“Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…” Many of the sacraments that are celebrated today involve the use of oil. Baptism and confirmation are the two principle sacraments involving oils. In the Church liturgies, the actual significance of oil is often not known (or at least not fully) to the members of the parish faith community. This paper will examine the meaning of oil, the sacraments in which it is used, and prayers associated with it. There are three oils that are used in various sacraments: Chrism, Oil of Infirm, and the Oil of the Sick. The three oils are all equally important; however, an emphasis of sorts has been placed on the Sacred Chrism and the Oil of Infirm. The first sacrament, which will be examined, is baptism. The sacrament of baptism is most commonly associated with newborn children. The newborns (or adults) are new members of the Church, and new members of the Body of Christ. As with any sacrament, there is a standard procedure to follow when the sacrament is administered. Oil is not introduced in the Rite of Baptism until after the general intercessions, “…to introduce either the anointing with the oil of catechumens, or the laying on of hands.” The oil is one of the most significant items used in the celebration of the Rite. Jesus, himself, particularly encouraged children to be baptized, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” During the time of Jesus, oil was used primarily used to show royalty; at this point in time, kings were the only ‘anointed ones’. “The completion of the sacrament consists, first, of the anointing with chrism, which signifies the royal priesthood of the baptized and enrollment into the company of the people of God…” . Clearly, Chrism has a very powerful meaning in the celebration of baptism. Two thousand years ago, the Chrism was a sign of royalty and the tradition has carried on to today, where the ‘royalty’ are still anointed. The Church encourages that baptism be celebrated before the entire faith community. Baptisms usually take place during the Sunday liturgy. During the actual anointing of the candidates the celebrant says: “we anoint you with the oil of salvation in the name of Christ our Savior; may he strengthen you with his power, who lives and reign forever and ever.” Following this prayer, the celebrant anoints each child on the breast with the oil of catechumens. After the child has actually been baptized, there is another anointing where the celebrants says: “The God of power and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin and brought you to new life through water and the Holy Spirit. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation, so that, united with his people, you may remain for ever a member of Christ who is Priest, Prophet, and King.”
Proceeding this prayer, the white garment and lighted candle are presented. The conclusion of the rite is the next and final step in the celebration of the sacrament.
Oil is not only used in baptism; it is also used in confirmation. “The body is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated, the body is signed, that the soul too may be fortified…” In earlier times when an individual was anointed with oil, it symbolized fortification. It was commonly used to prepare warriors for battle, amongst other things. The chrism prepares Christians for the battle against evil that they will face in their everyday lives. Pope Innocent III wrote: “The anointing of the forehead with chrism signifies the laying on of the hand, the other name for which is confirmation, since through it the Holy Spirit is given for growth and strength.” Oil has always held a rich place in the history of the Catholic Church....
Cited: Benedict XIV, Ep. Ex quo primum tempore 52: Benedicti XIV – Bullarium, v. 3 (Prati, 1847) 320.
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