When we speak of our Divine Lord, we call him “Jesus Christ.” But we rarely reflect upon what that means, I fear. Let’s do that now.
“Jesus” was his own personal name, explicitly chosen by God the Father for his Divine Son in his human nature, and given to both Our Lady and Saint Joseph before Jesus’s birth. The word “Jesus” in Hebrew means “Savior,” thus is most appropriate for the incarnate Word who would save the world.
In the ancient Hebrew language, “Messiah” meant “the anointed one” — the one who has been anointed with oil by way of indicating that he would have a special role to play in sacred history. In the Old Testament rituals of the Jewish people, oil was poured over kings, priests, altars, and other things closely related to sacred worship. To pour oil over something for that reason was “to anoint.” The Hebrew word “messiah” was translated into Greek as “christos”; it comes into Latin as “Christus” and into English as “Christ.” They all mean the same thing: the anointed one.
So the question arises: when, where, and by whom was Jesus anointed? We read nowhere in the gospels of an occurrence in which anyone poured oil over Our Lord’s body. The answer is that never did anyone anoint Jesus with oil in the usual signification of that gesture. However, at the moment of his baptism by Saint John the Baptist in the Jordan river, Jesus was doubly anointed by a higher form of anointing. The Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father was heard proclaiming, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Thus Our Lord is anointed not with oil, an inanimate object originating in this world, but rather by the two other Divine Persons of God, originating in the eternity of heaven.
Because Jesus is anointed by these two means, and because he is a divine Person himself, he can and does anoint us with the Holy Spirit. In the two sacraments of initiation into his Church, we are baptized with water and anointed with chrism, or holy oil. But both these things are physical instruments used by God to enter into our human persons. It is not primarily water that we receive at Baptism; it is the Blessed Trinity taking up its dwelling in our souls. It is not primarily oil that anoints us in Confirmation, it is the Holy Spirit confirming — that is, strengthening — us in our identity as followers of Jesus.
Let us be deeply grateful for these sacraments by which we were initiated into the Church of Our Divine Lord, and let us always strive to live the spiritual life that they begin and sustain in us. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.