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|Posted: Wed Mar 31, 2004 7:08 pm Post subject: Online Catholic Encyclopedia on 'Holy Oil'
Oil is a product of great utility the symbolic signification of which
harmonizes with its natural uses. It serves to sweeten, to strengthen, to
render supple; and the Church employs it for these purposes in its rites.
The liturgical blessing of oil is very ancient. It is met with in the fourth
century in the "Prayer Book of Serapion", and in the Apostolic
Constitutions, also in a Syriac document of the fifth or sixth century
entitles "Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi." The aforesaid book of
Bishop Serapion (d. c. 362) contains the formula for the blessing of the oil
and chrism for those who had just received baptism, which was in those days
followed by confirmation in such a manner that the administration of both
sacraments constituted a single ceremony. In the same book is found a
separate form of blessing for the oil of the sick, for water, and for bread.
It is an invocation to Christ to give His creatures power to cure the sick,
to purify the soul, to drive away impure spirits, and to wipe out sins. In
the Old Testament oil was used for the consecration of priests and kings,
also in all great liturgical functions, e.g., sacrifices, legal
purifications, and the consecration of altars (Exod., XXX, 23,33; XXXIX, 27,
29; xi, 9, 15; Levit., vi, 15 sq.)
In the primitive Church the oils to be used in the initiation of catechumens
were consecrated on Holy Thursday in the Missa Chrismalis. Two different
ampullae were used, one containing pure oil, the other oil mixed with
balsam. This mixture, was made by the pope himself before the Mass, in the
sacristy. During the Mass two clerics of lesser rank stood before the altar
holding the ampullae. Towards the end of the Canon the faithful were allowed
to make use of themselves (Tertullian, "Ad Scap." iv.), but the same oil
also served for extreme unction. The vessels holding it were placed on the
railingg surrounding the space reserved for the clergy. The deacons brought
some of these vessels to the altar to receive that blessing of the pope
which we read today in the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries. The pope
continued the mass while the deacons returned the ampullae to the place
whence they had brought them, and a certain number of bishops and priests
repeated over those which had not been brought to the altar the formula
pronounced by the pope. The consecration of the large ampullae to the
archdeacon and one of his asistants. The archdeacon presented to the pope
the ampulla of perfumed oil, the pontiff breathed on it three times, made
the sign of the cross, and recited a prayer which bears a certain
resemblance to the Preface of the Mass. The ampulla of pure oil was next
presented to the pope, and was consecrated with less solemnity. The
consecration and benediction of the holy oils now take place on Holy
Thursday at a very solemn ceremony reserved for the the bishop. He blesses
the oil which is to serve at the anointing of catechumens previous to
baptism, next the oil with which the sick are annointed in the Sacrament of
Extreme Unctiion, finally the chrism, which is a mixture of * oil and balsam
*, and which is used in the administraion of the Sacrament of Confirmation.
The Oil of the Sick
The use of oil in Christian antiquity was not, as has been maintained, a
medical prescription adopted by the Church. In Apostolic times St. James
directed the priests or ancients of the community to pray for the sick man
and to anoint him with oil in the name of Jesus (James, v, 14). And shortly
afterwards, probably in the second century, a gold leaf found at Beyrout, in
Syria, contains an exorcism "pronounced in the dwelling of him whom I
annointed." This is, after the text of St. James, the earliest evidence of
the use of oil accompained by a formula in the administration of a sacrament
[see Theophilus of Antioch (d. 181), "Ad Autolyc." I, xii, in P.G. VI,
1042]. The oil of the sick might be blessed not only by priests, but also by
laymen of high repute for virtue, and even by women. In the sixth century
St. Monegundus on his death-bed blessed oil and salt which were afterwards
used for the sick ("Vita S. Monegundi", ix, in "Acta SS. Ord. S. Bened." I,
204; Gregory of Tours, "Vita Patr." xix, 4). A similar instance is met with
in the life of St. Radegund (Vita Radeg., I, xxxv). In the West, however,
the tendency was early manifested to confine the blessing of the oil of the
sick to bishops only; about 730 St. Boniface ordered all priests to have
recourse to the bishop (Statut., xxiv). In 744 the tendency was not so
pronounced in France, but the Council of Châlons (813) imposed on priests
the obligation of anointing the sick with oil blessed by the bishop (can.
xiviii). In the East the priests retained the right to consecrate the oil.
The custom even became established, and has lasted to the present time, of
having the oil blessed in the house of the sick person, or in the church, by
a priest, or, if possible, by seven priests.
Oil of Catechumens
During the time of the catechumentate those who were about to become
Christians received one or more anointings with holy oil. The oil used on
this occasion was that which had received the blessing mentioned in the
Apostolic Constitutions (VII, xlii). This anointing of the catechumens is
explained by the fact that they were regarded to a certain extent as being
possessed by the devil until Christ should enter into them through baptism.
The oil of catechumens is also used in the ordination of priests and the
coronation of kings and queens.
Oil of Chrism
This is used in the West immediately after baptism; both in the east and
West it was used very early for the Sacrament of Confirmation (see CHRISM).
Oil in the Agnus Dei
The "Ordo Romanus" (c. 730) shows that in Rome, on Holy Thursday, the
archdeacon went very early to St. John Lateran, where he mixed * wax and oil
* in a large vase, this mixture being used to make the Agnus Deis (Mabillon,
"Mus. Ital.", II, 31.) The same document shows that in suburban churches wax
was used while Pseudo-Aleuin (Divin. offic., xix) says that both wax and oil
Oil in the Eucharistic Bread
In the Liturgy of the Nestorians and the Syrian Jacobites, the elements
presented at the Eucharistic Consecration have been prepared with oil. Among
the Nestorians a special rubric prescribes the use of * flour, salt, olive
oil, and water * ("Officium Renovatiionis fermenti"; Matente, "De antiquis
Eccles. ritib.", I, iii, 7; Badger, "Nestorians", II, 162; Lebrun, "Explic.
des prieres de la messe", dissert, xi, 9).
Oil in the Font
>From the second century the custom was established of administering baptism
with water specially blessed for this purpose. Nevertheless, the sacrament
was valid if ordinary water was used. We are not well informed as to the
nature of the consecration of this baptismal water, but it must be said that
the most ancient indications and descriptions say nothing of the use of oil
in this consecration. The first witness, Pseudo-Dionysius, does not go
beyond the first half of the sixth century; he tells us that the bishop
pours oil on the water of the fonts in the form of a cross (De hierarch,
eccles., IV, x; cf. II, viii). There is no doubt that this rite was
introduced at a comparatively late period.
Oil in Church Lamps
The maintenance of more or less numerous lamps in the churches was a source
of expense which the faithful in their generosity hastened to meet by
establishing a fund to purchase oil. The Council of Braga (572) decided that
a third of the offerings made to the Church should be used for purchasing
oil for the light. The quantity of oil thus consumed was greater when the
lamp burned before a famous tomb or shrine, in which case it was daily
distributed to pilgrims, who venerated it as a relic (Kraus, "Real-Encykl.",
II, 522). (See LIGHTS.)
Transcribed by Beth Ste-Marie
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII
Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight
Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
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|The Catechism of the Catholic Church
THE HOLY OIL
Oil is the symbol of strength and has been used from the most ancient times
for the consecration of kings. There are three kinds of oil used in the
celebration of the sacraments.
Oil of Chrism: used in the sacraments of confirmation, baptism and holy
orders. These sacraments give the candidates a share in the priestly
"character" of Christ (the title "Christ" meaning, "the anointed one"). It
is also used in the consecration of churches.
Oil of Catechumens: used in the celebration of baptism and so called because
it was originally used for anointing those who were about to be baptized.
Oil of the Sick: used in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. Each
year, the three Holy Oils are blessed by the bishop on the morning of Maundy
Thursday at the Chrism Mass which is usually attended by all the priests in
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