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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






24 September 2005

Anointing with Oil


Q: I was wondering why our church (ELCA Lutheran) anoints with oil, and what its significance is. Thanks for your time!

A: Anointing with oil is an ancient Biblical practice. The last time Scripture mentions it is in James. It was used for the sick and injured and also to dedicate prophets and priests. Often, oil is mentioned in connection with the work of the Holy Ghost, not exactly as in the same way as water or bread and wine are associated with the Sacraments instituted by Christ, but definitely in a special presence of the Spirit.

And it is not only the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America among the Lutherans who use anointing. much of Christendom, including the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy, also uses anointing oil in one way or another. Often, it’s part of the church’s entry rite, done following Baptism. As such, it is called Chrism and the process is chrismation. Some bodies do it at the time of confirmation or at other times, including anointing the sick or those near death. In the Roman Catholic Church, this was known as Extreme Unction when applied mainly for those near death but now is more generally used and is called the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

Our new Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod hymnal will have a visitation rite which includes the anointing of the sick and also indicates the proper use of oil in the baptismal rite (see part 2) when making the sign of the cross upon a newly baptized person.

For more on this topic, please see a previous post, Olive Oil and the Holy Spirit.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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