Ineffable Beauty: Sacrament, Liturgy, and Gift Part II

pope and oil 2In Part I of this post, we left the Holy Father’s homily at the point where he touched upon the elements of the sacraments as being elements of creation. For the rest of the homily, then, the Pope focuses primarily on olives and olive oil, for indeed the Chrism Mass is about the blessing of the oils for the sacraments. First, the Pontiff explains the early Christian meaning assocaited with olives. The olive tree and oil itself were recognized as symbols of peace; early Christians often decorated tombs with olive branches, knowing that the “Christ conquered death and that their dead were resting in the peace of Christ. They knew that they themselves were awaited by Christ, that he had promised them the peace which the world cannot give”.

Then the Bishop brings the topic to us in the here and now. He preaches and inspires: Jesus Christ “himself, so to speak, bears the olive branch, he introduces his peace into the world. He announces God’s saving goodness. He is our peace. Christians should therefore be people of peace, people who recognize and live the mystery of the Cross as a mystery of reconciliation. Christ does not conquer through the sword, but through the Cross. He wins by conquering hatred. He wins through the force of his greater love.” To live is parallel with love. If we cannot inundate ourself with charity, with living as gift existing-for-others, indeed with the Love of God that organically and necessarily flows from the self, when received from Above, toward the other at our side, then we are minimizing our life–cutting it short from the experience of true happiness, fulfillment and purpose. We are left astray in a world that is without hope if we do not seek to find the oil that springs from the fruit of Christ’s Love, the oil that is our peace, that bears fruit within us of which we in turn give and communicate to others.

Moreover, oil is symbolic for strength in battle. “The battle of Christians consisted – and still consists – not in the use of violence, but in the fact that they were – and are – ready to suffer for the good, for God…The battle of the martyrs consists in their concrete “no” to injustice…Today too it is important for Christians not to accept a wrong that is enshrined in law – for example the killing of innocent unborn children.”

At this point, perhaps the most touching part of the whole homily is spoken. Oil, as a symbol of peace, was recognized in the early Church as a symbol of the Holy Spirit: the “oil of gladness”. His Holiness began to paint a picture of what it means to be a Christian, to be touched by Jesus Christ through the Spirit. It is to communicate gladness, to spread joy to others. He says that this gladness is much greater and truer than society’s conception of an outward happiness based in pleasure. The gladness that comes from Christ, for-instance, contrary to pleasure can “co-exist with suffering.  It gives us the capacity to suffer and, in suffering, to remain nevertheless profoundly glad. It gives us the capacity to share the suffering of others and thus by placing ourselves at one another’s disposal, to express tangibly the light and the goodness of God.” Continuing, the Pope speaks: “Anyone who loves is ready to suffer for the beloved and for the sake of his love, and in this way he experiences a deeper joy”. The joy of knowing Christ transforms suffering from within, making it salvific. It gives rise to a way of life that is harmonious, and so beautiful and true.

To be Christian is to develop a relationship with the God who communicates an interior presence of Himself to the disciple that follows and opens his heart. It is to rid the self of a skewed egocentric universe, and pave the way for a proper self-view, one that looks internally into an open heart, where the Spirit of God rests. Thus, relationship with God transforms egoism into Theoism. A proper egoism develops, one that sees with the eyes of God’s Spirit. For it is this Spirit that enlightens the eyes of man, granting a new sense of sight, a sense that is able to see with the eyes of charity and compassion—sight oriented toward the other. Moreover, it is a sense that not only sees, but that simultaneously gives. In seeing properly, man necessarily develops a giving ethos. We only fail to give, when we fail to see. But when we see, truly see, then we give. And the only thing to see is the Love of God, that which sustains everything that is. And that is when we live.

The Pontiff finishes: “Let us pray that his gladness may pervade us ever more deeply and that we may be capable of bringing it anew to a world in such urgent need of the joy that has its source in truth. Amen.”

After the Pope Benedict XVI’s homily, the Mass continued, and before the Liturgy of the Eucharist, there came the blessing of the oils for the sacraments—a reverent, prayerful part of the celebration.

During the actual Liturgy of the Eucharist, however, one point of the Liturgy particularly touched me. It was the voice of the Bishop accompanied by the voices of hundreds and hundreds of his apostles–brother priests. Kneeling for the act of creation’s God coming to meet man in the elements of creation–bread and wine–it was as if, suddenly, I was awoken from a silent meditation. The prayerful and rhythmic words of the priests in persona Chrisi touched my heart: Memores igitur, Domine, eiusdem Filii tui salutiferae passionis necnon mirabilis resurrectionis et ascensionis in caelum, sed et praestolantes alterum eius adventum, offerimus tibi, gratias referentes, hoc sacrificium vivum et sanctum.

And again, shortly after: Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso

Truly, to hear the reverent voices of so man priests in persona Chrisi, words cannot describe. The Basilica was transported into the clouds and the whole congregation floated on the Love of God of which we participate in to exist, the Love of Christ that sustains creation and brings man home.

Finally, preparing for the reception of the Eucharistic, the congregation readied herself for the reception of a perfect gift from a perfect God: Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea.

Just as God redeems through creation, so when we receive Him in the sacraments, we, too, partake in that divine recapitulation of history and creation and so enter into that communion of divine love that permeates the through all. In every holy, reverent reception of God in the Mass, we receive not only Him, but He receives us. Every reception of is an entering into communion with. Thus by opening our hearts up to God that He may fill us with grace and Himself, and by opening up our mouths to the gift of the truest Bread from Heaven–the flesh of the Son–we, in turn, enter into communion with God, and that means with creation. Our gift to God is His gift to us. Our gift to God is rooted in our openness to simply be with Him, to communicate every part of our life to Him and so to every creature on earth.

Ite, missa est. Deo gratias!

This was my experience at the Chrism Mass as celebrated by the Bishop of Rome at Saint Peter’s in the Vatican. It was an experience of the Divine, for the Divine came. It was an experience of Beauty, for it was drenched with Beauty’s gift. It was an experience of charity, for it was a feast given from charity’s God.

Ultimately, then, I suppose no other words can suffice other than Love. But I am not surprised: in the end, it always all leads back to the Love.

4 thoughts on “Ineffable Beauty: Sacrament, Liturgy, and Gift Part II”

    1. Thanks, Jeremy. The communication of joy–Christian “gladness”–to others is a consistent theme in the theology of Ratzinger/BXVI, a touching and beautiful message.

      Regarding Father Meconi, I have not taken a class with him. However, I am close with him. A fine priest that SLU has. Are you close with him, or simply know of him?

  1. Yes, joy is central for Benedict…have you read Fr. Joseph Murphy’s book on the subject of joy in Benedict’s thought?

    I was a Jesuit for awhile, so I know Fr. Meconi from that, but I’ve never actually had the pleasure of meeting him! Strange how that works sometimes.

    I hope your time in Rome is fruitful.

    1. Jeremy, I have not read Fr. Murphy’s book. It sounds like an interesting read though. I will add it to the list! I am on the way to beginning Tracy Rowland’s book on the theology of Ratzinger (“Ratzinger’s Faith”). Looking forward to that.

      Pax et bonum

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