Editor’s note: Bishop Douglas J. Lucia celebrated the annual Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception March 30. During the Mass, the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens were blessed and the Sacred Chrism consecrated; priests of the diocese also renewed their priestly promises. The prepared text of the homily Bishop Lucia preached on that occasion appears here.
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me” (Is 61:1).“Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rv 1:5).“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21). “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord” (Ps. response).
I am dating myself, but does anyone here remember the game show “Name That Tune” that was popular in the 1970s and early 1980s? I remember especially the two contestants bidding against each other concerning the number of notes it would take for them to name a given tune. Well, today, I would like to suggest to you that I can name, that is summarize, the Word of God for this occasion in one word — and that one word is “extension.”
This day, as we gather around the diocesan bishop as one flock to celebrate one Eucharist and to bless the Holy Oils to be used by our bishops, priests, and deacons in our parishes, we manifest the full, active participation of God’s people and the empowerment received through anointing and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today, we celebrate our oneness in Christ and the common mission of witness given to us by our baptismal anointings.
Today, we are also challenged to consider how this mission to make known “the goodness of the Lord” is fulfilled in the present moment. This is where I return to the one word, “extension.” My favorite book, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, defines “extension” as “An act or instance of extending, lengthening, stretching out, or enlarging the scope of something.”
Indeed, the use of these Holy Oils throughout our diocese is meant to be an extension of the ministry of the bishop who has the ultimate responsibility to teach, to sanctify, and to shepherd the portion of the people of God entrusted to him. In turn, the ministry of the bishop — along with the presbyters and deacons ordained to assist him — is none other than an extension of the ministry of Christ. It is the special role and duty of those ordained to God’s service to draw the baptized into oneness in Christ and to aid them in their response to the universal call to holiness. This is done particularly by sharing in the riches and consolation of Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit through sacramental ministry and the use of the Holy Oils.
Sisters and brothers, what, then, do these oils signify, not only by their use, but also for those anointed with them? I would like to use three ways we use the word “extension” to aid our reflection on this question.
The first is an “extension cord.” Of course, right away you and I can envision an extension cord as extending power. This is what our anointing with the Oil of Catechumens at baptism is all about. The pre-baptismal anointing signifies God’s protection over and strengthening of the one to be baptized to live the Gospel. Yet, it also entails our own willingness to renounce sin and to work at becoming a living Gospel for all people to hear. To work properly, an extension cord must be connected to its power source. This simple principle is a good reminder of what must happen in the life of the baptized if the life of God is to grow within each one of us.
My second illustration is the “extension ladder.” I connect this image to the Oil of the Sick since its very essence is to bring healing and comfort to a person struggling with illness. However, it is meant to be more than just a blessed, healing balm. Its use in the Anointing of the Sick is meant, through the working of the Holy Spirit, to bring the patient Christ’s forgiveness, strength, and healing presence. It is a moment of encounter where the one being anointed, many times feeling that they have been sidelined from life, can hear Jesus say to them, “What do you want me to do for you” (cf. Mk 10:51)? My brother priests, this is why we must always pay special attention to requests for the administration of this Sacrament. It must be a priority in our ministry, even and more especially in a time of pandemic!
Our final illustration is one that gives away my rural upbringing. Growing up, I was familiar with the work and mission of “Cooperative Extension,” a project of Cornell University. In a nutshell, the mission of Cooperative Extension is to enable people to improve their lives and communities through partnerships that put experience and research knowledge to work. A word often used to summarize the mission is “empowerment.”
For me, this idea of “Cooperative Extension” is at the heart of our final holy oil, the Sacred Chrism. The post-baptismal anointing with Sacred Chrism, as well as its use in the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders, is the sign of “consecration.” That is, those who are anointed with Sacred Chrism share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit — so that their lives may give off the “aroma of Christ” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1294).
Brothers and sisters, this afternoon we celebrate the call to discipleship and the gift of mission which the Church’s sacramental life sets before us. Through the various signs used to confect, that is, put together, the Sacraments — oil and Chrism, bread and wine, and the treasury of earthen vessels seen in the lives of those gathered in this cathedral — you and I are invited to respond to the call to follow Jesus Christ and to be an extension — extending, lengthening, stretching out, or enlarging — of the ministry of Christ.
I would like to leave you with a final illustration of what anointing with these Holy Oils and their extension signifies to me in everyday life. Myra had worked for many years in a large, downtown business office. Many different things were said about Myra, but on one point all her colleagues agreed: Myra was a hateful person. No one had ever managed to get close enough to her to know her very well. She had a way of quickly turning off anyone who tried to befriend her. She was a loner, and a disagreeable one at that. Consequently, whenever a new employee was hired, the warning went out, “Stay away from Myra.” This situation lasted for years until a new employee, Margaret, arrived on the scene. Disregarding all the friendly warnings, Margaret made a special effort to let Myra know that now, there was someone in that office that really cared about her. Amazingly, this initial expression of kindness eventually began to bear fruit. Myra was breaking out of her shell. She was communicating more easily. She even was developing a friendship or two. Then, early one morning, the entire office staff was shocked to learn that Margaret had died suddenly the night before. When Myra heard the news she cried and cried and said over and over again, “Margaret was the only Christ I ever knew; she was the only Christ I ever knew.”
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me” (Is 61:1).“Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rv 1:5).“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).“Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord” (Ps response).