Oil of Gladness
Ever since living in Italy, I’ve had a greater appreciation for olive oil. It’s a big part of Italian cuisine, along with most of the Mediterranean. As the fat and richness of the olive, even in the ancient world it was associated with health, strength, cleansing, and salvation. Many kings, priests, and prophets of Israel had oil poured on their heads as a sign of God’s favor and guidance as His anointed ones, as “christs” of God. Jesus was anointed more directly with the Holy Spirit, whom the Scriptures liken to “the oil of gladness” (Psalm 45:7).
Since the time of Jesus, olive oil has been used in the sacraments that He entrusted to His Church, as an efficacious sign of the Holy Spirit and God’s own strength, healing, and power to save. The Oil of Catechumens is used during a minor exorcism of those approaching the Sacrament of Baptism. Historically, it was also used in the Rite of Ordination to anoint the hands of a newly ordained priest. The Oil of the Sick is mentioned already even in the Epistle of St. James in the New Testament. “Is anyone sick among you? Let him summon the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (5:14).
Sacred Chrism is made from olive oil mixed with a certain perfume to signify to an even greater degree the Holy Spirit, the “fragrance that brings life” (2 Cor. 2:16). Used for the newly baptized and in the Sacrament of Confirmation, and now also in the consecration of bishops and priests, Sacred Chrism signifies our participation in Jesus’ own identity as Christ, the Anointed One, and in His powers and duties as priest, prophet, and king, according to our vocation in life.
This week, I’ll be taking a few days off on my way to Sioux Falls for the Chrism Mass where all the oils used for the next year in our diocese and in our parishes will be blessed and consecrated by the Bishop. It’s also a good opportunity to see the other priests as we renew together our priestly promises of celibacy, obedience, and prayer for the Church and for all the world. Traditionally, the Chrism Mass is held on the morning of Holy Thursday, the anniversary of Christ’s institution of the Eucharist and of the holy priesthood, but this is less feasible in a diocese our size. Please continue to pray for our Bishop, priests, and deacons as we gather for this great celebration and as we prepare for what lies ahead.