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Article: A look at anointing with oil

A look at anointing with oil

A look at anointing with oil

An anointing is the ritual act of pouring aromatic oil over the head or body of a person.

Generally, the term is also applied to acts such as sprinkling, dousing, or smearing a person or object with perfumed oils, milk, butter, or other fats. Aromatic oils are used as perfumes, and sharing them is an act of hospitality. Historically, they were used to introduce a divine presence or influence; as such, anointing was regarded as a form of medicine, believed to expel dangerous spirits and demons believed to cause disease.

Today, the term "anointing" is typically associated with ceremonial blessings, such as the coronation of European monarchs. An earlier practice in Israel is exemplified by the anointing of Aaron as high priest and of both Saul and David by the prophet Samuel. In Jewish and Christian theology and eschatology, the concept relates to the figure of the Messiah or Christ (Hebrew and Greek for "The Anointed One"). Anointing-particularly the anointing of the sick-is often referred to as anointing; the anointing of the dying is sometimes referred to as "extreme unction" in the Catholic church.


The present verb derives from the now obsolete adjective anoint (which means anointed).  It is derived from Old French enoint, the past participle of enoindre (to anoint), from Latin inung(u)ere ("to anoint"). Thus, it is cognate with “unction".


A ceremonial anointment may be called "chrism" (from Greek khrîsma, "anointing").


Anointing served three distinct purposes: as a means of health and comfort, as a token of honor, and as a symbol of consecration. The custom seems to predate written history and the archaeological record; however, its origins are difficult to know with certainty.


The anointing of the sick

Anointing with oil after a bath closes pores. It was said to counteract the effects of the sun, thus reducing sweating. Aromatic oils also mask unpleasant odors.

Fats and oils are also used in traditional medicines. The Bible describes olive oil as being applied to the sick and poured into wounds. While anointing served a religious function in Persia, Armenia, and Greece, it was also used to combat the evil influence of demons. Anointing was also regarded as a way to "seal in" goodness and resist corruption, probably by analogy to ancient amphoras that were covered in oil to preserve wine for a long time, whose spoilage was attributed to demonic influences.

The bodies of the dead are sometimes anointed for sanitary and religious reasons. Medieval and early modern Christianity associated this practice with protecting corpses from vampires and ghouls.


In Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as in the Hebrew scriptures, oil was anointed as a sign of hospitality and a token of honor. The ancient Hebrews and Arabs followed this practice until the early 20th century.



Primitive and prehistoric religions often regarded sacrificial animals and individuals' fat as a powerful charm, second only to their blood as a source of life. Traditionally, East African Arabs anointed themselves with lion's fat to gain courage and provoke fear in animals. The aborigines of Australia would rub their caul fat against the caul of a human victim to gain their powers.

It is common to consecrate the oil in religions such as Christianity, where animal sacrifice is no longer practiced.


According to scholars of the early twentieth century (Wilhelm Spiegelberg, Bonnet, Cothenet, Kutsch, Martin-Pardey), officials were anointed during ancient Egypt. Stephen Thompson, for example, doubts whether such anointing ever existed:

The process of mummification involved anointing the corpse with scented oils.


Late Vedic rituals in Indian religion involved anointing officials, worshippers, and idols. They are known as abhisheka. In Buddhist India, the practice spread to Hinduism and Jainism. However, anointing usually involves water, yoghurt, milk, or butter from the holy cow rather than oil. A devotee is anointed as an act of consecration or blessing at every stage of life, with rituals accompanying birth, enrollment in schools, religious initiations, and death. New buildings, houses, and ritual instruments are anointed daily, as well as some idols. In such rituals, special attention is paid to the direction of the smearing. People are anointed from head to foot, from top to bottom. A holy river may provide the water, or the water may be scented with saffron, turmeric, or flower infusions; the waste water that is produced during the cleaning of certain idols or in the writing of certain verses of scripture may also be used. The ingredients found in ointments may include ashes, clay, powdered sandalwood, or herbal pastes.


Anointing practices in Buddhism are largely derived from Indian practices, although they tend to be less elaborate and more ritualized. Buddhist practitioners may sprinkle water or apply butter to statues of Buddha or the Bodhisattvas. Water scented with flowers, ink water, and 'saffron water' dyed yellow with saffron or turmeric are also used.


Hebrew priests, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), and sacred vessels were anointed with a holy anointing oil in antiquity. Israelite kings and prophets were also anointed with horns. Anointing with chrism according to the ceremony described in the Book of Exodus was believed to impart the 'Spirit of the Lord'. Samuel performed it instead of Saul or David being crowned. It appears that the practice was observed only during the establishment of new lines or dynasties and was not always obligatory.

Because of its importance, the High Priest and the king were sometimes called "the Anointed One”. The term—מָשִׁיחַ, Mashia—gave rise to the prophesied figure of the Messiah (q.v.) and a long history of claimants.

In Isaiah[42], the expression "anoint the shield" refers to the practice of rubbing oil on the leather of the shield to keep it supple and fit for war. The practice of anointing a shield predates the practice of anointing other objects in that the "smearing" (Hebrew "mashiach") of the shield renewed the leather covering on a wooden shield. Victorious soldiers were elevated on their shield by their comrades after a battle or when a new king was chosen. This led to the idea of a "chosen one" which led to the modern concept of a Messiah (Hebrew for a person who has been anointed).


The Christian faith emerged from Jesus of Nazareth's association with Jewish prophecies of an "Anointed One". The epithet "Christ" comes from the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew title. While he was not anointed by the High Priest as described in Exodus, he was considered to have been anointed by the Holy Spirit during his baptism. Mary of Bethany lavishly anointed Jesus with oil when she saw him. This was a literal anointing. Jesus explains that the anointment was made out of affection and as preparation for his burial.

Throughout the New Testament, John refers to "anointing from the Holy One" and "from Him abides in you". Both this spiritual anointing and the literal anointing with oil are associated with the Holy Spirit. The Eastern Orthodox churches attach a special value to the oil that was blessed by the Twelve Apostles.

During the 2nd century, the practice of "chrismation" (baptism with oil) appeared as a symbol of Christ, rebirth, and inspiration. It appears that the first record of such an act is a letter written by Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, to Autolycus. In it, he calls the act "sweet and useful", punning on khristós (Greek: χριστóς, "anointed") and khrēstós (χρηστóς, "useful"). Continuing, he seems to say, "wherefore we are called Christians on this account, because we have been anointed with the oil of God", and "what person is not anointed with oil upon entering this life or becoming an athlete?" The practice was also defended by Hippolytus in his "Commentary on Song of Songs" and by Origen in his "Commentary on Romans". As Origen affirms, "all of us may be baptized in those visible waters and in a visible anointing, as has been handed down to the churches."

The Gnostics were particularly devoted to anointing. Apocryphal and Gnostic texts claim that John the Baptist's baptism by water was incomplete and that anointing with oil was a necessary part of the baptismal ritual. The Gospel of Philip claims that chrism is superior to baptism, since we have been called Christians from the word "chrism" and not from the word "baptism". In fact, it is from "chrism" that the name "Christ" comes. The Father anointed the Son, the Son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us. Anyone who is anointed has everything. It is He who possesses the Resurrection, the Light, the Cross, and the Holy Spirit. During the wedding chamber, the Father gave him this gift; he merely accepted it. The Father was in the Son, and the Son was in the Father. That is the Kingdom of Heaven.

According to the Acts of Thomas, anointing is the beginning of baptism and essential for becoming a Christian, as it states God knows his own children by his seal and the seal is received through the oil. The work describes many such chrismations in detail.

In medieval and early modern Christianity, oil from the lamps burning before the altar of a church was considered a holy substance. During the dedication of new churches and altars, tombs, gongs, and some other ritual instruments and utensils were anointed.

Specifically, James 5:14-15 shows us that anointing oil applied in faith is a powerful weapon against a spiritual attack of the enemy, which can manifest as a disease designed to destroy the body.

Roman Catholicism

Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches bless three types of holy oils for anointing: "Oil of the Catechumens" (abbreviated OS, from the Latin oleum sanctum, meaning holy oil), "Oil of the Infirm" (OI), and "Sacred Chrism" (SC). The first two are said to be blessed, while the chrism is said to be consecrated.

No matter their age, adults and infants use the Oil of Catechumens before baptism. The earliest Christian converts who sought baptism, known as catechumens, underwent a period of preparation known as catechumenate, and during this period of instruction they were anointed with cathecumens oil. Until 1968, the ordaining bishop anointed the hands of new priests with Catechumen's Oil. The older form is currently only used for members of associations such as the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, which is dedicated to preserving the pre-Vatican II liturgical tradition. In the later form, priests and bishops are anointed with chrism, the hands of priests, the head of bishops. It used to be that a bishop's hands, as well as their heads, were anointed with chrism. The Roman Pontifical also included anointing kings and queens with the Oil of Catechumens in some countries. In France, the oil used was chrism.

Western Christianity used Oil of the Infirm to administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, or Extreme Unction, as part of the ritual treatment of the sick and infirm between the late 12th and the late 20th century.

In the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and holy orders, Sacred Chrism is used. The act of consecration is also used to dedicate new churches, new altars, and to consecrate chalices and patens for use during Mass. In the sacrament of baptism, the subject receives two distinct unctions: one with the oil of catechumens before being baptized, and another with chrism after being baptized with water. Anointing with chrism is an essential part of the confirmation rite.

The holy oils may be consecrated by any bishop. Every Holy Thursday, they normally do so at a special "Chrism Mass". Gelasian sacramentary formula for doing so is as follows:

Send forth, O Lord, we beseech thee, thy Holy Spirit the Paraclete from heaven into this fatness of oil, which thou hast deigned to bring forth out of the green wood for the refreshing of mind and body; and through thy holy benediction may it be for all who anoint with it, taste it, touch it, a safeguard of mind and body, of soul and spirit, for the expulsion of all pains, of every infirmity, of every sickness of mind and body. For with the same thou hast anointed priests, kings, and prophets and martyrs with this thy chrism, perfected by thee, O Lord, blessed, abiding within our bowels in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Orthodoxy and Greek Catholicism

Confirmation is known as chrismation in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches. The Mystery of Chrismation is performed immediately after the Mystery of Baptism. It employs the sacred myron (μύρον, "chrism"), which is said to contain a remnant of oil blessed by the Twelve Apostles. In order to maintain the apostolic blessing, the container is never completely emptied, but it is filled as needed, typically on Holy Thursday at the Patriarchate of Constantinople  or the patriarchal cathedrals of the autocephalous churches. Archontes Myrepsoi, lay officials of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, oversee the process. Even though a variety of clergy members may participate in the preparation, the actual Consecration is always performed by the Patriarch or a bishop delegated by him. The new myron contains olive oil, myrrh, and various spices and perfumes. Myron is normally kept on the Holy Table or the Table of Oblation. Using a myron, the "newly illuminated" person makes the sign of the cross on their forehead, eyes, nostrils, lips, both ears, breasts, hands, and feet. The priest uses a special brush for this purpose. The myron was also used to anoint Orthodox monarchs before the 20th century.

The oil used to anoint catechumens before baptism is simple olive oil, which is blessed by the priest immediately before it is poured into the baptismal font. Then, he anoints the catechumen on his forehead, breast, shoulders, ears, hands, and feet with some of the blessed oil that's floating on top of the baptismal water. In the name of the Trinity, the catechumen is immediately baptized with threefold immersion.

The Sacred Mystery of Unction refers to the anointing of the sick. Unction may be used to treat both spiritual ailments and physical ailments, and the faithful may request it as often as they like. In some churches, all the faithful are unctionedfer unction to all the faithful.d at unction is not stored in the cIn contrast to the myron, holy oil is not stored in the church but is consecrated for each  received the Mystery of Unction and some of the consecrated oil remains, it is poured over his body just before burial. Oils may also be blessed with a simple blessing by a priest (or even a revered monastic), or by contact with some sacred object, such as a relic of a saint, or that has been taken from a lamp that burned before a wonderworking icon.

The Armenian Church traditionally does not consider crosses holy until they have been anointed and prayed over, thereby introducing the Holy Spirit into them. Other Orthodox churches followed the same tradition.


Pentecostal churches sometimes use anointing for consecration and ordination of pastors and elders, as well as for healing the sick due to their particular emphasis on the Holy Spirit.

Pentecostals use the expression "the anointing breaks the yoke" to refer to a passage in Isaiah that discusses Hezekiah's power over Sennacherib as the result of the Holy Spirit.

Latter-day Saints

Latter-day Saints practice anointing with pure, consecrated olive oil in two ways: 1) as a priesthood ordinance prior to administering a priesthood blessing; and 2) in conjunction with washing as part of the endowment. There are numerous references in the Doctrine and Covenants to anointing and administering to the sick by those with authority to lay on hands.  Joseph Smith instituted anointing during the rites of sanctification and consecration that preceded the rites practiced in the Kirtland Temple on 21 January 1836. Anointing would prepare church members to receive power from above, as promised in an earlier revelation in 1831.  Currently, any holder of the Melchizedek priesthood may lay hands on the head of an individual. The oil must have been consecrated earlier in a short ordinance performed by any holder of the Melchizedek priesthood if it is available. 


Anointing has also been an important ritual in Christian rites of Coronation, especially in Europe, in addition to its use for Israelite monarchy. According to the jurisconsult Tancredus, originally only four monarchs were crowned and anointed, those of Jerusalem, France, England, and Sicily:

Et sunt quidam coronando, et quidam non, tamen illi, qui coronatur, debent inungi: et tales habent privilegium ab antiquo, et de consuetudine. Alii modo non debent coronari, nec inungi sine istis: et si faciunt; ipsi abutuntur indebite. […] Rex Hierosolymorum coronatur et inungitur; Rex Francorum Christianissimus coronatur et inungitur; Rex Anglorum coronatur et inungitur; Rex Siciliae coronatur et inungitur.

Among them, [the kings] are both crowned and not crowned, and crowned kings must be anointed: this is a custom that dates back thousands of years. The others, on the other hand, should not be crowned or anointed: and if they do so unduly, it is abuse. 

Later French legend held that a vial of oil, the Holy Ampulla, descended from Heaven to anoint Clovis I as King of the Franks after he converted to Christianity in 493. Visigoth Wamba is the first Catholic king known to have been anointed, although it appears that the practice preceded him in Spain. As described in the Old Testament, the ceremony was performed in 672 by Quiricus, the archbishop of Toledo; it is believed that a copy of it was copied a year later when Flavius Paulus defected and agreed to join the Septimanian rebels he had been ordered to quiet.  It was particularly used by usurpers such as Pepin, whose dynasty replaced the Merovingians in France in 751. Even though it might be argued that the practice subordinated the king to the church, in practice the sacral anointing of kings was seen as elevating him to a priestly or saintly status. It added a religious dimension to European regimes apart from the church hierarchy and was rarely performed by the popes for practical and political reasons. The anointing was usually administered by a bishop from a major see of the realm, often the national primate.  Lupoi argues that this set in motion the conflicting claims that led to the Investiture Crisis. The unction of the king recontextualized the election and popular acclamation still legally responsible for the elevation of new rulers. They were no longer understood as autonomous authorities, but as agents serving God's will. Thus, the divine right of kings was gradually recreated in a Christian context, even when monarchs chose to forego anointment altogether. Shakespeare's Richard II alluded to the supposedly permanent nature of anointment:

Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm off an anointed king.

Anointing a new king is considered a Sacred Mystery in Eastern Orthodoxy. Through the Holy Spirit, the act gives him the ability to perform his divinely appointed duties, including his ministry in defending the faith. During the ceremony, the same myron is used as during Chrismation. In Russian Orthodox ceremonies, the anointing occurred at the end of the coronation service, just before the tsar received Holy Communion. The sovereign and his consort were escorted to the Holy Doors (Iconostasis) of the cathedral and jointly anointed by the metropolitan. Afterwards, the tsar was taken alone through the Holy Doors—an action normally reserved only for priests—and received communion at a small table set next to the Holy Table.

Royal unction today occurs only on the thrones of Britain and Tonga.  Utensils used for the practice are sometimes thought of as regalia, such as the ampulla and spoon used in the former Kingdom of France and the anointing horns used in Sweden and Norway.  The Biblical formula is not strictly followed. A concoction of orange, jasmine, distilled roses, distilled cinnamon, and ben oil was used for the coronation of King Charles I of England in 1626.

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