Catholic Dictionary




Literally the pouring of oil on someone or some thing in a religious ceremony. Its biblical purpose was to make sacred the object anointed. Thus kings were anointed (I Samuel 10:1), priests (Exodus 28:41), and prophets (I Kings 19:16). The reference to anointing in the New Testament as a sacred rite pertains to the sacrament of anointing the sick, but the verb here used (James 5:14), aleipho, is unique. It therefore has a different meaning from "to make sacred," as elsewhere in the Bible. In the Catholic Church, holy oils are used in the administration of the three sacraments, which impart a permanent character (baptism, confirmation, and holy orders) and with a different purpose, in the anointing of the sick. Oil is used in the blessing of altars, bells, and sacred vessels. There are also a number of blessed oils, e.g., in honor of St. Serapion (fourth century), that are used as sacramentals. (Etym. Latin inunguere; in-, upon + unguere, to smear, anoint.)