinth
    34. white resin
    35. pure nut oil
    36. marjoram
    37. ladanum
    38. Indian nard
    39. incense of Lebanon
    40. white ginger (of Ceylon)
    41. zerneb
    42. fenugreek
    43. helenium

    After the above have been boiled and mixed, then is added:

    44. oil cinnamon of Ceylon
    45. oil of clove
    46. congealed oil of nutmeg
    47. balsam of Mecca
    48. rose oil
    49. mace oil
    50. lemon oil
    51. oil of balsam fruit
    52. oil of marjoram
    53. oil of bay-tree
    54. oil of rosemary
    55. oil of lavender
    56. Indian musk
    57. true amber

  3. I love that Celtic nard and zerneb.

  4. Luke says:

    The ingredients for the Holy Chrism symbolize the perfection of virtues whose fullness and sacramental unity is our Lord Jesus Christ. I like this sentence because, although we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are called to model the virtues of Jesus Christ. The name of the Bridegroom whispered by the Bride in the Song is never revealed, yet the Bride says, “delicate is the fragrance of your perfume, your name is an oil poured out…” St Bernard spoke in his nineteenth sermon about how it is through the Bride that he will draw all the people of the earth to himself: “…My Beloved, says the Bride, here is the fruit of your name poured out on me; it is the love of these maidens. Unable to seize your fullness on their own, they are sensitive to your radiance through me.” As the third verse of the Song relates: “that is why the maidens love you.”St. Francis de Sales writes of this, “He who is attracted by the sweetness of your perfume enters the shop of a perfume merchant, and receiving the pleasure of the aromas he smells, goes out and shares his pleasure with others, spreading among them the fragrance of the perfumes he has taken with him.” Regarding how to mix them or in what proportion, I know not.

  5. Mike says:

    The Holy Rood Guild produces a Chrism Essence that is quite popular.

  6. ohkymom says:

    Luke, 57 ingredients! Oh my! And Father, my Covington KY diocese has the Chrism Mass on a Tuesday (for the last 3 bishops)– never Holy Thursday — Hmmm? Pray for us!

  7. Luke says:

    Yes. It is a long list of ingredients. The Eastern Orthodox have kept some beautiful traditions. I think the major point is to make an oil that smells sweet to represent the sweet odor of Christ. The biblical prescription is much simpler looking. It would be nice to see somebody post a Western Roman recipe that doesn’t loom quite as daunting. Gotta hand it to those who still prayerfully make the “chrism ’57.” Wow.

  8. Charivari Rob says:

    That’s great, Luke. I did some searching around, found a link or two that alluded to the 57 ingredient compound, but didn’t go into any detail beyond olive oil and basalm.

  9. rinkevichjm says:

    The old Catholic Encyclopedia has an article. Olive oil and balsam were required.

  10. pjsandstrom says:

    With 57 varieties, maybe one should inquire from the Heinz/Kerry company. (Just joking!)

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