Anointed as Priest, Prophet, and King
But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts . . .” (2 Cor 1:21-22).
In our previous article, “Washed for Worship,” we saw that Baptism is a washing ritual meant to prepare us for a life of discipleship. We also pointed out that Baptism finds its biblical roots in the washing rituals of ancient Israel. This month, we turn our attention to another ancient practice that was closely connected to washing: the practice of anointing.
For millennia, people have been rubbing oils and ointments over their bodies as a way to conclude the process of bathing (cf. Ezekiel 16:9). These rich oils serve purposes that are both cosmetic and hygienic. They provide pleasant odors and keep our skin healthy and protected. After a person has bathed, they rub oils, ointments, or lotions over their skin to prepare themselves for going out into the world.
In ancient Israel, the use oil for anointing was a common practice. Oil was used to conclude bathing rituals, but it was also an important part of religious rituals. Anointing was a way of setting something apart from a religious purpose (Exodus 30:26-28). Anointing marked someone or something for service to God. Much like a tattoo, the use of oil helped to communicate the permanence of a public mission. Oil sticks; it is very hard to wash off.
For example, in the Old Testament, priests were anointed (Exodus 40:13-15), kings were anointed (1 Samuel 10:9, 1 Chronicles 29:22), and prophets were anointed (1 Kings 19:16). All three of these roles were important, public missions that were carried out in service to God. These roles were seen as gifts from God that carried a responsibility. Priests, prophets, and kings were all meant to help others deepen their relationship with God.
It is not an easy task to be a priest, prophet, or a king. The person chosen for this role would need the help and guidance of God. So, the anointing was also meant to signify the fact that God was there to help the anointed one to fulfill their mission. God had chosen that person, and the anointing was a clear sign of that choice. Just as rubbing oil on your body after bathing prepares you to go into the world, the anointing rituals of ancient Israel prepared someone to fulfill the public mission that God had chosen for them.
The term ‘Messiah’ is a Hebrew word that means ‘anointed one’. Similarly, in the New Testament, the term ‘Christ’ is a Greek word that also means ‘anointed one’. The Jewish people who became the earliest disciples of Jesus of Nazareth came to understand him as Jesus the Anointed One. After Jesus’s baptism by John in the Jordan river, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and his public ministry (i.e. his mission) began (cf. Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:9-10).
Because of the way he lived his life, Jesus Christ was seen as a priest, prophet, and king who came to reveal God to the world so that the world might come to know and love God. Just as the priests, prophets, and kings of ancient Israel lived their lives in service of God, Jesus was the perfect anointed one.
By virtue of our baptism and our post-baptismal anointing, all Christians are called to live as priests, prophets, and kings in service of God. When we are anointed with Holy Chrism, we are marked for a mission.
Hence, for centuries, the sacrament of Confirmation has used a sweet smelling oil (a mixture of balsam and olive oil) known as Holy Chrism to anoint those who have just been baptized. This post-baptismal anointing is the Church’s way of signifying the gift of the Holy Spirit that has been given to all who are baptized.
Through the washing of Baptism and the anointing of Confirmation, we become Christians, or ‘little Christs’ who are sent on a mission in service of God. We are sent to offer our lives as sacrifices to God (as priests), to preach the Gospel in word and deed (as prophets), and to build up the Kingdom of God (as kings). Through the washing and anointing of Christian initiation, the gift of the Holy Spirit moves us to live out this Christian mission.
Because the washing of Baptism and the anointing of Confirmation are public signs, we are called to support one another in our roles as priests, prophets, and kings. The Christian mission is not a private way of life. It is good that others become aware of our mission, so that we do not easily abandon it.
The mission of Confirmation is a permanent mission that stays with us even if we ignore it. So, when we celebrate Baptisms and Confirmations, we should be sure to take time to use the Holy Chrism generously. Feeling the oil cover our skin and smelling the sweet aroma tells us that we are all sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and sent to be Christ for the world.