by Father Mike Stubbs
When a person undergoes a change in status, that frequently means a change in how the person dresses. For example, the newly ordained Catholic priest is robed in a chasuble during the ordination ceremony, to show that he is ready to celebrate the Eucharist.
In the Old Testament, after Elisha received the spirit of prophecy from the prophet Elijah, he also took Elijah’s mantle. Elijah had earlier used the mantle as a sign of his authority as a prophet. At the same time, that particular mantle may have served as an identifying mark, just as in our day and age, a uniform can indicate that a person is a police officer.
In Sunday’s first reading — Is 61:1- 2a, 10-11 — the prophet affirms that God has bestowed upon him the spirit of prophecy, along the same lines as Elijah and other earlier prophets: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me.”
The first half of the reading describes the mission that God has entrusted to the prophet. The rest of the reading then describes what that mission will mean to the prophet and to the world.
With the change in status for the prophet comes a corresponding change in vesture: “He has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.” Of course, this language is symbolic. The prophet may not be wearing any different clothing than before. At the same time, the images of “robe of salvation” and “mantle of justice” reflect a real change in the status of the person.
In a similar way, the “anointing” mentioned in “the Lord has anointed me” does not involve actual oil. Rather, it is a spiritual anointing, the way God has singled out the prophet as herald of good news.
When someone is baptized, the priest or deacon tells the person: “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”
The anointing with chrism represents the call to share in the prophetic mission of Christ. Similarly, the Spirit we receive at baptism is the spirit of prophecy, as well as many other gifts.
Immediately after the anointing, the newly baptized person is presented with a white garment, “the outward sign of your Christian dignity.” So, the baptismal ceremony follows the same pattern that we saw earlier for the call of the prophets in the Old Testament: bestowal of the spirit, anointing, robing in new clothing.
Because we also have been called through our baptism, we can share in the prophet’s joy described in the first reading: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.”