“Anointed for the Three-Fold Mission of Christ”
Homily for Chrism Mass
April 7, 2022; St. Mary’s Cathedral
It has been said that oil is the lifeblood of our economy. We certainly are feeling that quite acutely now, with the sharp increase in oil prices that is bringing more pain at the pump! The oil in this case is petroleum, and while we gauge its value every time we fill up at the gas station, petroleum is much more than a fuel; it is the raw material used in so many products that are part of modern life, everything from shoe polish to surf boards.
Identity and Mission
Oil was also the lifeblood of the ancient world – olive oil, that is. Now, as in ancient times, olive oil is used for cooking, but back then it was valuable far beyond that: it provided fuel for light in lamps, it was used to heal wounds, and it was poured out to anoint persons set apart for sacred duties. It is in this last sense that our Mass this evening finds its purpose: to bless and consecrate sacred oils for anointing the people of God, setting them apart for a sacred mission, to be fuel for Christ’s healing and light in the world. In so doing, they follow where the Master has gone first.
The prescribed Gospel for this Chrism Mass is the familiar scene of our Lord in the synagogue at the outset of his public ministry. Here he cites the prophecy from Isaiah (which we heard in First Reading) regarding the Messiah. And he proclaims: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” That is to say, he’s the one! The long-awaited Messiah has come, God has fulfilled His promise of old. And, he is anointed for this calling, because his mission – what he has come to do – follows from who he is.
His mission, then, fulfills the mission of those who were anointed for office among the original people God chose to be His own:
- “to proclaim liberty to captives” and “to let the oppressed go free”: in freeing those held captive by sin or oppressed by the presence of evil in the world, he fulfills his office of Priest, sanctifying us and reconciling us to his Father. He is the hope of those who are oppressed by injustice or who perpetuate it, of those who are trapped in their own web of addiction and disordered passions.
- “recovery of sight to the blind”: he has now revealed the truth to us, we no longer have to remain in the darkness of ignorance. He is thus our Prophet, enlightening us with the truth so that we can live in right relationship with him.
- “bring glad tidings to the poor”: this is kingship in the Biblical sense, in which “ruling” is synonymous with “shepherding.” A king is a shepherd, and as our King, Jesus is the one who leads us to the fertile pastures of his life, making us rich in love.
Jesus knows who he is, and this determines what he does: function follows from identity.
Continuance in the Body
As for the Head, so for the Body, his Church. St. John gives us this vision in the Book of Revelation: “Jesus Christ … the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth … has freed us from our sins by his Blood [and] has made us into a Kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” Picking up on this vision, the Second Vatican Council teaches in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church that Christ our High Priest has “consecrated [us] to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood,” and so, now all those who hear and obey God are incorporated into this “Kingdom [of] priests for … God [our] Father”.
The Church, then, Head and members of the Body of Christ, is a Messianic people, sharing in Christ’s three-fold mission of sanctifying, teaching and serving. That is to say, in calling us to union with Himself – having the identity of a Messianic people, of a Christian people – Christ is calling us to be a priestly, prophetic and serving people; as such, we have received from him the Great Commission to continue his Messianic mission to sanctify, teach and serve. This is what we prayed in the Collect (Opening Prayer) for this Chrism Mass, namely, that we have been made “sharers in [Christ’s] consecration.”
And so, at this Mass, once a year, the bishop blesses and consecrates the oils that will be used in the Church’s sacred rites, to consecrate God’s people for life in Christ and to give them a share in his mission.
- Blessing of the Oil of Catechumens: the strengthening against temptation and the wiles of the devil of those of those who are about to be initiated into the priestly, prophetic and royal people of God;
- Blessing of the Oil of the Sick: calling down Christ’s healing on those suffering illness, acknowledging that Christ manifests himself to us in a particular way through them, and they have a certain sacramental quality in that they signify for us the state of our soul before the healing grace of Christ enters in – and so they, too, receive a special consecration;
- Consecration of the Holy Chrism: the true “oil of gladness” spoken of in Scripture, which serves as the outward sign of divine election, and so is used in the Church’s Rites of Initiation, when those to be confirmed and infants to be baptized receive the anointing with Chrism on their heads.
Priests for a Priestly People
But the Oil of Chrism isn’t reserved only for the Initiation Rites. It also is used in Rites of Dedication and Ordination: the altar and the walls of a church are anointed with Chrism when they are dedicated, and priests have their hands anointed and bishops their heads anointed with Chrism when they are ordained to their office. Thus there is a consecration, a setting apart, for a people set apart; those whom Christ chooses to consecrate for ministering to his people, he ordains to be priests for a priestly people
Because of the Chrism Mass’ association with Holy Thursday, it also carries a special significance for this great gift of God to the Church that is the ministerial Priesthood. And so it is customary at this Mass, as we will do in a few moments, for priests to renew their ordination promises. I wish to express my gratitude to all of the priests in our Archdiocese for being Christ’s voice, hands and heart for you, his priestly people.
Please continue to pray for your priests, pray for them ever more fervently, for their sanctification, zeal and holiness. I also want to thank the seminarians of our Archdiocese who are discerning and pursing this extraordinary call in these very extraordinary times. It takes great courage! Please pray for them, too, and that we will have many more like them!
Oil is the fuel of life: economic life, gastronomic life, spiritual life. Let us always keep uppermost in our minds and hearts the spiritual life that the sacred oils are meant to foster, for everything flows from there.
To apply the words from the Rite of Ordination to all of us, may God bring to fulfillment the good work He has begun in us, that we may faithfully fulfill the threefold mission of Christ that he has entrusted to us, the members of his Body, and so be a people that brings glad tidings to the poor, proclaims liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and lets the oppressed go free.