Monday, August 11, 2008


I was asked to anoint someone today. They'd been reading James 5:14 ("Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord"). I had to tell them that when modern translations use the word "elder" they are not referring to "elders" in the LCMS terminology; rather it refers to presbyters--priests or pastors.

This is not the only issue, however.

1. Why is it that there are virtually no resources, rites or rubrics for the Lutheran use of the chrism? Yes, I know about the one page in the Pastoral Care Companion and actually used it this afternoon. But that is also vague. What should the oil be carried in? Where to get the oil? Should we use scented olive oil or unscented?

2. Why was it that before LSB there were no resources or acknowledgment in the LCMS that anointing was permissible?

3. James 5:14-15 sounds awfully close to defining a Sacrament: "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." Yes, I know that anointing was not "instituted by the Lord."

Thankfully, I have at my disposal a wonderful priest's kit that contains a mini-altar setup with crucifix and candles, chalice, paten, stole, vials for wine, holy water and unction/chrism, a small host box and two things I cannot identify. So I was able to keep the oil in a proper receptacle and anoint and commune with proper dignity.

File this under Weedon's Neglected Rubrics.

UPDATED: Notice I wrote "priest's kit" and not "pastor's kit." The LCMS nor Lutherans in general neither encourage or provide anything for reverent communion for shut-ins. Thus the pastor who wants to use a chalice instead of plastic cups or use a little crucifix must shop at Catholic Bookstores for items produced for priests. The upside is that they also include vials for unction/chrism and other useful, reverent sacramental items. Thanks to the donor who gave this kit to Redeemer!


  1. orrologion said...

    So, a command in the New Testament is not from "the Lord"? James doesn't really count as fully New Testament, though; it's only NT Apocrypha. :)

  2. Dizziness said...

    I haven't heard, learned, or witnessed much in the way of chrism use. Dr. Just is an advocate (he practiced anointing both for baptism and for care of the sick in his own pastorate.) I would give him a call or email. I believe his doctorate studies led him to the practice.

  3. orrologion said...

    I remember being shocked (shocked!) when I saw an ELCA pastor anoint my cousin's daughter immediately following her baptism. I wasn't Orthodox, yet, but knew enough about Church history and contemporary Orthodox practice to know its 'early' use in the entire Eastern Church, but not for sometime (if ever?) in the West. I just thought it an example of pick and choose Lutheranism a la ELCA - this time picking and choosing from the more 'exotic' adiaphora of the East.

  4. William Weedon said...

    You might find it of interest that it was in the original drafts of LW's agenda. It was removed prior to publication. I feared the same would happen in LSB, but it did not. Can you say "catholic-phobia"? Thanks be to God this apostolic practice which, done in the name of the Lord, is allowed as an OPTION (!!!!) in LSB. I suspect they didn't want to write too much lest the whole thing get dropped yet again. For information on the historical practice of anointing the sick in Western churches, see Olavus Petri's *Manual* - the whole is given there, and it accords largely with the Roman Ritual. The LSB rite is - even with the rubric allowing it - but a dim shadow...

    P.S. Despite the innovations in the rite, the one thing I do appreciate is the connection of the anointings back to Baptism with the words used with the anointing AT the Baptism.

    Christopher O,

    It was retained in Luther's 1523 rite and also in the Olavus Petri Baptismal Order of 1529. So the chrism was not entirely an eastern borrowing - the West did it also. And even where the chrism was dropped, the laying on of hands immediately after the baptism remained standard in Lutheran baptismal liturgy right up to the present day. I'm glad the anointing is back though!

  5. Past Elder said...

    In some churches that observe this practice, clergy always carry a small vial of olive oil for anointing.

    I suppose many were afraid that if you start messing with this stuff pretty soon you'd have Extreme Unction (or its post-conciliar name, Sacrament of the Sick) and next would come a wave of Tiber swimming.

    Luther mentioned in Babylonian Captivity that maybe its disuse came from nobody ever recovering, so it's kind of an embarrassment.

    But James said what James said, the church, call it a sacrament or not, has always practiced anointing of the sick by pastors, and as Pastor mentions is part of our Lutheran heritage too.

    BTW, the extreme in extreme unction is not one's last moments, last rites, but the extremities, which are anointed during the right.

    I remember on a hospital call once, the family was glad to see us because we were there about life, either here or hereafter, but when pastors or priests showed up it meant someone was about to die. That's how twisted up this practice has become, even among those who do it!

  6. orrologion said...

    Thanks, William. Very interesting. Was this a common pre-Reformation Western practice, too? either anointings or laying on of hands? What are their relationships to the confirmational laying on of hands?

  7. Dixie said...

    I recall Father Fenton in his Lutheran days used to bless the oil (which would be used for Baptism...don't know about annointing of the sick but I imagine so) on a specific day of the year--I just looked it up--Holy Thursday, at a Chrism Mass. (I never attended but was on Zion's listserv so I recall reading about it there.)

    You might ask him...I suspect he got his rubrics from a Western source appropriate for Lutherans.

    We had an elder in my husband's Lutheran church who practiced annointing...everything from buildings to people. But he followed no specific rubrics.

    I was very surprised to find that in the Eastern Church annointing is a Sacrament for all (not just the physically ill). Typically, our Greek parish offers the Sacrament on Holy Wednesday. One prepares for it by going to confession.

    Good for your parishioner for asking!

  8. William Weedon said...


    Yup. There was the prebaptismal anointing and the post baptismal chrism. The chrism didn't make the cut in Luther's 1526 rite which became the standard for most Lutherans (but not Sweden, which stuck with Petri, I believe), but even without the anointing, the rite still prescribed the laying on of hands immediately following the Baptism with the prayer for "strengthening" (confirmation!). Thus, liturgically Lutherans never ceased confirming at Baptism, though long before the 16th century Western Christians had ceased to think of the chrism or the laying on of hands at that spot in that way.

  9. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Fascinating discussion, y'all!

    What are you doing stay up so late?! ;)

    Bill, I am very interested in the anointing in the Baptism rite, could you email me offline with some more info/sources? Thanks.

  10. Paul said...

    I have appreciated and made salutary use of the service for laying on of hands and anointing with oil in the Occasional Services book in connection with the Lutheran Book of Worship (gasp!) which was the hymnal in use at my first parish, Prince of Peace in Douglasville, GA (LCMS) 22 years ago.

  11. Past Elder said...

    The Western Rite begins with the immortal words: quid petis ab ecclesia Dei (what dost thou ask of the church of God), to which one answers, fidem (faith).

    In a violet stole, indicating the sinfulness in which the person begins, the pastor breathes three times on the person's face, traces the Sign of the Cross on the person's forehead and breast, lays his hand on the head, blesses salt, puts salt in the person's mouth, again traces the thumb on the forehead and lays hands on the head, places the end of his stole on the person, and admits him to the church (prayers accompany all of this).

    In the church, the pastor an sponsors say the Creed and Our Father, the pastor says the final exorcism, then touches the ears and nostrils with spittle, then dips his thumbs in the Oil of Catechumens and makes the sign of the cross on the breast and between the shoulders (Ego te lineo oleo salutis, in Christo Jesu Domino nostro, ut habeas vitam aeternam).

    At this point he removes the violet stole and puts on a white one, asking the Creed (Do you believe in God the Father etc), asking if the person wishes to be baptised, pours water on the head three times in the form of a cross while saying the Trinitarian formula, dips his thumb in the chrism and traces the sign of the cross on the crown of the head, praying Deus omnipotens, Pater Domini nostri Jesu Christi, qui te regeneravit ex aqua et Spiritu Sancto, quique dedit tibi remissionem omnium peccatorum, ipse te lineat chrismate salutis in eodem Christo Jesu Domino nostro, in vitam aeternam, then puts a white linen on the person and gives person or the sponsors the candle.

    That's it.

    What the novus ordo has made of this I do not know and do not care, it being a hodgepodge of ancient and modern sources in a crazy quilt that belongs in a 1960s museum, not the church of God.

  12. Anonymous said...

    Brother Chris:

    The Book of Common Prayer, pages 453-461, Ministration to the Sick, includes Laying on of Hands and Anointing. I simply carry the oil in a little silver oil-stock with a finger ring. They are very easy to find. I use oil at Baptisms, for the sick and for the Commendation of the Dying.

    Steve Anderson