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The Care of Holy Oils


Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy

Chapter 21


“I have a sick call, Pere, but I’m not taking the Blessed Sacrament. Would you care to come along, and we’ll drive out a bit afterwards.” The Antiquary went to the long bookcase at the end of the study and took from a corner of one of the shelves a small oil stock, which he placed in his coat pocket along with a ritual and stole.



“Not to be captious,” said the Liturgiologist, in a tone that belied his words, “I wonder if you are justified in keeping the Oil for the Sick here in the house.”


“Why not?” was the somewhat surprised reply.


“Well, we’re right beside the church, and can enter, in fact, without going outdoors, and you know (or then, maybe you don’t) that there’s a decree of the Fourth Lateran Council which says the Oil for the Sick is to be kept in the church or sacristy, in a clean and decently ornamented place, lined interiorly with violet silk, and marked on the outside S. Oleum infirmorum, locked and closely guarded, moreover, with a key.


“Of course, I know that,” answered the Antiquary, “and I might add that the word ambry, sometimes applied to the said receptacle, is a corruption of aumbry,[1] and it should be on the sanctuary wall at the side of the altar.”


“You’re talking antiquities and architecture now, dear Father,” purred the Liturgiologist. “The Council says simply “in the church or sacristy” and St. Alphonsus says[2] that the Oil for the Sick may for necessity, in case the priest lives at a distance from the church, and so might be delayed in answering an urgent sick call, be kept in the house, in a safe and decent place.”


“Well, this room is decent, I hope, and it ought to be safe enough,” came back the Antiquary with some asperity.


“I concede the first, since I share it with you,” laughed the Liturgiologist, “and I hope the second is true also! But I’m not done with you yet,” he added, following the Antiquary out to the new “Scoot” which was, now that the weather had become springlike, parked in the driveway. “The Ritual prescribes that the priest shall carry the vase or stock of Oil for the Sick enclosed in a sack or violet-colored silk, which, by the way, may not be enclosed in the burse containing the Pyx.”


“Your Lateran Council sounds very grand,” remarked the Antiquary, willing to justify himself, “but isn’t it a rather antique citation?”


“How about Canons 735 and 946 of the New Code,[3] then!” shouted the Liturgiologist triumphantly. “Have you a ‘reasonable cause and the permission of the ordinary,’ for keeping the Oil for the Sick in the study bookshelf? And, by the way, what about the other two oils which you are inadvertently carrying with you in your three-decked stock?”


“Well, what about them, Pere?” asked the Antiquary.


“Why take any oil except the Infirmorum on the usual sick call? You’re not going to need them,” said the Liturgiologist, gently, because he had a point to make. “I never could understand why they make those combination stocks, for the Holy Oil and the Sacred Chrism are not used in conjunction with the Oil for the Sick, and while these little stocks are all right for the latter, none of them contain enough oil for the ceremonies of blessing the font, tho they could be used at baptisms.”


“But isn’t there some regulations about keeping the two Oils in the cover of the font?” asked the Antiquary.


“Hardly a regulation,” admitted the Liturgiologist. “St. Charles Borromeo recommends the custom,[4] and O’Kane[5] quotes him, as does also the incomparable Fortescue. The Rituale orders that the font have a lock and key (implying that they should be used) and this may well have reference to the Holy Oils as well as to the Baptismal Water.”


“You seem to make a case against me,” said the Antiquary, a bit gravely.


“It would be hard to find a permission regarding the Holy Oil and the Sacred Chrism similar to that regarding the Oil for the Sick,” answered the Liturgiologist, relenting. “They pertain, so far as priests are concerned, solely to the ceremonies of blessing the font and of baptism, neither of which ever takes place in the rectory! The baptistery is the obvious place for them, tho' I can’t see any objection to keeping them in the aumbry in the sanctuary or sacristy, except the bother of carrying them down to the font when they’re needed. One of the few regulations I’ve never seen violated is the one which forbids us to keep the Oils in the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament. But many priests carry the Oil for the Sick in the same burse with the Pyx, which might be called an abuse.”


“Well, here we are,” said the Antiquary drawing in to the curb. “I’ll not be long. And on the way home, we’ll stop at PUSCO’S[6] and see if they have such a thing as a violet silk container for a sick-call oil-stock.”


“They haven’t!” barked the Liturgiologist.



1 An old English word referring to a cupboard.


2 That is, the diocesan ordinances of St. Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787) when he was the bishop of Sant'Agata dei Goti diocese near Naples.


3 Referring to the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the first (thus “new”) complete set of canons pertaining to the Latin Church in one volume.


4 St. Charles Borromeo (1538– 1584). The quote is from his book, Instructiones Fabricae Et Supellectilis Ecclesiasticae (Book of Instructions on Church Building) published in 1577 which embodied the reforms and decrees of the Council of Trent. The Institute for Sacred Architecture gives an excellent description of the saint’s enormous influence on the sacred liturgy, particularly in the field of buildings.


5 Referring to Fr. James O'Kane’s book, Notes on the Rubrics of the Roman Ritual.


6 Pusco is a clever anagram referring to a “Supply (sup) Company (co)”, or a religious goods store. The Liturgiologist’s following quip to the Antiquary’s suggestion of finding just what he needs, is an allusion to religious supplier’s propensity to offer mass-produced ecclesiastical wares made in a manner contrary to liturgical prescriptions—or the lack of what is actually required. Later, in a chapter entitled, PUSCO'S, a visit will be made to that religious articles store where the Liturgiologist will further lament about the inadequate wares they carry.

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