Mixing Blessed and Unblessed Oils

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Mixing Blessed and Unblessed Oils

ROME, 30 JAN. 2007 (ZENIT)

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: If a priest is running out of the holy oil for anointing the sick blessed by the bishop at the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass, may he mix other unblessed oil with the remaining oil? — C.B., Detroit, Michigan

A: The proper matter for this sacrament is olive oil or, if olive oil is unavailable, some other oil made from plants.

The general norm is that the holy oils to be used should be those blessed by the bishop. This oil is blessed for the whole year at the Chrism Mass.

The Roman ritual of anointing (no. 22) encourages the minister of anointing to "make sure that the oil remains fit for use and should replenish it from time to time, either yearly when the bishop blesses the oil on Holy Thursday or more frequently if necessary."

Canon 847 of the Code of Canon Law further enjoins priests to obtain recently consecrated or blessed oils from his own bishop and not to use old oils except in case of necessity.

If a parish is running short, then the priest could inquire at the cathedral, as many dioceses keep a reserve supply during the year. One may also ask at another parish, especially one that has no hospitals, if it can spare some oil.

When a priest has no blessed oil and a grave need occurs, Canon 999 provides him with a solution so that nobody might be deprived of the grace of this sacrament. It states that any priest may bless the oil in a case of necessity but only in the actual celebration of the sacrament.

Although the canon restricts the priest's blessing of the oil to cases of necessity it does not determine the degree of the necessity and the priest may judge it in each case.

If this is done, the ritual explains that any oil blessed by the priest and left over after the celebration of the sacrament, should be absorbed in cotton or cotton wool and burned.

Because of the priest's faculty of blessing the holy oils in case of need, the questions about using or mixing in unblessed oils should no longer be an issue.

Previously, the general opinion was that the use of unblessed oil or oil blessed by an unauthorized priest was of doubtful validity. The Holy See had responded negatively to propositions favoring these opinions, but it did so in terms that did not entirely settle the question from the dogmatic point of view.

The debate remained open among theologians regarding the possibility of using a different holy oil blessed by the bishop (either the chrism or the oil of catechumens) for the sacrament of the sick. Also unsettled was the question of whether mixing blessed and unblessed oil invalidated the sacramental matter.

Many theologians approved of the first opinion: that different holy oils could be used. Fewer theologians, however, proposed the possibility of mixing blessed and unblessed oils.

The questions were never definitively resolved and, as we mentioned, have been superseded by the new discipline allowing the priest to bless the oils.

No matter what the theological opinions might have been, all were in agreement that priests administrating this sacrament should follow exactly the Church's liturgical norms and not risk any danger of invalidity. This advice remains valid today. ZE07013027

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Follow-up: Mixing Blessed and Unblessed Oils [2-13-2007]

After our Jan. 30 column, some readers offered further information on the use of holy oils in various Catholic rites.

A Canadian reader commented: "As a matter of information, in both the Orthodox Church and in the Byzantine-rite Catholic Churches, the oil for holy unction is always blessed by the priest during the course of the mystery; 'pre-blessed' oil is never to be used."

I am grateful for this kind of information, for I am less familiar with all of the practices of the Eastern Churches than with the Latin rite.

For this reason I am unable to offer a documented response to an American Ukrainian Catholic who asks: "Our pastor accumulates the leftover holy oils in a very nice crystal flask which he keeps in the tabernacle. Is this allowed? Should he not dispose of this oil upon receiving a new supply on Holy Thursday? If he is to dispose of it — what is the way to do it? Would soaking cotton with it and burning it be the way?"

With respect to keeping the holy oils (above all, the chrism for confirmation) it would appear that traditions vary. A cleric from another Byzantine Church, a Greek Melkite from Syria, informed me that it is customary in some places to keep the chrism along with the Eucharist. He also told me that there are several customs for older oils, including mixing newly blessed chrism with the old.

It would appear, therefore, that the actions of the Ukrainian priest probably fall within the range of his liturgical tradition.

Regarding the disposal of old oils: In the Latin rite it they are usually burned, but may also be consumed in lamps. Any burning of the oils should preferably be done outdoors as the oils generally produce a lot of smoke.

A writer from Ireland asked about the rite of blessing the holy oils: "At this year's Chrism Mass, the oils that were to be blessed by the bishop during the Mass were placed in front of the altar in sealed individual plastic bottles. The bottles were on three different trays, one for chrism, one for catechumens and one for the sick. During the Mass the bishop made no reference to the bottles; instead, three large vessels were presented to him for consecration in the usual way. At the end of the Mass, the priests of the diocese took the sealed bottles home with them while not receiving oil from the larger vessel. My question is: Since these individual plastic bottles were sealed and separate from the large containers that were consecrated, are they properly consecrated?"

I would not doubt the validity of the consecration of these oils. Some large dioceses necessarily consecrate more than one vessel as the amount of oil required may be too heavy for a single large container and the bishop would clearly intend to bless them, even if they remain sealed.

These extra vessels, however, are usually few in number and of the same style as the vessel brought before the bishop at the moment of blessing. While the use of individual bottles, plastic or otherwise, is not invalid, it does not correspond to the rite foreseen by the Church. It gives the impression of being cheap and sloppy and detracts from the solemnity and beauty of the Chrism Mass liturgy.

It was probably concocted as a pragmatic "solution" so that the priests could immediately collect the holy oils after Mass. However, there are surely more dignified means of expeditiously distributing the oils to all that need them. ZE02071328

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