The Liturgy Series: Sacred Oils, by Fr. Paul Turner

In the last installment of The Liturgy Series, The Catholic Man featured a title by liturgist Fr. Paul Turner, Ars Celebrandi – Celebrating and Concelebrating Mass. Shortly thereafter, he wrote a book of a less complex title, Sacred Oils. I think by the title, you can already tell what the book is already about. But honestly, how many Catholics really understand the significance of the oils that are used in the sacraments? I think one can reduce the Sacred Oils merely as an association of a liturgical action and boom, done. However, Fr. Turner wants to point out in this book that there is so much more than a liturgical-action aspect to the oil, more than just rubrics and anointing.

How many of us readers have ever attended the Chrism Mass? Honestly, I think very few. At least where I reside, in the Archdiocese of Toronto, it is celebrated the morning of Holy Tuesday. As the Chrism Mass is celebrated in my Archdiocese, elementary and high school students are in classes and majority of people are at work. I question why not a lot of dioceses if they were to celebrate the Chrism Mass on a day outside of Holy Thursday, why they would not celebrate it in the evening so that many of the lay faithful can attend as well. This past Chrism Mass was my first one, and reading Fr. Turner’s Sacred Oils helped inform me of the significance of the Chrism Mass in connection with the oils used in the Sacred Liturgy.

Oil bears biblical, theological and liturgical significance in the Catholic Church. Yet, the use of oil in the Church: Sacred Chrism, Oil of the Sick and Oil of the Catechumens are often taken for granted by the lay faithful. Combining the biblical, theological and most prominently the liturgical significance of the Sacred Oils, Fr. Turner offers a thorough, yet easy to understand Catechesis for those who would like to further their understanding on Sacred Oils and the sacraments in which they are used in.

For all Catholics, at infant baptism and confirmation – these ‘one-time’ sacraments, in which one can only receive once in their lifetime, the effects of the sacrament, and the significance put in place by Sacred Chrism is a lifetime. These outwards signs though seemingly miniscule, speak volumes to the very lives that we live. At a time of sickness, understanding the significance of the Oil of the Sick helps grounds one in what they are to be anointed with from a sacramental view, and dismiss a rather perhaps superstitious conception of Catholicism.

Reading Sacred Oils it becomes clear that Catholicism is not faith that remains enclosed in the heart. We are a sacramental people which uses sacraments, defined by St. Augustine as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” In understanding the use of the oils, to the origins of them at the Chrism Mass, and its theological and biblical roots, we come to understand these outward signs better and therefore, also what we receive in the reception of the sacraments. That is our faith – a faith in which outward signs reflect the interior essence.

Fr. Turner divides the book into five sections:

  • Introduction: The Chrism Mass
  • Chapter One: The Oil of the Sick
  • Chapter Two: The Oil of the Catechumens
  • Chapter Three: Sacred Chrism
  • Conclusion: The Care of Oils

All chapters consists of a very thorough analysis, and answers the questions I lay out here:

  • What is the biblical and theological significance of the oil?
  • When is that type of oil used?
  • Who and what things are the ‘recipient’ of the specific oil?
  • Why are specific references made in both the formula of blessing/consecration of a specific oil, and in the formula of anointing someone/something with that oil?
  • How is that type of oil used in biblical times, throughout Church history and today in the liturgy?

As I mentioned before, Sacred Oils is a catechesis on the use of the oils, and the sacraments and liturgy in of itself. The sub-headings seemingly reference the W5H of Oils. It is important to know the origins and use of these oils because through that, we are able to see how oils connect an individual with the life of the local Church, the diocese, and ultimately with the Universal Church both past, present and future.

What is one thing missing from the book? I honestly think the big thing missing from the book is an appendix containing the formulae of Blessing the Oil of the Sick and Oil of the Catechumens, and the fomula of Consecration of the Sacred Chrism. The reasoning for this is: Fr. Turner references these texts so often in all three chapters. While he has the citation for the text in the actual ritual book, the ritual book is quite inaccessible by the lay faith. Unless one is a liturgist, I think not many Catholics would be willing to chip out $30USD or $142.95CAD (yes, you read that right) to spend on a 32-paged ritual book. Therefore, having the prayers in their entirety, in some appendix like this handout from the Liturgy Office England and Wales would be immensely helpful.

Overall, once again, Fr. Turner does it again, this time with an engaging, comprehensive catechesis on Sacred Oils. I look forward to possibly stocking my liturgy library with liturgical commentaries by Fr. Turner. This, however, will not be the last of Fr. Turner on The Liturgy Series this year. To know which book that is, you will jsut have to wait and see!

You can check out Sacred Oils here at Liturgical Press.

Disclaimer: Vincent Pham was provided a review copy of Sacred Oils to provide an honest review of it on this blog. The Catholic Man Reviews thanks Liturgical Press for the opportunity for us to review this title on our blog and look forward to future collaborations. All thoughts and opinions expressed in here are our own and reflect our sincere thoughts about the title.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s