The oil of mercy in the lamp of our lives

(Fr. Alex Vadakumthala)

The Ranchi Conference of the Canon Law Society of India, held during the Year of Priests, had a very relevant theme: `The Sacraments, other than Marriage’. Though it was a mere coincidence or, more a providence, it did help the participants to reflect once again on the meaning of the Sacraments in the life of the Church and in the lives of priests as the ministers, as well as the beneficiaries of the Sacraments.

“At the centre of the Church’s worship is the notion of “sacrament”: these were the opening words by Pope Benedict XVI in his homily at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday on April 1, 2010 at the St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. He further explained, saying, “There are four elements in creation on which the world of sacraments is built: water, bread, wine and olive oil. While water is the vital element everywhere, and thus represents the shared access of all people to rebirth as Christians, the other three elements belong to the culture of the Mediterranean region. In other words, they point towards the concrete historical environment in which Christianity emerged.” Reflecting on each of these elements, the Pope continued, “Bread is the fundamental gift of life day by day. Wine has to do with feasting, with the fine things of creation. Olive oil has a wide range of meaning. In popular etymologies a connection was made, even in ancient times, between the Greek word “elaion” – oil – and the word “eleos” – mercy. In fact, in the various sacraments, consecrated oil is always a sign of God’s mercy. So the meaning of priestly anointing always includes the mission to bring God’s mercy to those we serve. In the lamp of our lives, the oil of mercy should never run dry.”

As Canonists, in our study and understanding of the Sacraments, the necessary ethos and pastoral commitment to be reflected is summarized in these words of Pope Benedict XVI: “In the lamp of our lives, the oil of mercy should never run dry.” In our role as ministers of sacraments for God’s people, there is the need to bring “the oil of gladness” in their lives. During the Year of Priests, the XXIII Annual Conference held from October 21 to 25, 2009 at Social Development Centre, Ranchi, was a reminder to become oneself a sacrament, a sign of God’s love, mercy and compassion, in today’s world.

The five-day National Conference of Canonists was inaugurated by Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi. “Only a well-knit and disciplined community will have a steady progress”, said Cardinal Toppo at the Inaugural Address. “Almost hundred years back, when the visionary missionaries like Fr. Constant Lievens came to Chotanagpur, they insisted that only discipline and order in the community will help for the development of every member, though often law is seen by some as difficult and narrow. Preserving this spirit of discipline is the challenge of the modern times.” Speaking on the application of law, Cardinal Toppo reminded, “Law is to be implemented with love, care and equity.”

Delivering his presidential address, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, said, “The supreme priority of lawyers is to serve the people with justice. A society that craves for justice looks for efficient, effective and committed legal experts. Those who have specialized in legislative texts of the Church and civil law need to up-date themselves periodically on the jurisprudence of the place.”

This volume of Canonical Studies contains the talks delivered at the Conference in Ranchi. One of the main studies in this volume is by Fr. S. Antony Samy, on the Instruction, `Redemptionis Sacramentum’ brought out by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament, with the approval of Pope John Paul II, on March 19, 2004. The document speaks extensively on the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and the role and responsibility of priests to preside over at the Eucharist in persona Christi. In another article, Fr. Thomas Kuzhinapurath makes a complimentary study on the concept of Eucharist in the Oriental Code and reflects further on the rich Eucharistic spirituality found in the Eastern Churches. Fr. Mathew Kochupurackal offers a comparative analysis of CIC and CCEO, especially on their differences in the theological vision and administration of the Sacraments. Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, explained these differences as “a brilliant ornament for all the Church and this variety confirms the divine unity.” Fr. David Bara in his article discusses the historical development of the Sacrament of Penance, together with some pertinent canonical matters related to the sacrament. From an ecumenical point of view, Fr. Jos De Cuyper, S.J. explains some of the relevant pastoral concerns connected with sacramental sharing and worship, by members of various sister churches, and reflects on them in the light of the canonical legislations and Magisterium of the Catholic Church. In short, this Issue of the Canonical Studies offers a comprehensive and in-depth understanding on six of the Sacraments.

The Canon Law Society of India has been unique in many ways, especially in the unity among its members and their active participation in its programmes. The secret behind the success of the endeavours of the Canon Law Society of India during these years has been primarily due to the inspiration and guidance from His Eminence, Oswald Cardinal Gracias. We are immensely grateful to His Eminence. The committed and charismatic leadership of Rev. Fr. Joseph Chinnayan, who was the president of CLSI for the last 8 years, together with the strong support of the Executive Team, comprising of Fr. Varghese Koluthara, CMI, Vice-President, Fr. Charles Kumar, Secretary, Fr. John Mohandas, Treasurer, Fr. John Abraham, and Fr. Mathew Kochupurakal, the committee members, who helped the Society to grow and achieve its goals. The Canon Law Society of India is indebted to each one of them. Sincerely we thank them all. May God bless them for their dedicated service!

Pope Benedict XVI, addressing the members of Tribunal of the Roman Rota, on January 29, 2010, quoted these words from Caritas in Veritate, n. 1, saying, “Love – caritas – is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.” The Holy Father continued, “Today I wish to emphasize that both justice and charity postulate love for truth and essentially entail searching for truth.” In our ministry in the field of canonical legislations, may we be guided by genuine love for truth, in charity and justice! In the lamp of our lives, may the oil of mercy never run dry!