The Garden Chrism

Holy Thursday, or Maundy for the anglophilic, commemorates the last Thursday in the life of our Lord. At supper, Christ introduced his sacrament, then washed the Apostles’ feet.

In Kirtland, as the young Mormons prepared their temple, they also prepared themselves. They met and washed their bodies with pure water – ritual cleanliness had more potency in a society where the winter bath (let alone the weekly bath) had yet to become common. They perfumed themselves with cinnamon and anointed each other.

At the time of the Restoration, the old Catholic church was generally the only church to still anoint with oil. [1] Typically oil for anointing was (and still is) prepared and consecrated by a bishop on Holy Thursday in a specific Mass for the purpose. The prayers employ language that will be familiar to many Mormons, “world with out end.” After exorcising the oil, the bishop prayed:

Send forth, we pray you, Lord, your Holy Spirit, our Advocate from heaven upon this rich juice of the olive which you have been pleased to bring forth out of a green tree for the solace of soul and body: that by your holy blessing whoever is anointed with this ointment of heavenly strength with which you anointed priests, kings, prophets and martyrs, may receive protection of soul and body for deliverance from all pains, all infirmities and all sickness of soul and body; may it be, Lord, your perfect chrism, blessed by you for us, abiding in our whole being: in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. [2]

After anointing with oil, administrants sealed blessings upon the recipients, frequently sealing them up into eternal life. [3] Thus prepared, individuals were allowed to enter the dedicated Temple for a solemn assembly. One thousand eight hundred and two years to the week that Christ washed his disciples feet, his disciples gathered to wash each others’. They ate the bread of his flesh and drank wine of his blood and they washed each other’s feet declaring them “clean from the blood of this generation.” [4]

…that whoever after being born again by your holy baptism, shall be anointed with this ointment may obtain the fullness of your blessing in body and soul[.] [5]

May this oil be to them who are born again from water and the Holy Spirit, a chrism of salvation making them partakers of life everlasting, and co-heirs of heavenly glory. [6]

Just as the rituals of early Kirtland were the foundation for and integrated into the Kirtland Temple liturgy, so too was this liturgy the foundation for and integrated into the Temple at Nauvoo. In his last recorded discourse Joseph Smith responded to those that found his “King Follet Sermon” disturbing and twisted it for persecution. He described God (and even referenced the Catholic Church). He also described the ultimate end of his sacerdotal travail:

Jesus Christ who hath by his own blood made us Kings & Priests to God. Oh thou God who are King of Kings & Lord of Lords.

After eating, Jesus walked to the Garden of Gethsemane–literally, the Garden of the “Oil Press”—and there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

  1. Though they had not anointed the sick since the 11th century, anointing was still used in baptism, confirmation, ordination and the extreme unction. The only church in America that regularly anointed were the Dunkers, now the Old German Baptist Brethren.
  2. Martin Dudley and Geoffrey Rowell, eds., The Oil of Gladness: Anointing in the Christian Tradition (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1993), 177-8.
  3. In the fall of 1831 Joseph Smith taught that the newly revealed High Priests had authority to seal people up into eternal life.
  4. D&C 88:138. Jonathan Hale remembered his experience:

    On the 4th of April, a number of the seventies met at my house to receive their washing to prepare for the anointing. I received my washing under the hands of Elder Joseph Young, one of the presidents of the seventies. I received my anointing on the 5th of April under the hands of Elders Joseph Young and Harren Aldrich and received a great blessing. April the 6th, which was the solemn assembly, then I received the washing of feet by Elder Heber C. Kimball and he pronounced me clean of the blood of this generation. I had traveled up to this time 2740 miles mostly on foot. (Aroet Hale, Autobiography, BYU Special Collections, Writings of Early Latter-day Saints pg. 3)

  5. Dudley and Rowell, The Oil of Gladness, 179.
  6. Ibid., 182
  7. Joseph Smith, Sermon, June 16, 1844; abbreviations expanded. The entire sermon is worth extensive study.

This post is reposted from a couple of years back. I wanted to write something on the topic and couldn’t muster anything better.


  1. it's a series of tubes says:

    One thousand eight hundred and thirty-five years to the week that Christ washed his disciples feet

    Christ washed the disciples feet circa 0 CE?

  2. whoops. Fixed (though I realize that the dating of the exact year is fuzzy).

  3. it's a series of tubes says:

    Shortly before this, he starred in an E-trade commercial.

  4. jupiterschild says:

    Great post; thanks.
    A nerdy note not meant to distract from an LDS shoutout to Maundy Thursday: “Garden of Gethsemane” never occurs in the NT. The synoptics say he went to a place called Gethsemane, John has a garden and doesn’t mention Gethsemane (and, of course, there’s no suffering therein in John). So it would be that he walked into an oil press in the synoptics, which were always indoors (whether caves or built rooms).

  5. jupiterschild says:

    That is, _oil presses_ were always indoors (to control climate), not Matthew, Mark, and Luke(!).

  6. Love me some nerdy.

  7. Wonderful. I found myself wanting more.

  8. KerBearRN says:

    Thank you for this. I yearn for more recognition within the Church of more of these “traditional” observances. Always feel like we are missing out a little. So I am trying to personally seek out these rememberences of our Savior’s life, mission, death, and resurrection. For me, the visuals and symbolism makes the season more meaningful.

  9. KerBearRN:

    I feel the same way, I would love to see a special thursday sacrament meeting of some sort. Washing of the feet would be nice too but I believe the Prophet and Apostles already do that among themselves.