To Be Named Priests of the Lord
I have been a student of the Liturgy for many years, but I must admit that I have never understood the Chrism Mass well. It has two very important themes: 1. the renewal of promises for the priests and 2. the blessing of the holy oils. I have never really understood how these two themes fit in the same Mass. It doesn’t appear that they have anything in common. I have no choice but to understand this Mass better now since I find myself presiding and preaching for the first time.
Thanks be to God, finally, I think I get it! I found the key in the readings of the Mass. Two times we hear the famous proclamation of Isaiah; first in the mouth of Isaiah himself and then in the mouth of Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke we are given the beginning of the passage that Jesus proclaimed, but in the first reading we hear more. Without doubt this was a passage that many Jews in the time of Jesus knew by heart.
In both readings we hear: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.” To be ‘anointed’ is to be ‘chosen’ for a service by the Lord. It is to be consecrated, set aside for God, for a sacred purpose. Reading a little further we can better understand the reason for which a person receives this anointing: “to be named priests of the Lord, ministers of God they will be called.”
Who is a priest? A priest is someone who is anointed, chosen, by God to represent him in the world. A priest is someone anointed by God to offer sacrifices to God in the name of the people. As we learn from the words and actions of Jesus, The Anointed One, the priest is a person who offers his life as a sacrifice for the salvation of the world.
Who are the anointed, the chosen, the priests, today in the world? As we know, all of the baptized are priests! By the water being poured and their first anointing with Chrism they are made priests, prophets and kings. In Confirmation they receive a strengthening of their royal priesthood, through the working of the Holy Spirit. All are called to live as chosen ones, consecrated to the Lord. But you have among you some who have received this anointing with the Oil of Chrism a third time. We could say they are triply anointed, chosen to identify with Jesus in a very special way. Although we can rightly say that the words of Isaiah belong to all Christians, those whom we call ‘Presbyters’ or ‘Priests’ radically represent Christ in the way the bring together the Christian community in union with the bishop; in the way they guide the People of God, teach the People of God, and sanctify the People of God.
As priests we are called to give our lives in a complete and radical way. We express this total gift of self by living in a way that shows us to be free of the need to accumulate money or things, by promising or vowing to live in celibate chastity, leaving aside the good of marriage, and in obedience to our superior as if to Christ himself. Why is it that we are anointed by oil and the Spirit? For the same reason that Christ, whom we represent, was anointed: “to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to proclaim liberty to captives and sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord”.
We do exactly these things in the most profound way when we offer the same Sacrifice of Christ in the name of the Holy People of God and for them. Anointed by Christ, in union with the bishop, with the assistance of the deacons, who share in the Sacrament of Holy Orders with us, we have the blessing to anoint many to unite them to Christ in Baptism, to strengthen them in Confirmation, and to join their sufferings to Christ’s for their healing in the Anointing of the Sick.
Today in this Chrism Mass we give thanks to God for the anointing and election of all Christians, but in a very special way we give thanks to God for his calling of our brother presbyters to the Holy Priesthood of the Church. We give thanks to you Lord for calling them, for the generous response of their lives, for the holy anointing we receive from their hands. Guide them, Lord, in the service of your people, particularly in the service of those who most need your anointing, your compassion, your healing. Send us, Lord, many more like them!