Expert Answer Forum
Holy Oil QUESTION from Peter O'Shaughnessy June 16, 2000 Dear John-Paul,
I'm very interested in knowing the Church rule on, Lay people and the use of Holy Oil . Are we able to have it in our possession ? I have read that we are not allowed to anoint the sick with it but that's all.
Thank you, Peter O'S.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on July 21, 2000 Dear Mr.O'Shaughnessy:
There was some question about the use of blessed oil by laity. Thus I wrote to Rome to get a definitive answer. I received an answer from Rome just a short time ago.
Here is summary of that letter:
A) Sacramental Oil (blessed by the Bishop on Holy Thursday) cannot be used ever
B) Blessed oil, like that you get at shrine MAY BE USED, but
1) prudent reserve must be exercised.
2) the situation of its use MUST NOT be one in which there is ANY confusion that what is happening is the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick.
3) the use of a blessed oil by the laity MUST NOT replace the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
4) the use of blessed oil by the laity cannot be used in such a way as to be EQUIVALENT to the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
5) The use of the blessed oil cannot be used in such a way as to create a new role for the laity which is really reserved to clergy.
6) the intention of the person using the oil must not be to violate items 2-5 above.
7) the person using the oil must express WITH CLARITY why he is not in violation of items 2-5 above.
8) the people observing or participating with the person using the oil must fully UNDERSTAND what is happening is not in violation of items 2-5 above.
9) the practice of using blessed oil by the laity is governed specifically (in addition to these general principles) by the local Pastor and ultimately the diocesan Bishop.
So what does this mean?
This means that they laity can NEVER substitute the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick with their own anointing. If the situation is one that a priest would normally administer oil, then the laity cannot do it.
Laity cannot use oil in such a way that is equivalent to the Sacrament of Anointing of Sick even though they are not intending to do the Sacrament. This probably prohibits many charismatic groups from using oil in the way they do.
Laity cannot use oil in such a way that they essentially co-opt a role that really belongs to clergy. This too will prohibit the way typical charismatics use oil.
What is also important to see here, is that EVEN IF all criteria is met to allow a layman to use oil, IF THERE IS MISUNDERSTANDING on the part of on-lookers, then it is NOT to be done. ALL involved must be properly catechized.
The types of ways that oil can be used would include on your children, your spouse, or others in which you have a paterfamilias relationship with and even then NEVER as a replacement for the priestly sacrament.
In other words, oil can be used in a similar way as Holy Water by the laity.
Holy Water represents a washing clean factor, and is a reminder of our baptism and our baptismal promises.
Blessed Oil represents a healing factor, and is a reminder of our confirmation and the fullness of the Holy Spirit indwelling us, and our promises to live a Godly life.
If we stick to these images and consider the oil as a mere blessing with a hint of healing as a purpose, and/or a hint of renewal of the Holy Spirit within us, rather than a substances that gives PARTICULAR and SPECIAL SACRAMENTAL POWER for healing, then we are all right.
The PARTICULAR SACRAMENTAL POWER of HEALING is reserved to clergy.
An actual copy of the letter will be published online shortly.
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