QUAERITUR: renaming the sacred oils in the Latin Church

From a priest reader:

When we brought home the oils from last night’s Chrism Mass, they were labeled SC, OS and OC.  Inquiries from the confused like me have yielded the answer that OC is Oil of the Catechumens and OS is Oil of the Sick.  Our liturgy office is the best it’s been for years, but I would think it’s important to grab the right oil when doing the sacraments.  Thoughts?

We use Latin in the Latin Church for a reason.  Two of them are clarity and unity.

The oils are actually:

SC = Sacrum Chrisma = Sacred Chrism
OC = Oleum Catechumenorum = Oil of the Catechumens
otherwise labelled
OS = Oleum Sanctum = Holy Oil (for catechumens)
OI = Oleum Infirmorum = Oil of the Infirm/Sick

The modern innovation of OS for “Oil of Sick” instead of OI, is … a really bad idea.

It seems to me a BAD idea to re-label the oils.  What if there was a visiting priest or an emergency?

I think that if I were visiting a priest at rectory where that is done and there was a huge accident or disaster, and I grabbed a container labeled “OS”, I would wonder what the heck was in it.  Oleum Sanctum? Oleum Infirmorum?

This is … what … parochialism? Tinkeritis? Practicality? Surrender to ignorance?

Do other US dioceses do this?

I am not sure use the wrong oil would affect validity of a sacrament, but rites should be done properly.  I think the oils should have a label which is not confusing.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. JohnMa says:

    The three bottles that Father brought back in the Archdiocese of Washington did not have any abbreviations. I forget the wording that was on all three but it was as clear as day what they were.

  2. DominiSumus says:

    Even more confusing is that there are ambry sets labeled SC, OI, and OS.

    In this case, OS is Oleum Sacram which I guess is Oil of Catechumens.

  3. Maggie says:

    The oils at our parish were all labeled correcting (ie, appropriate Latin abbreviations).

    What confusion would reign otherwise!

  4. Geoffrey says:

    I don’t see the confusion. SC, OS, and OC seem straight forward to me… :|

  5. Oneros says:

    As for validity, not using Chrism for confirmation WOULD effect the validity there, since Chrism has balsam added, etc, the remote matter is Chrism specifically, not just any oil.

    But it would not seem to affect Extreme Unction if you used some other oil (even if you did you Chrism), as the matter there is simply oil, it doesn’t even have to be blessed strictly speaking, though if the priest doesn’t have Oil of the Sick I think there is provision for him blessing some oil right there and then as part of the rite.

  6. benyanke says:

    Aggreed, Fr.

  7. benyanke says:

    I agree with You, Fr, but I also kinda with Geoffrey. It does seem straight forward…

  8. Mitchell NY says:

    Now the laity can add one more thing to their worries when they are infirm or dying. Check to make sure your Priest is up to date on the latest jargon going around and has got to right oil..Unbelievable, leave things alone ! There is comfort in stability.

  9. Nora says:

    DominiSumus, we have such a set. For the first year that I served as sacristan in this parish, I got out all three bottles and actively pondered before setting up any sacrament. Crazy making! I think of myself as reasonably bright and informed, but still it was hard to remember the outlier without looking at all three.

  10. Prof. Basto says:


    Further to your point, apart from being a mixture of oil and balsam, Chrism undergoes consacration. I believe the mixture of balsam and oil is not Sacred Chrism until such time as when the mixture is consacrated by a Bishop.

    So the matter of the Sacrament of Confirmation is Sacred Chrism, that is, the result of oil + balsam + consacration.

    The other oils wouldn’t be valid matter for Confirmation not only because they lack balsam, but also because they were not consacrated as Sacred Chrism.

  11. benyanke says:

    Good Point. I should know that.

  12. Fr Martin Fox says:

    I feel certain chrism would be valid matter for the anointing of the sick.

  13. Agreed. Let’s get this straight.
    Unfortunately, I anointed a dying woman with the OC (unbeknown to me that is what it was…faulty marking of the oil containers); I believe the Anointing of the Sick was valid; I gave her “conditional absolution” and prayed the rosary with her…but still, the confusion caused me some heart ache, once I found out. She was a very saintly woman, I know the Lord took her into His bosom; nevertheless…
    Anyway, let’s get things straight, here.

  14. plaf26 says:

    ALL the ambry sets I checked in the several church goods catalogs we have label them OS, OI, SC.

  15. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Yet another reason to buy an antique ambry.

    I have found, sorry to say, a number of them for sale on eBay.

    The artistic work that went into these old sets is amazing. I saddens me to realize how badly our aesthetic sense has declined in the past fifty years.

  16. catholicmidwest says:

    Ah, yes, new and improved disease. This constant renaming is a plague that everyone is having to put up with. I think it’s designed to give the illusion of improvement or newness, and allow people to claim “advances” that merely consist of old things re-hashed.

  17. frjim4321 says:

    Interesting remark about Chrism specifically being required for validity. I never thought of it but yes, it does appear that the use of any other oil would render the sacrament invalid. I wonder if anyone has a citation for that. With repect to OC and OI I agree that in an emergency another vegatable oil can be used.

    On the other hand, I did not quite understand giving “conditional absolution” to a person receiving the anointing of the sick, because the anointing of the sick also has the effect of forgiveness of sin.

    I would also agree that the glass ampulae being sold these days are of inferior quality. The jars themselve are okay, but the flimsy glass-blown stoppers are horrible, roll all of the place and are very prone to breakage. They also do not fit snugly in place.

  18. JonM says:

    To borrow from Cardinal Arinze, these parish committees ought to disband and instead spend some time praying the Rosary.

  19. Prof. Basto says:

    The Apostolic Constitution Divinae consortium naturae that promulgated the Novus Ordo rite of Confirmation and approved the new Sacramental Formula explicitly declares that the anointing with Chrism on the forehead, that is done with the imposition of the hand, is essential for the conferral of this Sacrament.

    “Quapropter, ut ritus Confirmationis recognitio ad ipsam etiam ritus sacramentalis essentiam congruenter pertineat, Suprema Nostra Auctoritate Apostolica decernimus et constituimus, ut ea, quae sequuntur, in Ecclesia Latina in posterum serventur:


    But even before that document, it had always been clear that the use of Sacred Chrism is essential. The very Sacramental Formula used in the Usus Antiquor (extraordinary form) mentions Sacred Chrism:

    “Signo te signo Cru + cis et confirmo te Chrismate salutis. In nomine Pa + tris et Fi + lii et + Spiritus + Sancti”.

    The anointing takes place with the first sign of the Cross. The Bishop will have already immersed the thumb in the Sacred Chrism, and, when he says “Crucis” he makes the sign of the Cross directly imposing the thumb on the confirmand’s forehead, so that it is anointed. And the Chrism of salvation is mentioned by name in the follwoing part of the sacramental formula.

  20. dcs says:

    I don’t see the confusion. SC, OS, and OC seem straight forward to me

    Not of one is a speaker of a language other than English.

Comments are closed.