What a joy to be with our 59-year-young bishop for the Chrism Mass last night, and in the Chapel of Pusey House. The beauties of the Palestrina Mass seemed to be echoed in the particular sweetness of the incense rising above the Altar of Sacrifice: how well everything always is sung and done under Father Jonathan's beneficent rule. And that moving moment when the Pontiff leans over and breathes upon the Chrisma. Such things can easily be dismissed as rather embarrassing medievalisms. Far from it. The bishop, in S Ignatius' words the tupos tou Patros, the 'expressed likeness of the Father', breathes forth the Spirit just as the Eternal Father breathes forth the Eternal Spirit which proceeds from him in the economy of the Blessed Trinity (let us not digress into what this might imply about filioque). This detail is a potent sacrament (I use the term in a prescholastic sense) of the sole arche of the Father and the procession of the Spirit, and like all sacraments it visibly expresses what invisibly it contains.
And the Chrisma itself is also a just such a sacrament. S Cyril of Jerusalem writes 'Don't have an underlying thought that this is plain Ointment. For just as the loaf of thanksgiving (eucharistia) after the calling-down of the Holy Spirit is no longer ordinary bread, but the Body of Christ, so this holy Ointment is after the calling-down no longer simple (psilon) or as one might say common (koinon), but the gracious gift (charisma) of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, by the presence (parousia) of his godhead made operative within us' (or, as some scholars punctuate it: 'of Christ, and made operative within us of the Holy Spirit by the presence of his godhead').
This passage is set in the Office of Readings for Friday in Easter Week; how suitable to read in that season the catechesis of the neonati, the newly baptised, composed by so great a mystagogue. But, intriguingly, the Liturgia horarum omits the passage I have printed in bold. I have my suspicions why. The Eucharistic loaf becomes, is transsubstantiated, into the Body of Christ. The oil for the Chrism is not transsubstantiated into, for example, the Holy Spirit in the same simple one-for-one sort of exchange. Modern Western Christians thus make a clinical, black-and-white distinction between Sacraments and Sacramentals; we say that the contents of the Chalice are the Blood of the Redeemer; the contents of the Holy Water stoop are no more than water. This is a good rule-of-thumb but it can miss some of the subtilties and nuances which a broader reading of the Great Tradition can give us. The Chrisma is not just something like Holy Water or even the Oil for the Sick. That is why Bishop Andrew blessed the Oil for the Sick in a simple way just before the the sentence per quem haec omnia of the Canon Romanus, which is where all manner of ordinary goodies used once to be blessed. But the Chrisma was consecrated later and with a prayer chanted in the same way as the chanted parts of the Eucharistic Prayer, and even with the 'eucharistic' structure: God's Great Deeds are rehearsed, and then Te igitur leads into the request for consecration.
If I were a critical nit-picker, I would suggest that the omission in the 'new' breviary of those clauses from S Cyril constitutes an example of that introduction into the 'new' Liturgy of 'Enlightenment' oversimplifications which Aidan Nichols and Catherine Pickstock have taught us to deplore. It just shows that when saying the 'new' office it's important to have the Patrologia Graeca in one's back pocket as a crib to the Latin.