Exodus 30:22-25 "And the
Lord spoke to Moses, Saying: Take spices, of principal and chosen myrrh five
hundred sicles, and of cinnamon half so much, that is, two hundred and fifty
sicles, of calamus in like manner two hundred and fifty. And of cassia five
hundred sicles by the weight of the sanctuary, of oil of olives the measure
hin: And thou shalt make the holy oil of unction, an ointment compounded
after the art of the perfumer..."
James 5:14 "Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the
church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of
There are three kinds of sacred
oils, all of which signify the work of the Holy Spirit and symbolize it in
that oil "serves to sweeten, to strengthen, to render supple" (Catholic
Encyclopedia). The three holy oils are:
The Oil of Catechumens ("Oleum
Catechumenorum" or "Oleum Sanctum") used in Baptism along with water, in
the consecration of churches, in the blessing of Altars, in the ordination
of priests, and, sometimes, in the crowning of Catholic kings and
The Holy Chrism ("Sanctum
Chrisma") or "Oil of Gladness," which is olive oil mixed with a small amount
of balm or balsam. It is used in Confirmation, Baptism, in the consecration
of a Bishop, the consecration of a various things such as churches, chalices,
patens, and bells.
The Oil of the Sick ("Oleum
Infirmorum"), which is used in Unction
The blessing of oils is performed
by the Bishop of each diocese on Maundy Thursday ("Holy Thursday") in the
diocese's cathedral during a "Chrism Mass." The oils are kept in metal or
glass bottles called "chrismatories," "chrismals," or "ampullae." These
vessels are then stored in a cabinet called an "ambry," which is usually
fixed to the wall of the sanctuary. Priests also have a portable "oilstock"
which has a section for each of the three holy oils. Lay people are not to
handle the holy oils, even to carry them, except in emergencies.
Just for fun
Legends surround the ampullae
used to hold the holy oils used, in addition to the oil of catechumens, in
coronating the monarchs of England and France.
A French legend relates that the holy oil used in crowning the French monarchs
was brought down from Heaven by a dove bearing an ampulla at the Baptism
of Clovis, the warring Salic Frank, by Bishop Remigius ("Remi") at Reims
on Christmas Day, A.D. 496. The conversion of Clovis to Christianity was
the beginning of France's status as "elder daughter of the Church." The
dove-borne vial, known in France as the "Sainte Ampoule," is reserved at
the cathedral of Reims to this day.
In England, the Blessed Virgin is said to have appeared to St. Thomas à
given him an eagle-shaped ampulla filled
with holy oil, and a golden spoon to be used to crown England's Kings. The
ampulla was lost for two centuries, but was discovered before Henry IV's
coronation in 1399. When the oil it contained was used on the Protestant
Queen Elizabeth I in 1559, it is said to have gone rancid; she is said to
have remarked that "the grease smelt ill." Whether these legends are true
or not, the eagle-shaped ampulla is now reserved at the Tower of London with
the rest of the Crown Jewels.
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