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An email to the recently baptised and confirmed

April 5, 2013

This evening I wrote an email to three of my friends who were received into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil last Saturday. After I’d sent it I thought, “But thousands of people were baptised and confirmed last Saturday. Why shouldn’t my email get a wider audience.”

So here it is……

 

Dear David, Malia and Scott,

The week after Easter Sunday is known as the ‘Easter Octave’ – eight days on which the Church celebrates the Resurrection. In effect, the Church is saying that this event was so good that we will repeat the celebrations eight times in a row.

Do you remember the significance of the number 8? It is a symbol of divine perfection. (7 symbolises human perfection…. 6 means ‘incomplete’. Hence “666” = very, very incomplete and unsatisfactory!)

After being received into full membership of the Church (like you all were on Saturday) the early Church used to continue the course of instruction for the new members.

One of the readings laid down by the Church for today is literally one of those lessons, written for people like you nearly 1,700 years ago by the then Bishop of Jerusalem (now known as Saint Cyril of Jerusalem).

Bishop Cyril is explaining the full meaning and ‘mystery of baptism and confirmation.

May I suggest you read through it “prayerfully”? In other words, don’t read it as if it’s some boring memo at work

It’s good to say a prayer before you start, asking God to make you open to the Holy Spirit so that you can understand it properly

Read it slowly – even aloud

Imagine you’re sitting there with Bishop Cyril giving you the lesson

Think carefully about what he is saying and what it means for you

Then re-read it

You might even look up the biblical cross-references I’ve given you.

It is passing on the faith in this way that is part of what is known as ‘The Tradition of the Church’. And in prayerfully receiving this lesson, you will be joining in the mystery of the Catholic Church – the idea that the Church is not simply a humans organisation, but is inspired by the Holy Spirit, joining us all together as one, around the world AND down there centuries.

Enjoy your weekend. Enjoy being part of something that’s bigger than all of us!

Phil

 

St. Cyril of Jerusalem was bishop of Jerusalem in the middle of the fourth century and one of the most important sources we have for how the church celebrated the sacraments during this era. After being baptised and confirmed at the Easter Saturday Vigil service, St Cyril preached to the people who had recently been initiated in to the life of the Church to explain the significance of what had taken place. It is taken from what are known as his ‘Jerusalem Catecheses’.

The anointing with the Holy Spirit at baptism and confirmation

by

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

 

“When we were baptized into Christ and clothed ourselves in him, we were transformed into the likeness of the Son of God. Having destined us to be his adopted sons, God gave us a likeness to Christ in his glory, and living as we do in communion with Christ, God’s anointed, we ourselves are rightly called “the anointed ones.” When he said: Do not touch my anointed ones, God was speaking of us.[1]

We became “the anointed ones” when we received the sign of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, everything took place in us by means of images, because we ourselves are images of Christ. Christ bathed in the river Jordan, imparting to its waters the fragrance of his divinity, and when he came up from them the Holy Spirit descended upon him, like resting upon like.[2] So we also, after coming up from the sacred waters of baptism, were anointed with chrism, which signifies the Holy Spirit, by whom Christ was anointed and of whom blessed Isaiah prophesied in the name of the Lord: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor.[3]

Christ’s anointing was not by human hands, nor was it with ordinary oil. On the contrary, having destined him to be the Saviour of the whole world, the Father himself anointed him with the Holy Spirit. The words of Peter bear witness to this: Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit.[4] And David the prophet proclaimed: Your throne, O God, shall endure for ever; your royal sceptre is a sceptre of justice. You have loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above all your fellows.[5]

The oil of gladness with which Christ was anointed was a spiritual oil; it was in fact the Holy Spirit himself, who is called the oil of gladness because he is the source of spiritual joy.

But we too have been anointed with oil, and by this anointing we have entered into fellowship with Christ and have received a share in his life. Beware of thinking that this holy oil is simply ordinary oil and nothing else. After the invocation of the Spirit it is no longer ordinary oil but the gift of Christ, and by the presence of his divinity it becomes the instrument through which we receive the Holy Spirit. While symbolically, on our foreheads and senses, our bodies are anointed with this oil that we see, our souls are sanctified by the holy and life-giving Spirit.”


[1] A quote from a prophecy made by King David, which is recorded in verse 15 of Psalm 105; the story of why King David wrote this psalm is explained in Chapter 16 of 1 Chronicles.

[2] The Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan (Mark 1:9-11 and John 1:32)

[3] Isaiah 61:1

[4] Saint Peter said this when preaching fearlessly in the house of the centurion called Cornelius. [Acts 10:38]

[5] These words come from Psalm 45:6, written by King David and quoted in Hebrew 1 verses 8-9 as scriptural evidence foretelling the greatness of Jesus Christ.

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