RCIA 98-99: Anointing of the Catechumens

img_6803Another underutilized prayer of the catechumenate period involves the use of oil of catechumens. Unlike the exorcisms, blessings, or word services, one does need an ordained cleric, a priest or deacon to lawfully celebrate this rite. Let’s read:

98. During the period of the catechumenate, a rite of anointing the catechumens, through the use of the oil of catechumens, may be celebrated wherever this seems beneficial or desirable. The presiding celebrant for such a first anointing of the catechumens is a priest or a deacon. 

99. Care is to be taken that the catechumens understand the significance of the anointing with oil. The anointing with oil symbolizes their need for God’s help and strength so that, undettered by the bonds of the past and overcoming the opposition of the devil, they will forthrightly take the step of professing their faith and will hold fast to it unfalteringly throughout their lives.

The standing question among some catechumenate directors and liturgists is that tricky “first” anointing. Does this mean that a priest or deacon anoints the “first” time, but a lay person may anoint subsequently? In the parallel practice of infant anointing, the ritual is optional for the priest or deacon, but is prescribed to be omitted when a lay person baptizes.

Understandably, an anointing of catechumens should be preceded by appropriate catechesis, as well as a personal commitment by the newcomers to rely more deeply on God.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in post-conciliar liturgy documents, RCIA, Rites. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to RCIA 98-99: Anointing of the Catechumens

  1. Liam says:

    Well, the only other time the oil would be used would be during the rite of baptism itself, the ordinary ministers for which are clerics, so I am not quite sure this is a distinction that implies anything else.

  2. kathryn says:

    The “first anointing” refers to the fact that this is the first time an unbaptized person would be anointed with oil at all, not to the fact that they will be anointed several times throughout their study period. I think it is really stretching the “letter of the law” to suggest that at any time a lay person may anoint with holy oils of any sort. This is clearly a role that applies to the priesthood proper, and NOT to the “priesthood of the faithful.”

  3. Todd says:

    kathryn, thanks for commenting. Anointing is a role that hasn’t always applied to the priesthood. Lay anointing in the first millennium is well documented, for example. Lay people anointing catechumens has been a “disputed” point which has been recently clarified. I imagine it still takes place here and there. I also suspect that its pretty much the only lay anointing taking place these days.

    My sense is that lay people anointing would be done more as a pastoral development for the need of the anointed rather than a power play on the part of some of the laity. Though I concede it’s likely the latter is how the hierarchy would view it.

  4. kathryn says:

    If my comment sounded like there was a fire under it, it was most likely because I recently had an experience that really did defy the rubrics (and almost certainly as a “power play”), and less in response to the original post here, though posing the question about whether a lay person might anoint the catechumens does create some ambiguity about what is in the Rite, and the Church’s current instructions on anointing with holy oils.

    Todd, you state that “Lay people anointing catechumens…has been recently clarified.” Could you expand on that? Where can one find this clarification? It would be very helpful to me.

  5. Todd says:

    kathryn, I wish I could clarify. It might be in the Notitiae, but two colleagues in RCIA ministry a few years ago told me that Rome definitively ruled that lay people could not anoint catechumens, even though the wording of the rite could be interpreted otherwise.

    If anyone else more steeped with initiation is reading and would like to offer documentation, I’m all ears … eyes, rather.

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