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Oil of Catechumens

by Paul Turner
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 steroids.

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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Copyright © 1998, Resource Publications, Inc. 160 E. Virginia St. #290, San Jose, CA 95112, (408) 286-8505. This article may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher.  For permission e-mail
Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University in Rome.


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