Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Holy Thursday: Anointed for Battle

Back by popular demand…

Chrism Liturgy

This morning the Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, religious and lay faithful will gather around their Bishop in their cathedral Church.  All will participate in a very ancient rite common to the universal Church since the fifth-sixth centuries.  During this liturgy, “the bishop consecrates the three oils needed for the administration of the sacraments: the holy chrism, the oil of the catechumens and the oil of the sick.”[1]

These oils will be used in the life of the Church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick.  The most detailed version, found in the Mystagogia (On the Mysteries), is recounted by St. Cyril of Jerusalem who details how the oils were “symbolically applied to thy forehead, and thy other organs of sense” and that the “ears, nostrils, and breast were each to be anointed.” He continues sharing that the “ointment is the seal of the covenants” of baptism and God’s promises to the Christian who is anointed. Cyril taught that being “anointed with the Holy anointing oil [Chrism] of God” was the sign of a Christian and a physical representation of having received the gift of the Holy Spirit. He says, “Having been counted worthy of this Holy Chrism, we are called Christians, verifying the name also by your new birth. For before you were deemed worthy of this grace, ye had properly no right to this title, but were advancing on your way towards being Christians.”(On the Mysteries 3.5)

We should also recall the connection between the Chrism Mass and the Mass of our Lord’s Supper.  Even for our Lord, He was anointed at Bethany before he journeyed to Jerusalem to share the Passover with His disciples.  It is no mistake that the Church connects the biblical events with today’s liturgical events of Holy Thursday. Who else is anointed? Those preparing for war…

Mass of the Lord’s Supper

They gather in the Cenacle having completed all the preparations that Master requested (Lk 22:12-13).  He had desired to share this Passover more than anything (Lk 22:15).  And then, His disciples notice that this commemoration is different.  They are reclining instead of standing (Ex 12:11). He has changed the words and instituting a new covenant (Mt 26:28). Then, mandating them to “Do this in memory of me.” (Lk 22:19)  they are quiet and lean upon His every word.  They wonder, maybe even ponder, the significance of His actions.  They have completed the third cup and then…wait, He is leaving.

We cannot help but think that some of these thoughts were running through the disciples of Jesus.  What was going on?  What is He doing?  From the outset, our Lord intended to offer Himself as the perpetual sacrifice in the mystery of the Most Blessed Sacrament. (1 Cor 10:16)  Do we realize that tonight the Lord is picking a fight and settling all the covenants debts since Adam?

It would not have escaped the notice of our Lord’s disciples that He left before the Passover was complete.  Scripture says that they finished their hymn (Mt 26:30) and traveled to the Garden of Gethsemane as was their custom (Lk 22:39).  As He walked out of Jerusalem, He would have walked through the Kidron Valley up to the Mount of Olives where the garden will become a battlefield.  Maybe as He passed through the valley he recalled Ps 23:4, “Though I walk through the dark valley, I shall fear no evil…” choosing to enter into a mortal battle.  Battle?  How do we know that?  Exodus 12:22 commands that on the night of the Passover all were to stay indoors lest they succumb to the angel of death.  Our Lord purposefully goes out into the night to confront that ancient serpent to secure what Adam lost.

The first battle in the original garden was an epic tragedy – the Garden of Eden.  In Eden, we find Adam failing to obey the command of the Father to shamar (protect) and adovah (work) the garden and all its inhabitants. (Gn 2:15)  In this garden, Adam should have contended with the nahash (dragon – usually translated as serpent) but instead said nothing.  The result was staggering.  He saved his physical life and lost eternal life; He allowed evil to enter into the garden, to dominate it and his bride; and He should have been working/praying but instead, stood doing nothing next to Eve.

Tonight, our Lord, the New Adam goes out singing into the darkness and we find Him in another garden.  Only the victorious sing!  Think of the Song of Roland, The Ballad of the White Horse, or the Lord of the Rings – only the victors know how to sing. Our Lord knew He had already won the battle but no soldier or commander underestimates his enemy.  For this reason, Sacred Song is so important to our liturgies.  The music reminds us of the victory our Lord will win for us through this Blessed Triduum. And the story continues…

He enters into the garden; cares for His future Bride, the Church (embodied by His Apostles); and obeys His Father’s perfect will. (Lk 22:42)  He desires them to tarry with Him so they will not be put to the test (Lk 22:40) but gives them their rest anyway.  He kneels to adovah (means both work and pray).  And the battle begins…

Over the next three days, we enter into the Paschal Mystery of our Lord.  He will fulfill the curses of all the covenants but tonight provokes another battle to win back Eden.  The curses of Eden for Adam are three-fold:

1) “Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life.” (Gn 3:17;

2) “Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field.” (Gn 3:18); and

3) “By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.” (Gn 2:19).

Jesus answers these curses by: 1) Toiling (remember prayer and work are the same word) on the ground and yielding the fruit of the vine that becomes the fruit of our salvation; 2) His work is so successful that He will be crowned with the work of His hands – thorns and thistles; and 3) His work/prayer is so intense that He sweats blood thus providing Himself as the Bread from Heaven and conquers death.

As we continue to reflect upon this mystery let us join the solemn Tradition of the Universal Church and keep watch in our Churches until the Captain of our Salvation is stolen away from us at midnight.  Every good soldier stays with their commander and every Bride with her Bridegroom.  Where will the world find you tonight?  Will it find you consoling your heart’s desire before His unjust arrest or out and about as if His life doesn’t hang in the balance – because it does!

The story continues but that will have to wait until we find out why Friday is so Good…


[1] Zenit interview with Father Juan Flores Arcas, 9 April 2006 (Rome) Grabbed on March 31, 2010: http://www.ewtn.com/library/Liturgy/zholyweek.HTM

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