Oil Poll

(Try to say that three times fast.)

[poll id=”117″]

For other interesting consecrated oil reading see here and here.


  1. I voted for “only as a ritual object,” but I do think that kind of underplays the importance and significance of what is going on. Is there a midpoint between magic oil and “only as a ritual object”? For me it’s more than a mere spiritual placebo, but I don’t think it has any power without the blessings and anointings behind it.

  2. Is the follow-up poll going to replace “consecrated oil” with “garments”?

  3. I was going to vote for “only as a ritual object,” but I ended up voting for the “other more nuanced response” for exactly the reason you just stated, Steve. I needed a midpoint between the two. The combination of the consecrated oil with the priesthood blessings and anointings is greater than either one alone.

  4. Consecrated oil is like the elements of the Lord’s Supper, or the water of baptism: a sacramental object, a visible sign of an invisible grace, a material channel through which God has chosen (and always chooses, every time; God is living, not magical) to make his authority tangible in the world.

  5. Awesome poll, Kris.

    I think it is hard for anyone raised in the modern world to not view, by default, consecrated oil as simply a ritual object devoid of any real power.

    I’d even say that modern Mormons really don’t have concepts of holiness in tangible forms, except the great research showing how we have now sanctified our historical sites. Still, what does it mean for modern Mormons that an object or place is “Holy”?

  6. matt b, I think your comment is great. A little bit of strait up protestant sacramental theology, no?

  7. Still, what does it mean for modern Mormons that an object or place is “Holy”?

    Good question. I cringed a little this weekend when one of the speakers referred to “this sacred pulpit” because that pulpit, like other historical sites, has significance only because of its association with other events — it isn’t sacred in itself. Consecrated oil, on the other hand, is something more, but I haven’t found the words to explain why.

  8. The difference between “this sacred pulpit” and consecrated oil is evident, to me at least, in that that pulpit can and has been properly used for a lot of different events that don’t begin to rise to holiness. Nothing is taken from the pulpit, or the building, because it is used for a cultural or patriotic or civic or social event. By contrast, it would be sacrelige, I think, to use consecrated oil — soemthing that has been set apart as something more than mere oil — to fry potatoes.

  9. Then how about the sacred grove, or the liberty jail…or, perhaps more closely related, a temple altar? There was a nice article in the JMH a couple of issues ago on the sacredization of the historical sites. The temple is obviously ritually distinct and is consequently different from the “sacred pulpit” at the conference center, I think.

  10. <By contrast, it would be sacrilige, I think, to use consecrated oil — soemthing that has been set apart as something more than oil — to fry potatoes.

    Only if, as we fry potatoes, we set aside our awareness of our divinity.

    We needn’t do so, though we often do.

  11. #10 (despite the failed tag) was intended as my elaborated response for choosing the “nuanced” option.

  12. There is something about physicality here that modern Mormons ignore at their peril, a bit like the sacramentalism mb describes, and a bit like what Joseph Smith was doing which was a little more mystical than straightforward sacramentalism (as if it is ever straightforward). is there nothing about sanctification that is other than a limited mental construct applied to a mundane object? Joseph Smith said no, pretty emphatically.

  13. Steve: “but I don’t think it has any power without the blessings and anointings behind it.” Isn’t that the definition of placebo? Or maybe you think the blessing behind the oil unlocks the power within the oil?

    Ardis: “Consecrated oil, on the other hand, is something more, but I haven’t found the words to explain why.” I don’t mean this to sound flippant, but perhaps you can’t find the words because there really isn’t something more. Your #8 defines quite nicely what “consecrated” means: something has been “set apart” for only religious use; pulpits are not consecrated.

  14. I think the holy and the miraculous exist on both planes at once. On the one hand, it’s just oil, the same as other oil. If needed, it could be used to make an omelet, or to flavor a soup. On the other hand, it’s also holy, and has special power to heal and bless, according to our faith. Both are true at once. Both are real.

    Which reality is realer than the other? It’s my feeling that the spiritual reality is the realer reality. Physical reality alone is nothing but a sea of forces, particles, probabilities. It’s spiritual reality that gives things identity and meaning.

    It could be equally argued, though, that spiritual reality without any physical substrate is not really real either. So perhaps both must be present and acknowledged for either reality to be truly real.

  15. The idea of place, and proximity, and being set apart for particular use is key here; if you lean Protestant rather than Catholic on this (which I think Mormons do) these things are holy not because of their inherent qualities, but because God places them in a particular relationship with himself.

    Stepe – Well, I am a closet Lutheran. Shh.

    (Although the phrase ‘visible sign of an invisible grace’ is actually Augustine’s.)

  16. BrianJ, I think that it’s certainly possible that the act of anointing and blessing with the oil may have some of its effect from the oil itself. I’m not arguing for a fully mystical view of things, but I do believe there’s more going on than simply oil.

    That said, we used to feel pretty strongly about bread and wine until JS learned that it doesn’t matter what you eat and drink.

  17. Mark Brown says:

    Jesus spit into the dirt and used the mud to anoint a blind man’s eyes. I realize that the oil we use has been consecrated, but are there other ways the mud is different from oil?

  18. Mud made with the saliva of the Son of God, Mark!

  19. Channeling my inner Lincoln:

    But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this [pulpit]. The brave men, living or dead, who [spoke] here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

    And, if it has been so hallowed, does the fact that someone else uses the pulpit for a non-sanctifying purpose, change it? If a farmer ran his cattle on the battlefield at Gettysburg, is it no longer “hallowed”?

  20. This has been said essentially by others, but I also believe there is some kind of physical transferal of “something” when the oil is blessed and consecrated. Perhaps it simply is the faith that imbues the blessing (by the consecrator and the blessed receiver), but I would never consider using consecrated oil as a cooking agent. Imo, consecrating it actually does change it in a real way, even though I don’t believe it changes it in any chemical or structural way. I believe there is spiritual power that is independent of all measurable formulas and mortal explanations, and, for me, this is one of them.

    Having said that, I really like many of the statements and explanations in this thread thus far. As much as it can be explained, I think many here are doing so.

    Also, as to #13’s “perhaps you can’t find the words because there really isn’t something more” – No, I don’t accept that at all. There are lots of things for which I can’t find the words, but it generally isn’t because there really isn’t something to say. It’s just because I don’t know how to say it – or if it really even needs to or can be said.

  21. Mark Brown says:

    Ray, but in Mark 2:25-27, doesn’t Jesus express approval of David eating the consecrated shewbread?

  22. Just thinking more about matt b’s point about sacramental objects….

    When we’re done with the sacrament ceremony, do we specially treat the leftover bread and water? No, we throw it away.

    If we need to retrofit a temple for earthquake safety, do we de-dedicsate it before allowing the construction workers in? No, we just let them in and then rededicate the temple once they’re done.

    When a bottle of consecrated oil gets very old, do we pray to have it de-consecrated? No, we throw it away.

    We consecrate/dedicate things, but we don’t de-consecrate or de-dedicate things. Makes me think the “power” is in the ritual and not in the thing.

  23. “do we specially treat the leftover bread and water? No, we throw it away.”

    Unless you’re in my Priest’s quorum, in which case it is snackrilicious.

  24. That said, we used to feel pretty strongly about bread and wine until JS learned that it doesn’t matter what you eat and drink.

    Amen to that brilliant comment.

    Symbolism and ritual are significant in many ways. All of those ways, in my opinion, are with respect to the people interacting with those rituals and symbols. If everyone in the universe was snuffed out of existence, there would be no difference (none at all, in any sense) between regular oil and consecrated oil.

    Ray: there is some kind of physical transferal of “something” when the oil is blessed and consecrated.

    I don’t accept that at all and I don’t see any reason to. Certainly I haven’t seen any reason to presented in the comments above. What is the motivation to believe in a “physical transferal”?

  25. “snackrilicious”

    Bill Maher is in your priests quorum?

  26. I said, “Perhaps it simply is the faith that imbues the blessing.” By that, I meant that perhaps the only “change” is that it has been imbued by faith. I don’t know, but consecrating it makes it different **in my mind** – and perhaps that’s all that matters.

    I also would be fine with someone who needed to give a blessing, had no oil to bless and used whiskey instead. (just to use an extreme example) I agree it’s not anything intrinsic to olive oil, and I understand the sacrament and garment examples. I’m not arguing for an actual transubstantiation here. I simply believe when I poor my faith into something tangible, I personally benefit from seeing it as special and different in some real, practical, tangible way – even if it is a bit counter-intuitive and nonsensical.

    I have no problem whatsoever with those who see it as merely symbolic and disagree with the way I have chosen to see it. None. Again, I am fine if the only real difference is in my mind, but I just like to see it as distinct and different due to it being consecrated – that my blessing of it changes it somehow, again, even if only in my mind. I understand how illogical this is, but I’m okay with it.

  27. #23 – Now that is finding the words to say something well.

  28. I also try to pour my faith into it. Missed that one.

  29. When the afflicted woman touched the hem of Christ’s robe, he “felt the virtue go out” of him. Witnesses saw the Holy Spirit descend “in the form” of a dove. I don’t know what “went out” from Christ but I believe he felt something; I don’t believe the Holy Spirit inhabited the physical body of a dove but I believe the witnesses saw something they approximated with their description. Maybe it isn’t quite right to say “some kind of physical transferal,” but I agree with Ray that there is a real somethiing — if it isn’t quite physical, it is possibly perceived through physical senses.

    You know, no amount of debate among us is ever going to prove the correct answer to Kris’s poll any more than debate can prove any other question of faith. Some of the challenges sound less like trying to understand and more like dialogue from “Religulous.”

  30. #23,

    I have seen more then once PB & J sandwiches made from leftover Sacrament bread during the clean up period by teachers quorums.

  31. I think Jesus used many ways to restore sight to blind. In one instance, he mixed his saliva and sand into clay/mud and “anointed” the man’s eyes, instructing him to wash in Siloam (John 9). In another, he covered the man’s eyes with his hand (Matt 9). In yet another, there was no physical contact (Mark 10). Yet another, he spat in the man’s eyes and put his hands upon him (Mark 8).

    Are these different ways there to illustrate that the “active ingredient” was faith, and nothing else.

    That, in my mind, plays into the oil issue. I personally don’t think the oil changes upon consecration any more than sacrament bread and water change when blessed. To put it simply, I don’t believe in magical qualities, I believe in faith.

    Like Ardis, I found it a little awkward to hear someone call the pulpit sacred. Sure, the conference center was dedicated by pres. Hinckley, but it didn’t give it any mystical qualities. It is all about how it relates to our having faith in what’s said, not where it’s said (well, perhaps who says it is important). Even the temple is different after dedication only in how we change our attitude toward it, especially as we enter. Again, all that happens, happens within the context of my faith and my relationship to God.

    I would make a lousy mystic.

  32. James Cleat says:

    Consecrate… or to make holy. Obviously the oil is an object that focuses the faith of those involved in the ordinance. And not necessarily the faith of those being blessed. Note the deliberate wording ” the faith of those involved in the ordinance”

    Here is an example of where faith of the receiver was not involved (humor).

  33. bbell, the broken bread? How do you make PB&J sandwiches from little pieces of bread? If it’s the unbroken bread, then that wasn’t blessed, so have at it.

  34. Ardis: if you took my comments as challenges to your position then I apologize. I don’t mean to try to convince you, etc. I commented because if I’m wrong about how I view sacred objects, I want to hear it. If I didn’t value your opinion (despite disagreeing with it) I would have simply ignored your comment.

  35. I agree with Ray that blessing the oil makes it different. Maybe not in any physical way, but it is treated differently and it has spiritual power because of the blessing. I agree that it need not be oil, but we use virgin olive oil by tradition, signifying purity and holiness.

    If the concsecrated oil goes bad or the blessed bread gets stale or the temple garment becomes tattered, we can throw them away because they are no longer usable for the purpose that they were set apart for. They are not holy in themselves, but only because of being set apart for a particular purpose. Once that purpose is past, they are no longer sacred, but we still treat them with reverence, I think. We don’t use temple garments as dust cloths (at least–I don’t), we don’t make salad dressing or fry potatoes in consecrated oil (at least–not at my house), and we don’t have food fights with the sacramental bread (at least–not in my experience).

  36. Unbroken bread. Large wards require more loaves and more leftovers. I have seen them bring milk to.

  37. Steve Evans says:

    “Large wards require more loaves”

    Not if they had faith like mustard seeds!

  38. But wouldn’t they also need fishes?

  39. Not to rephrase what Steve said but to more directly quote Homer Simpson.


  40. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was a boy we threw the uneaten bread out the back door for the little birdies to eat.

  41. Kevin, we still do.

  42. If we believe in a literal restoration and the reality of the golden plates, we believe in the proposition that God is sometimes active in the world in ways that are at odds with a common sense, scientifically-aligned ontology (understanding of how the world works).

    If we accept that proposition, and the related proposition that the priesthood has real power, it seems to me that the purely ritual based answer is lacking. Otherwise, a blessing is no different than a few people praying together, and indeed, and either oil would not need to be consecrated or the oil could even be omitted. I think few who accept the first proposition would accept that conclusion.

    What then are we left with? To say that it has ‘healing properties’ in itself seems incorrect; it is not medicine, and it does not overtly change in its chemical composition or properties such that a doctor could prescribe it.

    To me, then, the remaining answer must be that it does have healing properties, but not of the traditional scientifically cognizable type. One way might be to think of the consecrated oil as being part of an inus condition (insufficient but nonredundant part of an unnecessary but sufficient condition) for healing. This would imply that there is something *different* in its nature than unconsecrated oil, which has a part in a particular kind of healing process, but which is not enough to heal on its own.

  43. sorry to get all jesuitical, it’s my catholic background. There was a time in my life when the attraction to the church was just a bit stronger than my attraction to the SoJ…

  44. Adam Greenwood says:

    C. I don’t know.

  45. Re – the pulpit. The conference center was dedicated, the building was consecrated, and they did the Halleleujah Shout. It was “special” by virtue of having come from a tree planted by GBH, by virtue of having been crafted for the Conference Center, but it became sacred by virtue of the dedication.

    I’ve been in wards where the leftover broken bread was taken outside and carefully spread on the lawn for the birds. Seemed more respectful than tossing it in the trash, for some reason, but that’s not to imply that throwing it away is disrespectful in and of itself.

    Some organic vegan health-food-store owners in the ward where I grew up made the outrageous claim that we should never, ever, use refined flour toxic white bread to represent the Body of Christ. The bishop (wisely) told them that if they had that big of a problem with it, they could supply the bread. So, for several years, we got all sorts of strange, home-made, honey/wheatberry/oat/flaxseed/home-ground/molasses/chickpea sacrament bread. The birds wouldn’t touch it.

  46. I don’t know, but consecrating it makes it different **in my mind** – and perhaps that’s all that matters.

    For me, at least, that is all that matters. That is not to say it doesn’t matter. I would still argue with Ardis that it is a “real” difference, at least in the sense that I think the word real is being used. I don’t think the idea of it being a physical change makes it more real or more significant.

    Ardis, do you envision a third category? Not physical, not simply in the minds of people, but something else?

  47. Saying it three times quickly is easy! After all, “oil” and “poll” rhyme, don’t they?

  48. Aaron Brown says:

    I am open to being convinced it is something more than a mere “ritual object,” but so far, I’m not.

    Aaron B

  49. I don’t have the words, Jacob. I’m back to Steve Evan’s #1 (he may have meant it only rhetorically, but I’ve been trying to find the words because I think it’s real) of something more than “all in my mind” but less than “magic.” Consecrated oil seems to be in an intersection between sacred and mundane, in the same way that sometimes the spirit tells or shows you something “beyond” what your natural faculties would be able to discern.

  50. It’s different because it’s blessed. Not physically different (that I’m aware of) but spiritually different. Endowed with power, in the household of faith. That’s a “real” difference, and not just in the mind, but it’s not a difference that would probably impress anyone outside the faithful.

  51. How many pins can you stick in the head of an angel?

    No one has addressed yet the issue of whether the oil is even necessary; as I (and I imaging others) have seen blessings given without any oil at all. I have not heard of a case as such, where because of this omission, the blessing (an act of faith after all) was not honored.

  52. dja_ra, my wife would make the same argument, but admits that she doesn’t know. Her argument is why would a PH blessing with oil be more efficacious than the heartfelt worthy prayer of a sister in the gospel? While I believe something insubstantial is involved, I can’t answer that question to her satisfaction. Heck, I haven’t tried for a few years. On the other hand, of what use is the PH if PH blessings sealing the annointing are not of value?

    I lean towards the Ray/MCQ perception, but also can not articulate it.

  53. The last couple of comments, while I believe are representative of modern perceptions are so far removed from nineteenth-century Mormonism as to be shocking to me (who studies nineteenth century Mormon ritual).

  54. dja_ra, not to be self-promoting, but I kind of did, see 42 (if in a backward sort of way), using it as a a sort of informal ‘proof by contradiction’.

  55. What exactly are you referring to, Stapley? The question of whether the oil is necessary? Whether a PH blessing is different from a prayer? I find those questions to be a bit shocking as well, since it seems silly to go to the trouble to use oil or have the priesthood if the same effect can be acheived without them.

  56. Latter-day Guy says:

    Interesting. It seems to me that the oil is changed by trans-signification. Whatever meaning it had as oil is stripped away and now its meaning is wholly invested in what it symbolizes: a sign of the Holy Ghost, the grace of God, etc. We wouldn’t fry pancakes with the Holy Ghost (though they might turn out more light and fluffy if we did).

    That being said, the early saints certainly used it like a medicine. Ingesting, applying topically, with or without an associated blessing.

  57. NoCoolName_Tom says:

    I don’t think we’re going to find a neat and tidy answer; this is one of those areas of paradox in Mormon theology where the holy(otherworldly) and profane(worldly) mix.

    On the one hand, the oil has been part of Priesthood ritual since before the Church was legally established. On the other, there are countless examples from Church history where healing was accomplished without the use of oil and/or Priesthood (19th Century Relief Society blessings come to mind).

  58. #51 – Re-read #26 & #35.

  59. re 55. But they have and are regularly achieved without them. All religions have their faith traditions and all religions have their healers. Whether shaman, medicine man, or roman catholic priest administering last rites, all ritual serves more or less as a way the provide handles for the adherents’ faith. It give them something to hold on to. I have seen Baptist healers rebuke Satan. I can’t say that that wasn’t a strong tonic for the individual who it was done to. I have also seen cases where we, as a ward at the direction of our priesthood leaders fasted and prayed for someone to no avail.

    In the end, it is God who heals, and he had his own reasons for doing so, or choosing not to. Also,as I first posted, I have definitely participated in a blessing which was given in lieu of an operation, which the sick one could not afford. The ailment literally was taken away. The operation was not needed, and the ailment has not returned (it has been in remission for 20 years).

    In that blessing no oil was used. The person came and said that they knew that I had healed others in the past and that they needed to be healed and explained the circumstances. I explained that it was God who honored the prayer, and that it would be based on their individual faith. They said that they understood and we proceeded from there.

    When I read these boards, I see a lot of discussion of how things should be. But I have lived long enough to know that some things are they way they are. From my own experiences, I have seen that faith seems to be the operative: Not priesthood, not oil, not ritual; though all of these things probably serve as tool to focus the faith of the one seeking the blessing.

  60. LdG: What didn’t the early saints use like a medicine? Alcohol, tobacco, etc….

  61. MCQ, in the nineteenth century, Church leaders and lay members viewed oil as extremely important. They would go to great lengths to procure it; it was usually consecrated in prayer circles; and was used therapeutically. The idea that people could just go without oil was berated from the pulpit.

  62. Latter-day Guy says:

    Yeah, but I bet they didn’t consecrate the tobacco first! :)

  63. Mark B, I like your #19.

    MCQ, what is the origin of using the phrase “household of faith” in setting apart oil or performing anointings? I never heard it growing up; then I moved to UT and it seems like everyone does it here.

  64. Aaron Brown says:

    J., you’re obviously correct that the 19th Century LDS understanding is lightyears removed from modern perceptions. But it isn’t obvious to me to what extent 19th Century perceptions should control our modern interpretations. Certainly my awareness of early LDS perceptions of “believing blood” and lineage-issues generally doesn’t persuade me to adopt the literal understandings of “assigned lineages” from yesteryear, to use one example. Maybe this example is analogous to what we’re talking about with consecrated oil, or maybe it’s not. I don’t know, and I’m open to persuasion either way. But I wanna hear arguments that do more than point out how differently Joseph saw things.

    Aaron B

  65. Aaron, I’m not arguing that our perceptions should be controlled by the 19th century. But being immersed in the 19th and early 20th century for so long, it is rather shocking to me to see the contrast. It probably shouldn’t be, but then again, we don’t really discuss sacramental theology all that much at church.

  66. Marjorie Conder says:

    Grrr–every time I have tried to participate in one of these polls I am told I already voted as #117 (always the same number–a bit odd if it were true.) Anyone know what is going on?

  67. Unfortunately, Marjorie, the polling softward we use limits votes to one per IP Adress. I means that someone where you access the internet has already voted.

  68. J, as I said, I find the idea a bit shocking as well, and I’m not immersed in the 19th century in any way (that I know of–other than enjoying fiction and history from that time period).

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying a prayer to ask for a blessing if there is no one with the priesthood present. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with performing a blessing without oil if none can be found. I’m sure that healing can and does take place in these settings when the faith is sufficient and the Lord deems it appropriate.

    That’s a far cry, however, from suggesting that the PH and the oil are not necessary. I think if they are available, they should be used, and if they are used, the chances of success are much greater.

  69. MCQ, what is the origin of using the phrase “household of faith” in setting apart oil or performing anointings? I never heard it growing up; then I moved to UT and it seems like everyone does it here.

    I don’t know the origin of the phrase, but in my mind it is just a shorthand way of signifying that the idea or result that is pronounced is dependent upon the exercise of faith.

  70. Marjorie Conder says:

    #67–Stapley–No one ever uses this computer but me. Don’t you also think it is more than odd that I am always claimed to be vote #117? Nobody’a salvation depends on this, but it is odd.

  71. Marjorie, have you tried clearing out your cache (Firefox) or temporary internet files (Internet Explorer)?

  72. (Oh, and your cookies. Clean out your cookies.)

  73. Marjorie Conder says:

    #71,72–I don’t even know what you are talking about, but I will ask some of the smart computer people in my life to look into it. Thanks

  74. Is there a reason everyone’s talking about oil when the poll is about Temple locations? Forgive me, I’m dense.

  75. It got screwed up. It used to be a poll about consecrated oil, but somehow it got combined with another poll on the KC temple.

  76. #75 – That must have been more than a little confusing. I thought #74 was posted accidently on the wrong thread; turns out it wasn’t.

  77. Steve Evans says:

    we have buggy poll software — it’s Cynthia’s fault.

  78. you’ll pay for this, Evans.

  79. “To put it simply, I don’t believe in magical qualities, I believe in faith.”

    Well put, and part of the general theme that Christ preached during his ministry as he tried to drag the physical, fearfully observant Jews into the “New Testament” with it’s de-emphasis on sacrifices and outward ritual and the appearance of worship and more into a deeper sense of being a person of faith.

    It is about faith, not mysticism. Christ even moaned at one point that God could lift up a Chosen people from these stones on the ground. Their chosen status had nothing to do with their strictness or their faith–just God’s Will, so get over yourself.

    Some have argued that the oil makes them feel good in their mind so that is what matters. That’s a relativistic way of looking at the gospel. Christ pointed our eyes, mind, and faith to higher levels, not to the more secure handholds of holy objects. So I guess it’s fine whatever you think at some level, but the gospel is clear that there is always more to come.

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