We speak of Our Lord as “Jesus Christ.” I suspect that some people believe that Jesus was his first name and Christ was the last, or family, name. But it didn’t work like that in those days. There were ordinarily no family names then as we understand them.
Our Lord was given the name of Jesus by his blessed mother and Saint Joseph, his foster-father, because they had been commanded to do so by the Archangel Gabriel before Our Lord was born. The name “Jesus” means “savior” or “God saves.” “Christ” is not a name strictly speaking; it is a title. In history, we speak of Alexander “the Great”, William “the Conqueror”, Ivan “the Terrible”, etc. Alexander, William, and Ivan were their names; “the Great,” “the Conqueror,” and “the Terrible” were titles by which they came to be designated. “Christ,” which means “the Anointed One,” “the Promised one” is also a title. So when we speak of Jesus Christ, we are speaking of the man who was Savior and the Anointed or Promised One.
And what does “anointed” mean? Oddly, it means the one upon whom oil has been poured. Why? Because in the Old Testament, the Jewish people were instructed to use olive oil to indicate a special, and holy, purpose for certain things or persons set aside for a relationship with God. Thus, priests were anointed with oil, kings were anointed with oil, the altar in the temple was anointed with oil. When you live in a very dry, dusty climate, it is very helpful to rub oil on yourself to bring back moisture to the skin to prevent chapping, drying, cracking. And often perfume was added to the oil to make the individual fragrant. So the oil of anointing became symbolic of the good, pleasing, fragrant, soothing action of God upon human life. We still use olive oil to anoint certain persons and things in our sacred rites of the Catholic Church. At baptism, confirmation, and in Holy Orders, we are anointed with oil. We become “Christs”—anointed ones—to indicate that God has been given to us in a special, sanctifying way.
I speak of these things today because in the two readings at Mass for this Thursday of Easter week, Saint Peter tells us that God revealed centuries before the birth of Jesus that “his Christ would suffer.” His anointed one, his special gift to the human race, would suffer in atonement for sin. Saint Peter goes on to say that we want to receive “the Christ already appointed for you: Jesus.” And then, in the gospel, Our Divine Lord speaks of himself by saying, “It is written that THE CHRIST would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.”
Let us pray in keeping with the spirit of this Easter day. Let us salute and adore and honor our Lord, Jesus who is OUR CHRIST — our anointed savior, who gladly shares with us that which is symbolized by the oil of anointing: the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown., O.P.
Note: Father Brown composed this message some years ago. Please pray for the souls of the faithful departed, including Father Brown.