A Good Priest can be Recognized by the Way His People are Annointed

stoleChange the word “Mass” to “Divine Liturgy” and the counsel of Pope Francis below could have been spoken by an Orthodox pastor. The Pope is absolutely correct. The Gospel and the love and grace of Christ who is revealed through the preaching of it has to reach people where they are.

And the prayers, they are so important. Pray with the people who need prayer. Don’t just talk to them about prayer, pray with them. The people will encounter Christ and experience His reassurance directly through the authentic prayer of the priest. They will find reassurance and this strengthens faith and hope.

The reference to “the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe” comes from Psalm 133:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!

It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.

These few verses of Psalm 133 is read as the priest places his epitrachele (stole) over his head when he is vesting before the Divine Liturgy. It reminds him that his purpose in leading the worship to foster the unity of the worshipers in one mind and one heart in Christ.

It also reminds him (if he understands) that Christ grants him power to affect the lives of his parishioners concretely in such things as healing, counsel, blessing, encouragement, petition to God and all the other real needs people approach him for. When that is accomplished (and it can be), the anointing of which Pope Francis speaks is actualized and the real work of Christ is accomplished.

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news.

Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with ‘unction’, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the ‘outskirts’ where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith.

People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes.

And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: ‘Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem’, ‘Bless me’, ‘Pray for me’ – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer.

The prayers of the people of God…being shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep’, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men…where the only thing that counts is ‘unction’ – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in Whom we have put our trust: Jesus.

Excerpt from Pope Francis’ reflection at the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass


  1. Wonderful piece.

    Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, quoting St Ignatius:

    The Church is a Eucharistic society, a sacramental organism which exists in all its fullness whenever the Eucharist is celebrated. It is no coincidence that the Body of Christ should mean both the Church and the Sacraments and that the phrase communio sanctorum should mean communion of saints and communion in the sacraments.

    (p. 242, The Orthodox Church, 1997)

    The entire NT theology is premised around unity and participation. Christ who is embedded in the ecology of the earth with us, a rather nice way of talking about the incarnation, the Holy City inhabited by God that descends from heaven dressed like a bride (and whose birthday we celebrate today).

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