Recently I had to visit a dermatologist for my chapped hands. Her prescription was “Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize . . . it is the key to healthy skin.” This Sundays readings with their various images of liquids — oil, water and even saliva — remind us that a healthy spiritual life also demands “moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.”
Water is crucial to life. Baptism is rooted in water. Water is used at every liturgy. During the Mass, a few drops of water are added to the wine in the chalice. This simple act reminds us that at the Lord’s crucifixion, blood and water flowed from his body. Following the presentation of gifts, the priest pauses to wash his hands. In the early church, the washing of the priest’s hands served a practical purpose since he had just received a variety of breads, grains, wines and livestock as the offering of the people. Today the priest washes his hands as a sign of his desire to be free of sin and made worthy to offer the Mass.
Wine is mentioned often in the Bible beginning in the Book of Genesis where in chapter 9 Noah plants a vineyard after the Great Flood. During the time of Jesus it was custom to offer wine to travelers, at feasts and weddings. Recall the first miracle of Jesus was the turning of water into wine at a wedding. While the Gospel for this weekend does not say so, one can only imagine that after Jesus used his own saliva in a mudpack which he placed upon the eyes of the man born blind, and after the man went to the well of Siloam and in washing away that mud discovered he had sight, he rejoiced with family, friends and lots of wine!
Wine was crucial to the Passover meal and likewise to Jesus’ last supper, so we can easily understand wine being used as a part of our Mass. Wine also serves as a reminder of sacrifice. Unless grapes are crushed “to death,” wine cannot be made. And so it is, that Jesus for our sake, having undergone the crush of death, through the Eucharist returns to us his precious blood, under the appearance of wine.
Oil is a product of great utility. Scriptures recount that oil has been used in cooking, as a fuel for lamps, as a healing agent in medicine, as a sign of blessing and to prepare the body for burial. The use of oil was clearly a part of the daily life of the people. Like the grapes, olives are picked, washed, and crushed in total transformation so that oil can be produced.
The holy oils kept at our parishes are sacramentals blessed by a bishop. There are three kinds: Oil of the Catechumens, the Holy Chrism, and the Oil of the Sick. The first and third are pure olive oil. Chrism has a mixture of balsam in the oil to give it a beautiful fragrance. Holy oil is used within the sacraments. Holy oil is poured upon a new altar to consecrate it and at the dedication of a church, holy oil may be used to sign the walls.
Water, wine and oil sustain both our physical and spiritual lives. They remind us of our Creator and Savior, and unite us with the Holy Spirit. They transform, purify and “moisturize, moisturize, moisturize” both the world and each and every believer.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.