April 3, 2024 // Perspective

During the Easter Season and Beyond, Stay Oily!

Oil is a funny thing. We use it for so many different purposes – both inside and outside of our bodies. Externally, we use oil to moisturize our skin but also to grease our squeaky wheels. Internally, we use oil on our salads or to cook on the stovetop. In short, oil is fitting matter to represent the Christian life.

The Christian life is not simply lived externally or internally; rather, it is meant to be lived as an integral whole in which both body and soul work in perfect harmony and communion.

In Psalm 133:1-2, we read the following: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” Here the Psalmist is making a reference to the Aaron, the high priest, and the joy that is brought about by the people of Israel living in unity. In other words, the Psalmist is pointing out that unity is the result of both the head and members working together in harmony.

In our current political climate, I’m not certain our nation could truthfully recite this psalm. Every news event tends to end in some form of further division – with one side inevitably castigating the other. Needless to say, I don’t think it has left any of us saying to one another, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers scorn each other!”

Thankfully, Jesus offers us a different way – an oily way! After all, the word “Christ” simply means “anointed” or “oiled.” It can easily be overlooked, but the Anointed One was not merely anointed with olive oil, but He was anointed with both the Holy Spirit and power (cf. Acts 10:38). This Holy Spirit, being the Love of the Father poured out for the Son, allowed Jesus to live in perfect communion with the Father. This is also why we end our opening prayer at Mass with the conclusion, “in the unity of the Holy Spirit, who lives and reigns forever and ever.”

Within the course of the liturgical year, perhaps no liturgy sacramentally realizes this unity among head and members as much as the Chrism Mass. There, the bishop, along with his priests, deacons, and the lay faithful, solemnly gather in the cathedral to bless the holy oils that will be used throughout the diocese throughout the upcoming year. This oil serves as a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence working through the bishop’s apostolic ministry as the members of the faithful are baptized, confirmed, and anointed. It also serves as a sign of the unity that has been maintained for two millennia through apostolic succession. When both priests and bishops are ordained, sacred chrism is used. For a bishop, the chrism is poured over his head, indicating his role as high priest of the diocese. Priests, in turn, have their hands consecrated as a sign of their service to the bishop’s apostolic mission.

As a seminarian, I had the joy of working behind the scenes for several years during the Chrism Mass. We helped redistribute the blessed oils into smaller containers so they could be brought back to the parishes. As you can imagine, it was not the tidiest of processes. When the oil touched anything, it never went away easily. There was always a residue left behind, and everything it touched became “anointed.” The same thing happens whenever I baptize a baby. After anointing the baby’s head with chrism, the parents tell me the scent remains for several days or weeks.

As we enter these good and pleasant days of Easter joy, let’s make it a goal to remain “oily.” We must continue to live in the light and presence of our resurrected King – a King who reigns over body and soul and heals every division. Just as oil remains on everything it touches, imagine what Christians, the anointed ones, would cause if we chose to dwell in unity! Stay oily my friends!

Father Brian Isenbarger is a Parochial Vicar at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Fort Wayne.

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