Set apart by God’s choice

By | June 9, 2010

The images of oil and anointing are prominent in Sunday’s Scriptures. In the Book of Samuel, Nathan rebukes David for having Uriah killed so that David might take Uriah’s wife as his own. Nathan reminds David that he was anointed king of Israel because of God’s choice. He was consecrated and given special responsibilities so his sin is greater.

In the Gospel we hear that Jesus went to the home of a Pharisee and during the evening meal, a sinful woman brought a jar of ointment, washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and anointed his feet.

In ancient times and today, oil serves a symbolic and practical function. It is used to beautify, refresh and heal. It can also be an agent of strength, and especially in religious rituals, it is a sign of consecration of both people and objects.

In former days, athletes anointed their bodies before competitions. Ointments and creams kept the skin soft and moist in the arid climate of the Middle East, and kings and priests were set apart by ritual anointing. Today, after strenuous exercise we sometimes rub on ointments to soothe aching muscles and beauty oils to help keep our skin soft and pliable.

The church also uses oil in the celebration of several sacraments. The oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick and the Sacred Chrism are blessed by the bishop each year during Holy Week at the chrism Mass. The oils signify the church’s special charisms of healing, consecration and faith building.

The oil of catechumens is used to anoint those preparing for baptism. Its purpose is to strengthen those adults who journey in faith, that they may have the strength and wisdom to understand the Gospel and accept the challenge of living as a Christian. The oil is also used in infant baptism.

The oil of the sick is used in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick to bring physical and spiritual healing to those suffering from illness, weakness or vulnerability.

The sacred chrism is used in baptism, confirmation, the ordination of priests and bishops, and in the dedication of churches, the altar where the eucharistic sacrifice will be offered, and chalices and patens. Chrism is a mixture of olive oil and balsam. The fluidity of the olive oil signifies the outpouring of grace and the sweet smell of the balsam reminds us of the sweetness of Christian virtue.

In each church, there is a special place to house the oils called the “ambry.” The term comes from the Latin word for an armory. Often the ambry will be in the sanctuary or near the baptistery.

As we listen to the significance of anointing with oil, perhaps we can reflect upon our own experience of being anointed and gift of grace, and give thanks for this call to relationship with God.


Sr. Rehrauer is the director of Evangelization and Worship for the Diocese of Green Bay.

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