Pope’s Schedule: Pope Francis will return to wash prisoner’s feet on Holy Thursday


During Holy Week, Pope Francis will not miss his weekly catechesis with the pilgrims on Wednesday.

On Thursday at 9:30, he will celebrate the Chrism Mass, where he will bless the holy oils that will be used throughout the year when administering Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick.

In the afternoon, he will celebrate the rite of the washing of feet at a prison in Paliano, about 30 miles outside of Rome.

On Friday at 5:00 p.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica, he will preside over the Penitential Ceremony. At 9:15 p.m., he will then travel to the Colosseum for the traditional Way of the Cross. This year, the pilgrims will reflect on meditations written by Anne-Marie Pelletier, the first woman to win the Ratzinger Prize, which is considered the Nobel Prize of Theology.

The Easter Vigil will be held Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in the Basilica, while Easter Sunday will be celebrated at 10:00 a.m. in St. Peter’s Square. It will be followed by the pope’s Urbi et Orbi blessing.


Would you please explain the significance of the Chrism Mass?

On Holy Thursday morning (in some dioceses it may be another morning during Holy Week), the bishop, joined by the priests of the diocese, gather at the Cathedral to celebrate the Chrism Mass. This Mass manifests the unity of the priests with their bishop.

Here the bishop blesses three oils — the oil of catechumens (oleum catechumenorum or oleum sanctorum), the oil of the infirm (oleum infirmorum) and holy chrism (sacrum chrisma) — which will be used in the administration of the sacraments throughout the diocese for the year. This tradition is rooted in the early Church as noted in the Gelasian Sacramentary (named after Pope Gelasius I, d. 496), but was later absorbed into the Holy Thursday evening Mass; Pope Pius XII issued a new Ordinal for Holy Week, which reinstituted a special Mass of the chrism distinct from the evening Mass.

Throughout the Bible, various references indicate the importance of olive oil in daily life. Oil was used in cooking, particularly in the making of bread, that basic food substance for nourishment (e.g. Nm 11:7-9); as a fuel for lamps (e.g. Mt 25:1-9); and as a healing agent in medicine (e.g. Is 1:6 and Lk 10:34). Moreover, with oil the Jews anointed the head of a guest as a sign of welcome (e.g. Lk 7:46), beautified one’s appearance (e.g. Ru 3:3) and prepared a body for burial (e.g. Mk In religious practices, the Jews also used oil to offer sacrifices (e.g. Ex 29:40); to dedicate a memorial stone in honor of God (e.g. Gn 28:18); and to consecrate the meeting tent, the ark of the covenant, the table, the lampstand, the laver, the altar of incense, and the altar of holocausts (e.g. Ex 31:26-29). The use of oil was clearly a part of the daily life of the people.

Sacred Scripture also attests to the spiritual symbolism of oil. For instance, Psalm 23:5 reads, “You anoint my head with oil,” signifying favor and strength from the Lord; and Psalm 45:8 reads, “You love justice and hate wickedness; therefore, God your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellow kings,” signifying the special designation from God and the joy of being His servant. Moreover, to be “the anointed” of the Lord indicated receiving a special vocation from the Lord and the empowerment with the Holy Spirit to fulfill that vocation: Jesus, echoing the words of Isaiah, spoke, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore, He has anointed me” (Lk 4:18). St. Paul emphasized this point, “God is the one Who firmly establishes us along with you in Christ; it is He Who anointed us and has sealed us, thereby depositing the first payment, the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor 1:21). Therefore, the symbolism of oil is rich sanctification, healing, strengthening, beautification, dedication, consecration and sacrifice.

Given this heritage, the early Church adopted the use of olive oil for its sacramental rituals. The Oil of Catechumens is used in connection with the sacrament of baptism. St. Hippolytus, in his Apostolic Tradition (A.D. 215), wrote of an “oil of exorcism” used to anoint the candidates immediately before baptism. This practice continues: In the current baptismal liturgy, the priest offers the prayer of exorcism and then with the oil of catechumens anoints the person to be baptized on the chest, saying, “We anoint you with the oil of salvation in the name of Christ our Savior; may He strengthen you with His power, Who lives and reigns forever and ever.”

Anointing with the oil of catechumens following a prayer of exorcism may also take place during the period of the catechumenate on one or several occasions. In both cases this anointing symbolizes the person’s need for the help and strength of God to sever the bondage of the past and to overcome the opposition of the devil so that he may profess his faith, come to baptism and live as a child of God.

The oil of the infirm is used in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick (formerly known as extreme unction). St. James wrote, “Is there anyone sick among you? He should ask for the priests of the Church. They in turn are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. This prayer uttered in faith will reclaim the one who is ill, and the Lord will restore him to health. If he has committed any sins, forgiveness will be his” (Jas 5:14-15).

The Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus recorded one of the earliest formulas for blessing the oil of the infirm. Also, in the early Church, a priest (or several priests) would bless this oil at the time it was to be used, a tradition that has been retained in the Eastern Churches. However, in the Latin Rite, at least since the time of the Middles Ages, priests have used oil blessed by the bishop; for instance, St. Boniface in 730 ordered all priests in Germany to use the oil of the infirm blessed by bishops only. Presently, the priest, anointing the forehead of the person, says, “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit,” and then anointing his hands, says, “May the Lord who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up.” Another body part may also be anointed if the hands are not accessible or if there is another particular need.

Finally, holy chrism is a mixture of olive oil and balsam, an aromatic resin. This oil is linked with the sanctification of individuals. In the Old Testament times, the priest, prophets and kings of the Jewish people were anointed. This oil is used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and holy orders, since they impart an indelible sacramental character. The blessing of the holy chrism is different from that of the other oils: Here the bishop breathes over the vessel of chrism, a gesture which symbolizes both the Holy Spirit coming down to consecrate this oil, and the life-giving, sanctifying nature of the sacraments for which it is used. (Recall how our Lord “breathed” on the Apostles on the night of Easter, saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (Jn 20:22).) The concelebrants at the Chrism Mass also extend their right hands toward the chrism as the bishop says the consecratory prayer, signifying that in union with their bishop they share “in the authority by which Christ Himself builds up and sanctifies and rules His Body,” the Church (Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, No. 2).

Regarding baptism, St. Hippolytus in the Apsotolic Tradition spoke of an anointing after the actual baptism with the “oil of thanksgiving.” Similarly, right after the actual baptism in the present rite, the priest anoints the person on the crown of the head with chrism, saying, “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin and given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit. He now anoints with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as a member of His body, sharing everlasting life. Amen.”

In the sacrament of confirmation, the bishop anoints the forehead of the candidate with chrism saying, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Sacred chrism is also used in the sacrament of holy orders. In the ordination rite of a priest, the bishop anoints with chrism the palms of each new priest. In the ordination rite of a bishop, the consecrating bishop anoints the head of the new bishop.

Finally, holy chrism is used in the dedication ceremony of a church. Here the bishop anoints the altar, pouring holy chrism on the middle of the altar and on each of its four corners. It is recommended that the bishop anoint the entire altar. After anointing the altar, he anoints the walls of the church in 12 or four places marked by crosses.

As our bishop blesses these three oils at the Chrism Mass this year, our hearts turn to our gracious Lord who bestows His infinite love and mercy to us through these sacraments. Let us also pray for our bishop and the priests who are the ministers of the sacraments in the parish, that they may be the humble and generous servants of the Lord.


penitential is a book or set of church rules concerning the Christiansacrament of penance, a “new manner of reconciliation with God”[1] that was first developed by Celtic monks in Ireland in the sixth century AD. It consisted of a list of sins and the appropriate penances prescribed for them, and served as a type of manual for confessors.


In the Early Christian Church absolution for sin was granted after confession and absolution; reconciliation was followed by readmission to the Eucharist. Absolution was granted once in a lifetime, and at set seasons of the year. Public penance did not necessarily include a public avowal of sin, but was decided by the confessor, and was to some extent determined by whether or not the offense was sufficiently open or notorious to cause scandal to others.[2]Oakley points out that recourse to public penance varied both in time and place, and was affected by the weaknesses of the secular law.[3] The ancient praxis of penance relied on papal decrees and synods, which were translated and collected in early medieval collection. Little of those written rules, however, was retained in the later penitentials.[4]

The earliest important penitentials were those by the Irish abbots Cummean (who based his work on a sixth-century Celtic monastic text known as the Paenitentiale Ambrosianum),[5]Columbanus and Archbishop of CanterburyTheodore of Tarsus. Most later penitentials are based on theirs, rather than on earlier Roman texts.[4]The number of Irish penitentials and their importance is cited as evidence of the particular strictness of the Irish spirituality of the seventh century.[6]Walter J. Woods holds that “[o]ver time the penitential books helped suppress homicide, personal violence, theft, and other offenses that damaged the community and made the offender a target for revenge.”[7]

According to Thomas Pollock Oakley, the penitential guides first developed in Wales, probably at St. David’s, and spread by missions to Ireland.[8] They were brought to Britain with the Hiberno-Scottish mission and were introduced to the Continent by Irish and Anglo-Saxon missionaries.[9]


As priests heard confessions, they began to compile unofficial handbooks that dealt with the most confessed sins and wrote down set penances for those sins. Penances would vary given both the severity of the offense and the status of the sinner; such that the penance imposed on a bishop would generally be more severe than that imposed on a deacon for the same offense.[10] For stealing, Cummean prescribed that a layman shall do one year of penance; a cleric, two; a subdeacon three; a deacon, four; a priest, five; a bishop, six.[2]

The list of various penitential acts imposed on the sinner to ensure reparation included more or less rigorous fasts, prostrations, deprivation of things otherwise allowable; also alms, prayers, and pilgrimages. The duration was specified in days, quarantines, or years.[9] Gildas lists the penance for an inebriated monk, “If any one because of drunkenness is unable to sing the Psalms, being stupefied and without speech, he is deprived of dinner.”[11]

The penitentials advised the confessor to inquire into the sinner’s state of mind and social condition. The priest was told to ask if the sinner before him was rich or poor; educated; ill; young or old; to ask if he or she had sinned voluntarily or involuntarily, and so forth. The spiritual and mental state of the sinner—as well as his or her social status was fundamental to the process. Moreover, some penitentials instructed the priest to ascertain the sinner’s sincerity by observing posture and tone of voice.

Penitentials were soon compiled with the authorization of bishops concerned with enforcing uniform disciplinary standards within a given district.


The Penitential of Cummean counseled a priest to take into consideration in imposing a penance, the penitent’s strengths and weaknesses.[12] Those who could not fast were obliged instead to recite daily a certain number of psalms, to give alms, or perform some other penitential exercise as determined by the confessor.[2]

Some penances could be commuted through payments or substitutions. While the sanctions in early penitentials, such as that of Gildas, were primarily act of mortification or in some cases excommunication, the inclusion of fines in later compilations derive from secular law, and indicate a church becoming assimilated into the larger society.[12]The connection with the principles embodied in law codes, which were largely composed of schedules of wergeld or compensation, are evident. “Recidivism was always possible, and the commutation of sentence by payment of cash perpetuated the notion that salvation could be bought”.[13]

Commutations and the intersection of ecclesiastical penance with secular law both differed from locality to locality. Nor were commutations restricted to financial payments: extreme fasts and recitation of large numbers of psalms could also commute penances; the system of commutation did not reinforce commonplace connections between poverty and sinfulness, even though it favored people of means and education over those without such advantages. But the idea that whole communities, from top to bottom, richest to poorest, submitted to the same form of ecclesiastical discipline is itself misleading. For example, meat was a rarity in the diet of the poor, with or without the imposition of ecclesiastical fasts. In addition, the system of public penance was not replaced by private penance; the penitentials themselves refer to public penitential ceremonies.


The Council of Paris of 829 condemned the penitentials and ordered all of them to be burnt. In practice, a penitential remained one of the few books that a country priest might have possessed. Some argue that the last penitential was composed by Alain de Lille, in 1180. The objections of the Council of Paris concerned penitentials of uncertain authorship or origin. Penitentials continued to be written, edited, adapted, and, in England, translated into the vernacular. They served an important role in the education of priests as well as in the disciplinary and devotional practices of the laity. Penitentials did not go out of existence in the late twelfth century. Robert of Flamborough wrote his Liber Poenitentialis in 1208.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Rouche 1987, p. 528.
  2. a b c Hanna, Edward. “The Sacrament of Penance.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 3 Dec. 2014
  3. ^ Oakley, p.45, n.1.
  4. a b Körntgen, Ludger (2006). “Kanonisches Recht und Busspraxis: Zu Kontext und Funktion des Paenitentiale Cummeani”. In Kenneth Pennington; Wolfgang P. Müller; Mary E. Sommar. Medieval church law and the origins of the Western legal tradition: a tribute to Kenneth Pennington. Catholic University of America Excarpsus Press. pp. 17–32. ISBN 978-0-8132-1462-7.
  5. ^ L. Körntgen, Studien zu den Quellen der frühmittelalterlichen Bussbücher, Quellen und Forschungen zum Recht im Mittelalter 7 (Sigmaringen, 1993), pp. 257–70.
  6. ^ Dierkens, Alain (1996). “Willibrord und Bonifatius—Die angelsächsischen Missionen und das Fränkischen Königreich in der ersten Hälfte des 8. Jahrhunderts”. Die Franken. Wegbereiter Europas. 5. bis 8. Jahrhundert. Mainz: Von Zabert. pp. 459–65.
  7. ^ Woods, Walter J., Walking with Faith: New Perspectives on the Sources and Shaping of Catholic Moral Life, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010 ISBN 9781608992850
  8. ^ Oakley, Thomas Pollock. English Penitential Discipline and Anglo-Saxon Law in Their Joint Influence, p.28, The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 2003 ISBN 9781584773023
  9. a b Boudinhon, Auguste. “Penitential Canons.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 3 Dec. 2014
  10. ^ Frantzen, Allen J. “The Anglo-Saxon Penitentials”
  11. ^ “Gildas on Penance”,
  12. a b Davies, Oliver and O’Loughlin, Thomas.Celtic Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1999 ISBN 9780809138944
  13. ^ Rouche 1987, p. 529.



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