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FR. ANDRE MAHANNA said 3/27/2013 7:42:30 AM :
March 27, 2013

Anointing of the Sick and its Relationship
to the Rite of the Lamp

The Church’s ministry of the healing of the Sick

The Mystery of the Anointing of the Sick is one of the many ministries of the church that aims to bring back those who lack either physical or spiritual strength into full relationship with the Church as the body of Christ. Such a ministry developed predominantly from the Epistle of St. James 5:13-16 when St. James tells the sick to call on the elders of the Church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. Also included in this passage from St. James is the mention of the forgiveness of sins.

The prayers of the Anointing of the Sick ask for the healing of the body and the soul so that the sick person can be reunited with the church (the physical structure) in order that he/she can return to the church to praise the Lord once again. In this Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, in case of extreme unction before death, the forgiveness of sin is given as a part of the ritual.

On the Wednesday of Holy Week, a specific ritual of anointing the sick takes place during the Rite of the Lamp. In fact, the seven lamps or candles that are lit during the Rite of the Lamp are symbolic of many things, one of which is the elders or presbyters in St. James’ letter, with the number seven serving as a sign of fullness. In early Christianity, seven presbyters would bless the oil and the Eucharistic Liturgy would follow. At the end of Communion, the presbyters would anoint the sick and all those present. The five senses also were anointed because they were points of entry of knowledge into the mind and soul. (It is also the senses that are the basis of sin or acts of virtue.)

Another symbolism comes from the book of Revelation when John was taken up to heavenly Jerusalem: “From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.” (Revelation 4:5) From the setting of the book of Revelation, it appears that the Rite of the Lamp with the seven lamps and the oil for the anointing of the sick are connected essentially to the Divine Liturgy, with Christ being the source of all healing and the perfect sacrifice. The Rite of the Lamp is in deep relationship with the Holy Eucharist. This is why this public service takes place on the Wednesday of Holy Week, right before Thursday of the Mysteries, when the Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper.

According to Patriarch Douaihy, the Rite of the Seven Lamps is to be celebrated after Hosanna Sunday and before the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday. The reasons for this placement has to do with the nature of light as a guiding tool that helps us to see our destination before we reach it. It also is a test of endurance, an exercise for hope, and an experience of true trust in the captain that is the Lord. Just like a ship in a storm searching for a lighthouse, the endurance of those on the ship and their hope depends on their trust of finding safe harbor, indicated by the lighthouse. This typology of the ship in a stormy sea was developed from apostolic times into a liturgical celebration specifically during Holy Week.

It derives from the nature of the former vocations of the Apostles as fishermen, as well as on the authority that Jesus had over calming the stormy seas at least twice while the Apostles were in the ship (Matthew 8:23-27; 14:22-33). In the eyes of the Apostles, the events of Holy Week always were interpreted as stormy seas because they were scattered after the Last Supper. They lacked vision and experienced a loss of hope and, of course, they ran away not trusting in the Lord. However, when Christ was lifted up on the cross, died, was risen, and appeared to his disciples especially those of Emmaus, their eyes were opened, and they understood that the events of Holy Week were in fact the arrival to the safe harbor. The road of Jesus after his public entrance into Jerusalem is also seen as a stormy sea that ended with His Passion and the shedding of His Blood for the sake of forgiving our sins. In fact, the passion, death and resurrection of Christ is the foundation stone for the establishment and confirmation of the Church on the solid rock of faith. On the Cross, once lifted up as he foretold, Christ became the harbor of Safety for all, and the true light that illumines the universe.

In this context, the rite of the seven lamps is interconnected with the Last Supper of Christ, His Passion, His Death and His Glorious Resurrection in full light. Accordingly, Patriarch Douaihy links the seven lamps with the seven parts of the Liturgy of the Consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ. His initiating point begins with the story of the two disciples of Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Accordingly, the seven lamps represent the preparation of the gifts, the recounting of the names of the people for whom the offering is made, the reading of the Holy Scriptures to educate the catechumens, the immediate preparations for the consecration of the Body and Blood of the Lord (Jn 13:12), the actual consecration of the Mysteries, their actual presentation in adoration to God the Father, and finally the partaking of the Body and Blood by the faithful. Christ himself is the connection between all three elements: the bread, the oil and the Rite of the Lamp.

How Christ
relates himself to the faithful,
in the Eucharist and the Rite of the Lamp:

Recalling the experience of the 10 virgins, five ignorant and five wise, the oil represents endurance and awareness. Such a symbolism has to do with the endurance of Christians to persecution, doubt, scandals, and to holding strong to their faith despite temptations in order to be with Christ. When Christians feel short in their oil of endurance, whether for reasons of physical or spiritual temptations, they should seek assistance from a source, a font. For Christians, the source of the oil is the Mass. The more we attend the Mass, the more our oil will endure in times of temptation.

In this regard, Patriarch Douaihy states: “Here the altar is fire, and the Eucharist is fire, and both the altar and the Eucharist are surrounded by fiery beings. Therefore, be attentive, all of ye priests, not to sin, because you are serving fire. Beware that you will not burn, for in case it happened that one of you had his lamp of faithfulness, weary and dim, from the storm of temptations, or had the oil of his will diminished because of his lack of love or had his wick of his hope thin because of his lack of endurance, let him come closer to the Body of the Lord because it is the lamp of salvation, as from it all pure spirits receive light and consequently on that priest will overflow the oil of mercy, and the warmth of faith, and the torch of love. As such, will dissipate from that priest all the clouds of great temptations and he will walk in the commandments of the Lord without stumbling.”

Although the oil gives light, it is also used for healing. Just as the Eucharist is Christ, who is the light of the world and the true healer of both body and soul. So with the oil, Christians are led to the light, which is Christ. And with the oil, Christians receive healing from the Lord, who is the Great Healer. Oil and bread and light are three dimensions of the same and one Christ.

Fr. Andre Y- Sebastian Mahanna, S.T.L.
March 27- 2013.

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