Oil of Catechumens
by Paul Turner
A priest or deacon in the Catholic Church may anoint anyone before baptism with the oil of catechumens.
The custom began in the early church. Those preparing for baptism were anointed with oil as a seal. The oil "sealed in" the formation they had receive and "sealed out" the influence of the devil.
In some parts of the world, those preparing for baptism
stripped naked and were anointed with oil from head
to toe. This imitated the anointing of athletes before
they entered combat.
In the church, the anointing and its prayers strengthened those preparing for baptism to overcome Satan with the power that comes from Christ alone.
Eventually, bishops began blessing this oil for it
sacred use. The blessing set the ointment aside for religious purposes. The ritual took place on the morning of Holy Thursday each year, the last day the bishop
celebrated Mass during Lent. Oils could then be used
for the initiation rites at Easter that week.
Today unbaptized adults or children of catechetical age may be anointed with the oil of catechumens any time or several times during their formation.
They become catechumens at the rite of acceptance and remain catechumens until the rite of election, six weeks before they are baptized.
When infants are baptized, they may be anointed with the oil of catechumens during the ceremony. The oil of catechumens is sometimes kept in a container marked "O.S.," for oleum sanctum or "holy oil. It is olive oil, but any vegetable oil may be used.
The bishop blesses this oil at the chrism Mass each year but if the parish needs an additional supply, a priest may bless more at any time.