Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Royal Anointing

I don’t often think about the Queen of England. My father’s ancestry was all English (the name "Phillips" originated in Wales). I was watching, however, some of the celebrations of her 60th anniversary of coronation and I guess my ancestral bonds to the English throne were stirred. Here’s a rousing chorus of the British National Anthem, sung at Westminster Cathedral, on the Queen's 85th Birthday:

So I was poking around Youtube to see more of the royal celebrations and watched some of the coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. I was particularly reminded of that part of the ceremony where the Queen is anointed with the Oil of Chrism.

We Catholics should know something about Chrism since we have been anointed with this oil several times ourselves. But first, here is some commentary on the use of Chrism in the Queen’s coronation:

"What distinguishes the English, and formerly the French, Russian and Scottish, monarchs is that they are consecrated with chrism at their coronations. At the heart of the coronation rite, preceding the crowning, lies the anointing...The Archbishop of Canterbury anoints the Sovereign on the hands, head and heart. The monarch is then vested in priestly robes; then follows the actual coronation and the conferral of the regalia – the sword, sceptres and orb.
"The anointing goes back to the reigns of the Anglo-Saxon kings when Ecgfrith, the son of King Offa of Mercia, was publically anointed in 787. The mystery of anointing and crowning creates a special person dedicated to God’s service, a person not untouchable or infallible, nor all-powerful or absolute, but sacred, consecrated...." (Citation; emphasis added)

Our anointing with Chrism occurred at our Baptism. The Chrism is always blessed by a Bishop and it signifies special consecration (dedication) by the power of the Holy Spirit. Like the English monarchs, our Baptism and the anointing with Chrism "creates a special person dedicated to God’s service."(Ibid.)

When the infant’s head is anointed at Baptism, the Anointing formula for Baptism says: "As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so may you live always as a member of his holy people, sharing everlasting life."

The word Christ means "Anointed One." As Christians, we are also "anointed ones" in Christ and share his prophetic, royal priesthood:

"The baptized have become ‘living stones’ to be ‘built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.’ (1 Peter 2:5) By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light.’ (1 Peter 2:9) Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers." (Catechism #1268)

Chrism is used also at our Confirmation. The grace of Confirmation is a strengthening of our Baptism by the Holy Spirit. It is a deepening, so to speak, of our Baptismal Consecration. We need the Holy Spirit to help us in our vocation to live and witness to the Life of Christ and his Church as the love which saves the world.

I, and all ordained Priests, also receive an additional anointing with Chrism at our ordination. The newly ordained’s hands are anointed and the following exhortation is given to the priest by the Bishop:

"The Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit, empower, guard and preserve you, that you may sanctify the Christian people and offer sacrifice to God."

In the same commentary quoted above, I was particularly inspired to read this about Queen Elizabeth’s Anointing:

"The sacral nature of the English monarchy has bearing on the character of Queen Elizabeth II and her reign. For her the anointing was no mere formality to be got through in a long and arduous ceremony beamed to the world through the then novelty of television. Somebody once asked the Queen what was the most moving part of the Coronation: was it when the Archbishop put the crown on her head? She replied that it was not, it was the anointing that took her by surprise by taking her out of herself. Peace flooded her soul. She sees her life not as an accident of destiny but as a vocation given by God and this is manifested above all in her sense of duty and her clear-cut, if modestly expressed, faith. The anointing was a source of sacramental grace which separated and strengthened the Queen for her holy task. Her consecration manifested indelible results which, in a religious context that overflows in her work and life, are obvious to all who think in these terms. (Ibid.)

Queen Elizabeth II has exemplified the power of true royalty as the power to serve. As the above commentary highlights, this service has been expressed in "her sense of duty" and in her faith. May our consecration have the same Spirit-filled results. And God save the Queen!