In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus sends out the Apostles two by two to preach repentance. It is also said: “The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” The Catechism sees this verse as alluding to the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick: “This sacred anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ our Lord as a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament. It is alluded to indeed by Mark, but is recommended to the faithful and promulgated by James the apostle and brother of the Lord.” The Letter of St. James 5:14-15 reads: “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.”
In the Hebrew Scriptures, priests were ordained by being anointed with oil. The sanctuary, the altar, the ark of the covenant, and all the utensils were anointed with oil (Ex. 30:26). Anointing with oil served to consecrate persons or objects: “When you have consecrated them, they shall be most sacred; whatever touches them shall be sacred (Ex. 30:29). For this reason, the Law forbade the use of the holy oil for any ordinary anointing of the body. In Hebrew, a different word refers to the oil used to anoint the face and other exposed parts of the body. In addition, “Whoever prepares a perfume like this, or
whoever puts any of this on an unauthorized person, shall be cut off from his
people” (Ex. 30:32-33).
Later on, the holy oil was used to anoint kings and prophets. In Samuel 10:1, the prophet Samuel anointed Saul as king: “From a flask he had with him, Samuel poured oil on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying: “The Lord anoints you ruler over his people Israel. You are the one who will govern the Lord’s people and save them from the power of their enemies all around them.” In 1 Kings 19:21, the Lord tells the prophet Elijah: “You shall also anoint Jehu, son of Nimshi, as king of Israel, and Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, as prophet to succeed you.”
The holy oil was a blend of myrrh, cinnamon, fragrant cane, and cassia mixed with olive oil (Ex. 30:23-24). Fragrant cane is commonly identified with sweet calamus, a plant found in India, although, as might be expected, some think it was cannabis. Although the manufacture of the holy oil is forbidden in Scripture, a variety of recipes may be found on the Internet.
Whatever the precise recipe may have been, the oil must have been very fragrant and pleasing. In the Hebrew Scriptures, a sacrifice is frequently referred to as a “sweet-smelling oblation to the Lord.” Paul uses this image when he says, in 2 Cor. 2:14-16: “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ and manifests through us the odor of the knowledge of him in every place. For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the latter an odor of death that leads to death, to the former an odor of life that leads to life.”
This is an ideal aromatherapy. Go and be the aroma of Christ.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the new American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission from the copyright owner.