||The oil of catechumens is the ointment of those preparing
for baptism. It wards off what is evil. It brings wisdom and strength.
Think of it as Catholic bug spray, religious suntan lotion, or spiritual
Every year the bishop of your diocese blesses the oil of catechumens
during the Mass of Chrism at the cathedral. This Mass takes place shortly
before Easter because of an ancient tradition in the church. As far back
as the third century bishops used blessed oil to anoint those who had prepared
for baptism. Eventually he blessed the oil a few days in advance so that
representatives from each parish could transport it from the cathedral
home. Customarily, the bishop blessed all the oils needed for the liturgy
on Holy Thursday morning, the last possible occasion to celebrate Mass
before the Easter Triduum began.
Since Vatican II, a bishop may celebrate the Mass of Chrism earlier
to avoid overcrowding Holy Thursday. Although he usually blesses enough
oil of catechumens for use in the diocese throughout the year, if you run
out, your priest may bless a new batch. The oil of catechumens is traditionally
an olive oil, but any vegetable oil may be used.
We most frequently use of the oil of catechumens during the baptism
of infants. Near the beginning of the rite, we pray an "exorcism" for the
children, a prayer that they be freed from original sin. Babies are then
anointed on the chest with the oil of catechumens. However, the full meaning
of the oil comes to light when those being anointed are adults preparing
for baptism. In this case, all the prayers make more sense: We pray that
the catechumens will have strength and wisdom to understand the Gospel
and to accept the challenge of Christian living. This anointing leads them
toward baptism. Even though infants will not progress in strength and wisdom
in the few minutes separating this anointing from their baptism, we still
borrow this element from the adult rite.
Only a priest or deacon uses this oil; if someone is baptized by a lay
person for any reason, the anointing is omitted.
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Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate
in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University in Rome.