Holy Oil Set from a Cathedral Ambry

Photos by OC-Travel

Holy oil ampullae urns are a rare sight, generally kept under lock and key and seen only in cathedral sacristies.  This fine example is a historical silver set from the treasury of the Cathedral of Vancouver, British Columbia.  It has been in continual use for generations.  The spherical shape is typical, resembling in some ways flasks seen in ancient Rome.  This set is estimated to date from sometime around the mid-1800's, although it could certainly be older.  In each ampulla is kept a small amount of oil at the bottom.  In every corner of the world these oils are generally crafted each year with great care of pure olive oil (balsam is mixed in for sacred chrism).  The oil signifies strength and the balsam the sacred aroma of Christ, for we are the "good odor" of Christ (2 Cor. 2:15).  

The urns are labelled O.S. (Oleum Sanctum/Oleum Catechumenorum) for Oil of the Catechumens, S.C. (Sacrum Chrisma) for Sacred Chrism, and O.I. (Oelum Infirmorum) for Oil of the Sick.  Chrism oil is consecrated by the bishop during the annual Chrism Mass at the cathedral while the other two are blessed by the bishop in the same ceremony.  Sacred Chrism is used for Baptism, Confirmations and Ordinations.  In addition, the urns are customarily veiled in some places after the oils are blessed, seen below.  The three colors are rich with symbolism: green for the oil of catechumens, white for sacred chrism and violet for the oil of the sick.  


The veils can add color and solemnity to the rite of blessing, known in the EF as the Ritus Solemnis pro Consecratione Oleorum.  

Other smaller urns are seen at individual parishes, seen below.

At parishes the oils are sometimes seen in smaller, more decorative stock, for use in the rites.  

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