Later on this evening, out the back in the sacristies, there will be an awful lot of oil splashed around. There, the catechumen, sick and chrism oils, blessed during tonight’s Mass, will be poured from the big containers into hundreds of small bottles for use in parishes and faith communities. It’ll be messy and it’ll be noisy, but the production line is there to achieve its purpose – oils for everyone, for the year ahead.
These oils for anointing, to be used in a wide variety of settings, will feature in small and large ways in the lives of God’s faithful throughout our local Church in Melbourne: at baptisms with an intimate group of families; in a hospital by the bedside of a dying patient, during Confirmations of our young people; at priestly ordinations and church dedications. Our anointing oils are the stuff of sacramental grace, for generous application on the heads and hands of God’s holy people. (Brothers, in your sacramental ministrations, don’t be stingy with your use of these oils. Allow for the sign of God’s abundance to be amply seen!)
There is also an awful lot of symbolism splashed around in our readings this evening, centred on this image of anointing. Anointing with the oil of gladness; priestly and kingly anointings; the missionary anointing claimed by Jesus; the Spirit who anoints. There is an abundance of gifts that God dispenses in our participation in the anointed life of his Son. While these all involve a share in the one life of Jesus Christ, they point to different kinds of anointing. We might characterise three such kinds: the anointing for healing and wellness; the anointing of hospitality and blessing; and the anointing to consecrate and designate.
The gift of healing – in body, mind and spirit – is perhaps the deepest of all human needs. God saw this, and made the healing of creation the chief task of his Son on the Cross. “By his wounds, we are healed.” (1 Peter 2.24) If healing is our deepest human need, then the gift of hospitality might be characterised as our greatest human desire. In Christ we are no longer servants, but friends; we are welcomed and grafted onto the vine of God’s family. Deepest need…, greatest desire…, and finally our truest human destiny: to be consecrated, set apart, as God’s own beloved. As St Peter said: “[We] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation… called out of darkness into [God’s] wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2.9)
But most importantly, and for all these kinds of anointing, it is the Anointed One – the Christ – who is the divine agent who brings us into his life. In Jesus, the Christ, we are renewed, reconciled and reconfigured. In him we are reborn. For the Spirit of the Lord had been given to Jesus, so that we might partake in his anointed life, and ourselves then sent to bring the gift of God’s good news into the daily reality of our circumstances.
All of us here tonight have received the first and greatest of these anointings: in baptism we were all ‘christened’ – made like Christ – onto his death and resurrection. By water and anointing we were re-created in the most marvellous of ways, sharing in God’s own life. Similarly, most of us here will also have been confirmed and strengthened in God’s Spirit. Many of us will have known of God’s healing and forgiving grace, or will do so at some point in our lives. And all of you down the left side of the nave have been anointed to anoint, in the name of Christ. In all these actions, we – mere creatures – come to share in the Divine.
So, as the anointing oils are blessed tonight, and as you recall the ways in which you have been anointed, remember that God has renewed, reconciled and reconfigured us all.