Essential Oils – How Did Anointing in the Christian Church Become the “Last Rites?”

June 10th, 2021 by dayat Leave a reply »

Early in the Church’s life, anointing was for healing of any physical or mental illness (possession by evil spirits). Gradually over the next few hundred years, this anointing became one associated with the forgiveness of sin. This was a public forgiveness where the penitent was paraded out into the town square for all to see that this individual was a sinner. The price tag for this anointing for the forgiveness of sin was not only a large donation to the church, but this person was forbidden by law to ever marry, and if they were already married, they could not have sexual relations with their spouse. And, if male, they could never hold public office. Most decided to forgo this anointing until later in life-maybe at the end! The prevailing belief was that one could not enter into heaven without this “final anointing.”

Anointing eventually was performed just for the seriously ill and was combined with penitence and absolution for sin. The prayers used in this anointing ritual were ironically for physical healing and the parts of the body in pain were anointed in the form of a cross. By the 9th century the ritual had become the Last Rites reserved for the final moments in this life. People naturally did not seek this anointing until they were gravely ill, primarily because of the heavy penances that were assigned for their absolution from sin. Gradually the prayers for physical healing were dropped and the focus of the ritual was on deathbed preparation and absolution for one’s sins. Oil was no longer placed on the parts of the body that hurt but only on the senses, feet, and hands with prayers asking for forgiveness for sin. It was in this form that the ritual became a sacrament of the church. The final blow to anointing in the Christian church was the Council of Trent in 1551 declared that this anointing (unction) was reserved only for the dying, at the final moments of life. Healing in the Christian Church essentially ceased for the next 500 years.

After the Reformation in the 1500’s the laying-on of hands and anointing along with its required donations fell into disfavor among most of the new Christian denominations and the use of blessed oils and many other Christian rituals were not only discarded but deemed as nothing more than play-acting. The Roman Catholic Church continued its practice of blessed oil for this final anointing even though the true meaning of anointing for healing of physical and spiritual health appeared to be lost.

It was actually not until the last 40 years, a lapse of over 500 years, that a renewed interest in the healing power of anointing with oil began to reshape the Catholic Church’s understanding of the anointing of the sick. There has now been a return to the early church’s use of blessed oil albeit a symbolic gesture, for healing the sick and not waiting until death. This interest in anointing has also touched many Protestant churches who do not have a tradition of anointing the sick. Many are investigating and experimenting with blessing oil for the purpose of healing those sick in body, mind and spirit in their communities. They are trying to reconnect with early Christian roots and in the process, create their own rituals.

Anointing with oil is beginning to become a sign of hope for many who suffer physically, emotionally and spiritually. Who is leading the way? Lay people for the most part who are seeking spiritual and as well as physical healing. For more information on our story of Christian healing and how we lost sight of it, you may wish to investigate a program of healing that tells our true story. We are coming full circle back to the actions of the Early Christians that were aimed at healing physical and spiritual ills.


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