Holy oils symbolize Holy Spirit’s power, presence, Bishop Kinney says

Categories: Around the Diocese

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

When the bishop breathes upon the openings of glass vessels filled with fragrant chrism oil at the annual chrism Mass, he does so as a reminder of Christ breathing on the Apostles after his resurrection, telling them to “receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Catholic faith is rich with signs and symbols that evoke the five senses and signify that an internal action has taken place inside the person. Throughout the life of a Catholic, anointing with holy oils is one such tradition.

“Oil was originally used in the time of Jesus and the early days of the church,” said St. Cloud Bishop Emeritus John Kinney. “It was an element of healing and a beautifying agent to give luster to the face and complexion.


In this file photo from 2013, Bishop John Kinney adds the essence to the Holy Chrism during the chrism Mass at St. Augustine Church in St. Cloud. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt / The Visitor

“The Catholic Church believes in very tangible symbols — like water and oil — that make us beautiful and strong in the sight of God. We can see them, we can taste them, we can feel the oil run down like the Holy Spirit upon us. In the sacrament of confirmation, it is the Holy Spirit that gives us those seven gifts but also gives us beauty, healing, strength and grace.”

Bishop Kinney, who headed the diocese from 1995 to 2013, was known for his generous application of the oils during confirmation, wanting the candidates’ heads to “glisten with oil.”

“We are only confirmed once,” Bishop Kinney said, “so I wanted each of the candidates to feel that oil pouring over them as a reminder of how the Holy Spirit will be poured over them throughout their lives.”

On the day of his ordination as a priest, Bishop Kinney recalled how his hands were anointed and then bound as he was led into the sacristy where they were carefully wiped dry.

When ordained a bishop, he also remembers how Archbishop John Roach generously poured oil over his head and that it dripped down his vestments.

“It reminds me of Psalm 133 from the psalter, ‘It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard’,” Bishop Kinney said. “I felt the power of the Holy Spirit washing over me. Maybe that is the reason I wanted the confirmation candidates to really feel the weight of the oil pouring over them as a reminder of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives.”

Bishop Kinney said the chrism Mass is one of the most magnificent liturgies the church has to offer, especially as Catholics prepare to celebrate the Easter triduum.

“Never underestimate the strength and power of the Holy Spirit in the anointing with the blessed oils.”