Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

That the use of oily, fragrant materials to anoint the body is a custom going back to remote antiquity is evidenced by the Old Testament as well as other early literatures. Likewise the ceremonial and sacred use of oil and ointment was of early origin among the Hebrews, and, of course, was much elaborated in the prescriptions of the later ritual. The particularly rich unguent known as the "holy oil of unction" is frequently referred to in the "priestly" sections of the Pentateuch and in Paralipomenon. Its composition is minutely prescribed in Exodus, xxx, 23, 24. Besides the regular basis of olive oil, the other ingredients mentioned are chosen myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, and cassia, all of which are to be used in stated quantities. The making or the use of this holy oil by unauthorized persons was prohibited under pain of sacrilege. In many of the references to ointment in Scripture perfumed oil is meant, and it may have in some cases consisted of oil only. Oil and ointment however, are distinguished in Luke vii, 46: "My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but she with ointment hath anointed my feet." Identical or similar preparations, in which myrrh was an important ingredient, were used in anointing the dead body as well as the living subject ( Luke 23:56 ). Ointment of spikenard, a very costly unguent, is mentioned in Mark, xiv, 3, "an alabaster box of ointment of precious spikenard" (cf. John 12:3 ). So prized were these unguents that they were kept in pots of alabaster, and among the Egyptians they were said to retain their fragrance even for centuries. For the oil spoken of by St. James, v, 14, see EXTREME UNCTION.

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • Prayer For Courage HD Video
  • President likens Syrian refugees to pilgrims on Mayflower in ...
  • BIGGER THAN ISIS - There's a hidden power behind ISIS and it's so big ...
  • St. Saturninus: Saint of the Day for Sunday, November 29, 2015
  • Daily Readings for Sunday, November 29, 2015
  • 'Black Friday' leaving bruises as shoppers trample each other for ...
  • The Miracle Prayer HD Video

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Jeremiah 33:14-16
14 "Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall fulfil the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
4 DIRECT me in your ways, Yahweh, and teach me your paths.5 ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
25 'There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations ... Read More

Reading 2, First Thessalonians 3:12--4:2
12 May the Lord increase and enrich your love for each other and for all, ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 29th, 2015 Image

St. Saturninus
November 29: St. Saturninus Bishop of Toulouse and Martyr ... Read More