As man evolved a higher consciousness that distinguished him from the animals, there also germinated within him a religious side to his nature. Without intellect there can be no spirituality, and so with the developing human mind came the first pangs of belief. Born out of his need to understand the forces of nature at whose whim he was constantly subjected, primitive man rationalized that beings greater than himself were controlling the wind, rain, temperature, and all sorts of natural phenomena. Our ancestors conceived that a host of deities were in charge of weather as well as the abundance of game to hunt and the fertility of the soil from year to year.
Unable to harness these conditions for which they were so dependent, primitive people appealed to the gods who governed them for help. Offerings of food and drink were presented to the various deities as a solicitation of their favor or to appease them in some way. After all, people assumed that the powers of the unseen world were enough like themselves to need sustenance too, and so the idea of sacrifice entered the common thought of humanity. Whether to curry favor or to make reparation for wrong-doing, sacrifice became an integral part of early religion from among all peoples.
Perhaps in the early stages of the development of the divine offering, it was frequent to present to a deity simple cereal and drink oblations, but as time went on blood sacrifices and even human sacrifices came on the scene as primitive theology developed further. Originally religious worship was seemingly a personal matter at a time when organized faith had not yet emerged, and so individuals would offer their immolations to the gods as they saw fit. Each would construct his own simple altar of sacrifice and present to the higher power his gift. We see this imagined in the very early parts of the bible when religion was more or less on the personal level, for in the introductory chapters we see depicted the characters of Cain and Abel presenting their gifts to the Lord.
But perhaps as time went on and the family unit became more important and was conceivably very large as in the era of the patriarchs, oblations became more of a collective matter with the head of household offering them on behalf of his whole family. We see this in the person of Noah a few chapters later in Genesis who as head of his family sacrificed some of the animals he had housed in the Ark to God. Later we encounter the patriarch Jacob making his way down to Egypt with his whole family with him, and in the midst of the journey he “offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.”
But we see the father serving even more spiritual functions than basic oblations to a deity. A number of times the paternal figure acts in another specific way to communicate the power and divine favor of the gods to his family, and this is what we know as the rite of blessing. The solemn patriarchal blessing was bestowed by the elderly Isaac on his son Jacob through the laying on of hands, and through this ancient gesture was communicated to his son a steady stream of divine support for the rest of his life. In turn, when Jacob was at the close of life, he bestowed the same paternal blessing on his twelve sons in the land of Egypt.
Over time, with the further organization of religion as peoples began to congregate in cities and national identities were forged, such spiritual functions and others were consolidated in yet a more restricted class of people who would act as the official representatives of the deities that the people collectively served. Often chosen to this role by spiritual inclination or even just pure privilege, these were the ones who lived closest to the heartbeat of the spirit world and they would labor as intermediaries for the people and the gods they worshipped. Certainly as we have seen, this predominantly took the form of sacrifice, but such men and women also served as intercessors acting as conduits of divine power to those they served which is to say they bestowed blessings like the patriarchs of old. And in this important job, they also acted as spiritual guides and teachers to those being initiated through their particular belief system. Such spiritual intermediaries we commonly know the world over as members of the priesthood.
In India, a caste system had existed from time immemorial only now breaking down through the forces of Westernization. At the very top of this four tiered civilization were the Brahmins or priests of the Hindu religion who performed intricate sacrificial ceremonies. With what was believed to be an irresistible influence over the gods, they were seen to possess a special divine marking, and to murder a member of this caste was considered an extremely grave sin.
In the Mediterranean, the priesthood was also a privilege of the upper echelon of society. In Greece, it was the prerogative of the nobility to offer sacrifice for the people, and before the emergence of democracy it was apparently kings who made public immolations. In general, priests were state officials assigned to various temples throughout the land. In Rome, the situation was little different, and in the distant past it was also the kings who made sacrifice for the people. Later the aristocracy assumed these powers but ultimately it was open to the common man as well to enter the office of the priest. As we might expect, the primary purpose of sacrifice among the Romans was to gain favor with the gods which included avoiding misfortune. Divination played a big part in the work of the priest as well to predict the future and to determine the will of the gods which would often be done through examination of the entrails of a sacrificial animal.
In between East and West was the empire of the Babylonians which itself had a priesthood which besides the normal function of offering sacrifice also specialized in interpreting dreams and reading the stars, what we would call astrology. Of course, the Magi who came to visit the Christ child were of this caste of people, for they deciphered from the movements in the heavens that he had been born hundreds of miles away and set out to visit him.
Similar ancient priesthoods were also evident in the early parts of bible, and not too far along in Genesis we meet one such priest named Melchizedek. As we have just seen, in the distant past king and priest were often synonymous, and this figure served both roles in the city of Salem which would become the Jewish Jerusalem centuries later. We don’t know much about him except that he was said to be a priest of God Most High (El Elyon in Hebrew) and this identified him with the worship of the major paternal deity of the Fertile Crescent, the God of the Fathers (El Abi in Hebrew.) While he certainly must have offered some form of sacrifice to God, we do not have any specifics mentioned in the Genesis narrative. We are only told that he exercised his role as priest by bestowing a blessing upon the patriarch Abraham who came to visit him in that city.
Later at the time of Moses we encounter another priest who likewise served the major deity of the region. His name was Jethro, and he was apparently a priest of the Midanites. When Moses fled Egypt to escape the wrath of Pharaoh, he entered the land of Midian and married Jethro’s daughter Zipporah. There was seemingly very friendly relations between Moses and his father-in-law, and after the Exodus we have the account of a visit that Jethro paid Moses in the desert. There he exercised his priestly prerogative in the presence of Moses, his brother Aaron, and the elders of Israel by making a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God. The role of spiritual advisor was also evident in the exchange, for Jethro told his son-in-law that he was wearing himself out single-handedly trying to judge the people of Israel. He recommended that Moses delegate that responsibility to worthy men to shoulder the burden, and the prophet listened to everything his father-in-law instructed him.
Not long after this family visit, Moses made his ascent of Mount Sinai and received the institutes of the Jewish religion, the new faith that he was charged with communicating to the people he had led out of bondage and was directing to the Promised Land. As with most belief systems in days of yore, there was not surprisingly a priesthood established among the people of Israel to serve in those familiar capacities we have touched on. Though this priesthood was not one linked to aristocracy or simply to spiritual inclination; rather it was perhaps unique in that it was completely hereditary. Moses’ brother Aaron was to be the first priest, a high priest in fact, and all his male descendants were by definition members of the priesthood, fully qualified and authorized to perform those functions by merit of their birth.
In the Jewish priest’s primary capacity as intermediary between God and the people, he naturally spent much of his time offering sacrifice on behalf of the Israelites in reparation for their sin. There were two regular daily oblations that were made, one at dawn and one at dusk. Each presented to God a year old lamb along with a grain offering of flour and oil as well as a drink offering of wine.
While these were the regular sacrifices of the tabernacle which were to be carried out in perpetuity, the priest would also make sacrifices specifically for individuals who wished to make atonement for sin as well as to express devotion or thanksgiving to God. The sacrifices could be as simple as a grain offering of fine flour and oil or a more substantial blood sacrifice consisting of a bird (for the poor) or a good sized animal from the flock. The priest’s function was to burn the grain offerings on the altar, and in the case of sacrificial animals he would ritually slaughter and proceed to burn them as well.
Though a major part of the Jewish sacrificial system, certainly not all immolations consisted of blood sacrifices. Vegetable and plant matter offerings had a special place in the religious life of the nation of Israel as it did in other nations. Particularly this was the case with a certain resin filled shrub abundantly found throughout the Arabian Peninsula. Many centuries before Abraham made his way to the land of Canaan, the inhabitants of the region discovered that burning it produced a wonderful aroma that heightened the senses.
We know this substance as incense, a treasured commodity of the Middle East which not surprisingly came to take on religious meaning because of its great value. With its pungent aroma, it was seen by many as a cleansing agent, and particularly the Egyptians employed it as a means to drive away demons. But all peoples believed that the sweet-smelling fragrance was pleasing to the deities they worshipped who accepted the rich aromas as tokens of love and gratitude from their followers.
Because the offering of incense constituted a sacrifice to God, it was the prerogative of the priest alone to offer it on behalf of the people. At least this was true within the Jewish religion where only the priest could make intercession with this “holy smoke.” In the instruction that Moses received on Mount Sinai was the command to offer it twice a day, at morning and at twilight on a special altar for the purpose of burning incense.
While the children of Israel were still wandering in the desert, those who thought they could usurp this role of the priest learned the hard way that the unordained are not authorized to perform this holy service to God. At one point in the wilderness, Moses was opposed by 250 leading men of Israel who presumed that they too could burn incense before God. To put down the rebellion Moses promised that the Lord would confirm the next day whether he in fact accepted the layman to perform this job or rather regarded him with contempt. On the morrow, all of these insurrectionists took their censers and put fire in them which we are told angered God greatly. Commanding the community to move away from the tents of the rebels, God caused the ground to open up and swallow not only the presumptious men but their wives and children as well.
Unfortunately the Israelite onlookers became angry at what had happened to whom they must have considered well meaning men. They began to grumble and complain to Moses and Aaron which precipitated a divine plague to break out upon the whole community of Israel. With people dying in droves, Aaron quickly took his censer, put incense in it, and made it smolder with fire from the altar. Running into the crowd he made atonement for the sin of the people wafting the fragrant aroma. Eventually standing between the living and the dead, Aaron succeeded in making reparation for the people’s wrongdoing and the plague stopped, but not before nearly 15,000 Israelites perished.
Now while the privilege to offer sacrifice is the main function of the priesthood, it is certainly not the only job description of those who serve God in this capacity. As we have briefly sketched out earlier, among the biblical patriarchs was the role of blessing the community, in particular the children who would inherit the entire estate. Though the idea of benediction carries with it several related notions, they all convey the same basic principle. In this respect, the one proclaiming the blessing is acting as the conduit of God’s power to communicate to the recipient some form of supernatural assistance. Speaking the good word over an individual often with hands raised over him or laid upon him calls forth this divine energy from the heavenlies and subsequently infuses it in the person of the beneficiary. The one who blesses therefore acts as a pipeline for God’s grace to be imparted to recipient. And as the priesthood evolved in organized religion, such people naturally became the specially authorized channels of this power.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see layman and priest alike speaking blessing over one another, for in its most primitive sense the power of benediction belongs to all. But as the authorized intermediary for the Deity, it is the priest who can transmit blessing to the fullest extent possible by virtue of his special link with God. And so the priestly benediction is special and efficacious for this reason. When the Jewish priesthood began with the ordination of Aaron and his sons, besides offering preliminary sacrifices for the people, we are told that when he had made the immolations he proceeded to lift his hands toward the Israelites and bless them. In actuality an official formula of priestly blessing was given by Moses to Aaron and his sons as a perpetual benediction for the people of God. Those words as sacred to many today as they were 3400 years ago say: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
There was yet another rite, similar in nature to the standard blessing but a good deal more specific and perhaps more potent in its effects which we know as the ritual of anointing or consecration. Practiced not only by the Jewish priesthood but by many types of priesthood in the known world, this act traces its origin to primitive notions of sacrifice and even to basic sympathetic magic and psychic phenomena. To the ancients, the life of a creature was in its blood. That is to say, the life-force of a living being, the essence of its strength was bound up in this fluid. Warriors would drink the blood of their victims oozing from the mortal wound to infuse their character within themselves. It was believed that the virtues of both man and beast were available through imbibing this grisly drink.
But next to blood, the fat of a creature was considered to have the same kind of potency, and certain cultures believed that the qualities of the dead could be transmitted to the living by rubbing themselves with the oily substance. For example, the Arabs of East Africa would smear the fat of a lion upon their bodies to imbue courage within themselves. Naturally both blood and fat came to take on important religious significance particularly as it pertained to sacrifice. It became the custom to smear the fat of a victim on an altar or stone, not only as a tribute to the deity but as a means of consecrating it or making it irreversibly sacred. It was believed that having accepted the sacrifice, the deity would communicate its influence or power through the fat of the victim which in turn passed into the stone making it forever holy.
Of course the logical extension of this concept was that divine power could also be transmitted to men as well through the smearing of the sacred fat. Though it seems that over time olive oil came to be employed as a more readily available substitute with its similar thick and viscous nature. Egyptian temple reliefs have depicted the Pharaoh receiving such an anointing by the sun god Horus and Thoth, the god of wisdom in this manner.
Fairly early on in the Bible, there is evidence of the universal principle of consecration if not by fat then by oil starting with the life of the patriarch Jacob. After fleeing from the wrath of his brother Esau, Jacob began to journey northward through Canaan and at a certain place in the open field he spent the night. Putting a stone under his head as a pillow, he fell asleep and had a mystical dream, an encounter with God. When he awoke the next morning, he took this stone and set it up as a pillar and then proceeded to pour oil on top of it. Presumably because of the impact that this divine meeting had upon him, he chose to consecrate the stone on which he slept as a memorial of how God visited him in that place.
By the time of the formation of the Jewish priesthood, we see how the rite of anointing both animate and inanimate objects became a part of the Israelite faith no doubt passed on through the tradition of the contemporary religions of the region in which the use of oil played a major role. Moses was instructed by God to confect a holy anointing oil mixed with four fragrant spices that surely was very pleasant to smell. This sacred concoction was subsequently used to consecrate all the articles of the tabernacle including various altars and accessories. Needless to say, this ritual was intended to impart a certain permanent and divine character upon the objects making them sacred and consequently dedicated to the service of God.
But not only were the holy objects of the temple to receive the divine mark but those who used them as well. So Moses anointed his brother Aaron and his four sons early on in the desert journey to become the first priests of the Jewish religion. Thereafter tradition suggests that every high priest’s successor (usually the eldest son of the high priest) was anointed to become the new head of the hierarchy. Psalm 133 seems to recall this special consecration where it says, “It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”
Indeed the purpose of the anointing was to impart a very specific blessing upon the recipient, an infusion of grace to carry out his vocation and perform the duties of his ministry. Naturally this pertained to the priests but also to other people in important positions in the nation of Israel. For the first 400 years since leaving Egypt, the nation was a theocracy, a people ruled by God through the voice of mystics who led them. But by the turn of the first millennium B.C., the people were crying out for a king like all the neighboring nations had, so “Samuel [the prophet] took a flask of oil and poured it on the head of Saul” making him the first Jewish monarch. Not just a symbolic gesture, the anointing put an indelible divine mark upon his soul and imparted to Saul a special stream of divine power to do the job he was called to perform. We see evidence of this right away, for Samuel told Saul, “the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with [the prophets] and you will be changed into a different person. Likewise some years later when Samuel anointed David the next king of Israel, we are told that “from that day on, the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him.” Tradition has it that every king of Israel up until the Exile was anointed by the high priest before assuming his lofty role. And such an impact this tradition had on other nations down through history that it was common for the monarchs of Europe (particularly England) to be anointed with sacred oil upon ascending the throne.
Besides kings and priests, the third class of people to receive anointing in ancient Israel were apparently the prophets who had the work of speaking to the masses for God. It is recorded that the great prophet Elijah anointed Elisha his successor on one occasion. It is hard to know for sure if this was normative for we do not know if the likes of Samuel and other great ones received consecration, but a certain psalm of David suggests that it may have been the case, for the king writes, “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”
We have discussed the origin of anointing among the ancient civilizations of the Near East, but it is probably appropriate now to consider how oil came to be the prominent medium of that ritual. Among other reasons, for certain Mediterranean peoples like the Minoans it represented wealth and power, and this culture used olive oil prominently in their religious ceremonies. In Greece, the substance was called “liquid gold” by Homer. It was commonplace for athletes to coat themselves completely with it to highlight the beauty of the body as they competed naked in events. The decorative use of olive oil persisted in the Hellenic States for nearly a thousand years despite its great expense. The Olympic Games also featured the importance of the olive, for the winner of the competitions was crowned with a wreath of olive branches as the tree itself came to signify peace, wisdom, and victory.
But more than just wealth and beauty, the value of olive oil was recognized early on for its medicinal qualities. Among ancient Greek doctors it was considered extremely valuable, and Hippocrates lists 60 different conditions that can be treated with it, particularly ailments of the skin, wounds, and infections. Today we have scientific evidence for its healing properties and note that it contains a wide variety of antioxidants. Additionally, it is a significant food for protection against different forms of cancer and heart disease.
For the ancients, olive oil was particularly well known for its healing properties for the skin. Throughout the Old World, it was recognized for its use as a deep moisturizer to regenerate and soften the skin. Especially in the fierce heat of the Palestinian climate, it was necessary to rejuvenate the skin which was also subjected to hot arid weather. So the people of that region frequently applied olive oil to their skin, especially the face. The custom was certainly in effect among the Jews, and the Old Testament scriptures attest to it, for in the Psalms we read that “[God] makes … wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” Of course we are also very familiar with the 23rd Psalm which says, “You anoint my head with oil.” Even in the time of Jesus the practice is alluded to, for when the Lord was dining with Simon the Pharisee, he remarked to his host, “You did not put oil on my head.”
Clearly, for our forebears, olive oil was a medicinal if not magical substance and so easily made its way into religious ceremonies as a symbol of healing and strength. Though it was used in common practice to heal wounds and sooth skin, it did not apparently feature prominently as a means of spiritual healing among the Jews save for one reference to it from the Mosaic Law. After one recovered from an infectious skin disease, it was prescribed for the priest to offer ritual cleansing for him. The instruction says, “The priest is to put some of the oil remaining in his palm on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot … The rest of the oil in his palm the priest shall put on the head of the one to be cleansed and make atonement for him before the Lord.”
We have considered now the role of the priest particularly as it was known among the people of Israel. As with all priesthoods, his primary function was to offer sacrifice as well as to bless, consecrate, and to a limited extent heal. But a final function of the Jewish priest was to teach and in this position there are a number of Old Testament examples of what he was required to do.
The Lord said to Aaron, the first high priest of Israel that it was his obligation along with his sons to serve as the official interpreters of the Law and to “teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.” In this vain, it was not only their responsibility to teach the precepts and laws of God to Israel but also to serve as arbiters of justice as experts in the theocratic law of the land. By instruction of the Mosaic Law, “the priests, the sons of Levi, shall step forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the name of the Lord and decide all cases of dispute and assault.”
For about 1500 years, this Jewish priesthood served God and the people of Israel until it was finally dissolved toward the end of the first century. But as there has always been a priesthood to mediate between God and man since ancient times, the Almighty did not leave the spiritual descendants of the Jewish nation without a body of ministers to serve it. With the coming of Christ a new and better religion was to appear supplanting the religion of Israel, and this new religion was founded with the ministry of a new priesthood to carry out all of the traditional roles of the priest but in novel and expanded forms.
The transition from the old order to the new involved a number of changes starting with the High Priest himself. Gone now was the lineal descendant of Aaron who by birth and heredity assumed his lofty position. In his place appeared the first High Priest of the new economy, Christ himself, not a Levite with any claim to a place in the Mosaic system but a priest in the Order of Melchizedek. We alluded to this Divine figure earlier, the One who is said to be “without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life.” And so it is God himself who appears at the head of the Christian priesthood to institute a new faith with a new band of ministers.
No longer belonging to the priesthood through blood, the members of the Christian ministry receive their priestly powers through another means. Through what is known as the laying on of hands, starting with Christ and his apostles and down through the ages a priesthood has existed transmitted simply by the impartation of spiritual power through physical contact. In a number of places this ritual is spoken of in the New Testament namely by the apostle Paul who as a priest himself transferred this office to his protégé Timothy. In his letter to the young minister, he writes, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”
Of course the principle function of any priesthood is to offer sacrifice to God, and this role is no less evident among those we call Christian priests. Though with the passing of the Jewish system, so too came a change in the nature of this sacrifice. No longer would the new religion offer the flesh and blood of bulls and goats but a vegetable offering of bread and wine instead. And this type of offering was foreshadowed by the great Melchizedek himself who brought out these elements to the patriarch Abraham in the city of Jerusalem some 2000 years earlier.
However the oblation of the Christian dispensation is not merely bread and wine. At the hands of the priest who offers them to God, they become changed from these base substances into the very Body and Blood of Christ himself. In effect the sacrifice that the priest offers is the very same Sacrifice that Christ offered to God on the Cross for the salvation of the world. On the night before he suffered, Jesus instituted the ritual oblation of bread and wine for his priests to perform regularly until he comes again. He told them, “Do this in remembrance of me.” From that time this Holy Sacrifice has been perpetuated all over the world so that it is essentially carried out continuously for the benefit of mankind. As the only pure and unblemished sacrifice to ever be offered to God on an ongoing basis, it has become the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Malachi who penned centuries earlier, “From the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.”
As with any immolation, the Sacrifice of the Cross has obtained the favor of God, but it has done so to such an enormous magnitude that it dwarfs the effects of all offerings made in ages past, even taken altogether. This is because Jesus’ offering of himself was of a divine and therefore infinite nature to reap a tremendous reward. Each time a Christian priest offers Christ’s sacrifice, he taps into the great reserve of merit and favor that has been won by Jesus’ death now 2000 years ago and communicates it to the people who are in great need of its power. A multitude of graces are conveyed to the recipients on each occasion for the spiritual betterment of their souls, but in a special way the merits of this Sacrifice are credited to the beneficiaries of Christ’s offering for the forgiveness of their sins.
In fact it is a major part of the work of the priest to extend forgiveness to the people flowing from the good credit Jesus has obtained for the human race through his life and death. Each good work that we do serves as a credit to cancel a small amount of our load of sins, but the Perfect Sacrifice of Christ has for all intents and purposes racked up the equivalent of an innumerable amount of good works that can be readily communicated to each person on an ongoing basis to help him pay off his debts. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confession, a priest is always standing by to grant forgiveness to those who seek it with a humble and contrite heart. And this role of absolver of sins is admittedly a unique and unprecedented function of the priesthood of the current age which mankind should never take for granted.
But while the power to forgive sins is certainly a novel function of the Christian priesthood, there is nonetheless continuity in just about every other traditional role that has been present since Old Testament times. Of course there is the offering of incense which is still an integral part of the Christian liturgy until this day. A full Mass consists of a censing rite performed by the priest, an aspect of the service with many connotations, but in the Christian era one that symbolizes the prayers of the worshippers wafting up to the heavens where they are received by God.
Naturally it is also the exclusive job of the priest to bless which he does at a few points in the main Christian liturgy through the perennial symbol of the New Testament faith, the Sign of the Cross. However, he is free to bless the faithful at any time inside or outside of the liturgy and whenever it is requested he will raise his hands in blessing over a candidate. And this rite extends even to inanimate objects that the faithful might own as a means of preserving from evil or marking them with a spiritual character.
We also so that it was the job of the Jewish priesthood to teach and instruct the Israelites in the ways of God, explaining his laws to the people and functioning more or less as judges and experts in the law. Needless to say, from the very beginning the clergy of the Christian religion have exercised a strong role as teachers of the faith ever since the time Jesus sent out his disciples two by two into the towns of Israel. The main liturgy which we commonly know as the Mass usually always includes a time for instructing the faithful in the ways of God, which part of the liturgy we know as the sermon or homily.
Finally we close our survey of the priesthood by recognizing the important role that anointing with oil has in the Christian faith as indeed it did in ages past. As holy vessels and objects within the temple were consecrated with sacred olive oil to dedicate them for spiritual functions, so too does the highest ranking Christian priest (the bishop) pour holy oil on a brand new altar to permanently infuse within it a character fit for the service of God. Likewise, as the Jewish priesthood was first consecrated to their posts through the anointing of oil on their bodies, so too is every man raised to the Christian priesthood through the smearing of holy oil on his hands to forever consecrate them to offer the Holy Sacrifice of Christ.
But whereas anointing as part of a healing ritual was apparently a small part in the Old Testament, in the New Dispensation it has been expanded to form an integral part of the priest’s work. Again from the time of the ministry of Christ it has taken on this importance, for the Twelve were sent out into the villages of Palestine and “they anointed many sick people with oil and healed them” as the Gospel of Mark relates to us. Later, James the Brother of the Lord emphasizes the power of healing oil in the rites of the Church, for he says, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned he will be forgiven.” Indeed this ritual has a link to the forgiveness of sins as well, and therefore we should understand that this rite as do all rites of the Christian faith which we label sacraments ultimately derive their power and efficacy from the Sacrifice of Christ. They are a sacred trust which those who have been called to the priesthood may administer to all who seek them.