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Mixing Blessed and Unblessed Oils

And More on Attending Other Parishes

Mixing Blessed and Unblessed Oils
And More on Attending Other Parishes

ROME, JAN. 30, 2007 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: If a priest is running out of the holy oil for anointing the sick blessed by the bishop at the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass, may he mix other unblessed oil with the remaining oil? — C.B., Detroit, Michigan

A: The proper matter for this sacrament is olive oil or, if olive oil is unavailable, some other oil made from plants.

The general norm is that the holy oils to be used should those blessed by the bishop. This oil is blessed for the whole year at the Chrism Mass.

The Roman ritual of anointing (no. 22) encourages the minister of anointing to “make sure that the oil remains fit for use and should replenish it from time to time, either yearly when the bishop blesses the oil on Holy Thursday or more frequently if necessary.”

Canon 847 of the Code of Canon Law further enjoins priests to obtain recently consecrated or blessed oils from his own bishop and not to use old oils except in case of necessity.

If a parish is running short, then the priest could inquire at the cathedral, as many dioceses keep a reserve supply during the year. One may also ask at another parish, especially one that has no hospitals, if it can spare some oil.

When a priest has no blessed oil and a grave need occurs, Canon 999 provides him with a solution so that nobody might be deprived of the grace of this sacrament. It states that any priest may bless the oil in a case of necessity but only in the actual celebration of the sacrament.

Although the canon restricts the priest’s blessing of the oil to cases of necessity it does not determine the degree of the necessity and the priest may judge it in each case.

If this is done, the ritual explains that any oil blessed by the priest and left over after the celebration of the sacrament, should be absorbed in cotton or cotton wool and burned.

Because of the priest’s faculty of blessing the holy oils in case of need, the questions about using or mixing in unblessed oils should no longer be an issue.

Previously, the general opinion was that the use of unblessed oil or oil blessed by an unauthorized priest was of doubtful validity. The Holy See had responded negatively to propositions favoring these opinions, but it did so in terms that did not entirely settle the question from the dogmatic point of view.

The debate remained open among theologians regarding the possibility of using a different holy oil blessed by the bishop (either the chrism or the oil of catechumens) for the sacrament of the sick. Also unsettled was the question of whether mixing blessed and unblessed oil invalidated the sacramental matter.

Many theologians approved of the first opinion: that different holy oils could be used. Fewer theologians, however, proposed the possibility of mixing blessed and unblessed oils.

The questions were never definitively resolved and, as we mentioned, have been superseded by the new discipline allowing the priest to bless the oils.

No matter what the theological opinions might have been, all were in agreement that priests administrating this sacrament should follow exactly the Church’s liturgical norms and not risk any danger of invalidity. This advice remains valid today.

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Follow-up: Attending Sunday Mass at Other Parishes

Some readers intimated that I had perhaps read too much into Canons 209-210 by suggesting that it implied supporting one’s local parish (see Jan. 16). Although the expression “particular church” usually means “diocese” in canonical terms, most Catholics support their local church through their parish.

Likewise, according to Canon 107, Catholics, unlike most Protestants, generally acquire their pastor through place of residence (technically domicile or quasi-domicile) as canon law presumes laws to be territorial. Even when, as frequently happens in the United States, a Catholic registers and worships in a parish different from his or her territorial parish, this latter parish remains the proper channel and authority for any permissions and dispensations required by canon law.

The widespread custom in the United States of people registering at a parish other than their territorial parish is rather the exception than the norm. This is perhaps due to the ease of mobility in that country and also because the concept of parish territoriality is somewhat weaker as historically many national parishes were established to cater to successive waves of immigrants.

Catholic worship around the world has historically revolved around territorial parishes forming a worshipping community. I would sustain that consequently Catholics should generally assist and support their local parish, supposing that the faithful’s right to authentic Catholic worship is provided for in that parish.

This is not a strict legal obligation, however, and the code is sufficiently flexible to allow for differences in religious sensibilities in practice and worship.

For example, Canon 112 on changing from one Catholic rite to another is illustrative. Canon 112 sets strict conditions for a Latin-rite Catholic to switch rites to an Eastern Catholic Church. In most cases this requires permission from the Apostolic See.

Canon 112.2 states that not even prolonged practice and reception of the sacraments in another ritual Church entails enrollment in that Church. In effect the canon distinguishes membership from liturgical practice. Any Catholic is allowed, even habitually, to receive most sacraments in a ritual Church different from his or her ritual Church, without formally becoming a member of the Church.

For instance, if, for solid spiritual reasons, an adult baptized and confirmed in the Roman rite begins to practice in a Maronite parish, he or she may receive the Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation, and anointing of the sick without any need to formally switch rites. If a man in this situation wished to enter holy orders, or if a couple of Latin-rite Catholics wish to marry according to the Maronite rite, then permission would normally be needed to formally switch rites.

If this flexibility is practiced among various Catholic rites, even more so it may be observed among diverse parishes of the same rite.

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Readers may send questions to [email protected]. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country.

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