The word for today is Unction. Unction was my last word in the Spelling Bee game and I had a chance to admire it before it flipped over to the Queen Bee screen. If you stare at it long enough it looks like it ought to refer to a strenuous effort on the potty, but it doesn’t. It has to do with oil, and, specifically, anointing people with it.
You rarely hear of unction except in the phrase “extreme unction.” Which does not mean rubbing it in harder. Extreme unction is the unction you get when you’re about to die. It greases the skids into Heaven, or something. So that’s good. Between you and me, some people are going to need more lube than others.
There are rules. You’re only supposed to receive extreme unction when you’re still alive, although in cases where it’s hard to tell there’s always the chance a priest is going to get some oil on a dead person, but he won’t get in trouble for it. According to Catholic practice, extreme unction should not be given to children or the insane. The insane can’t appreciate it and children are just going to track it all over the place.
Usually olive oil is the oil of choice, to sanctify the oilee living in a state of sin, although in obstinate cases a dot of WD-40 could do the trick. Somebody somewhere has stockpiled oil that Moses originally whomped up from God’s recipe but you’re not likely to get the good stuff. It should, however, be special olive oil blessed by a bishop on Holy Thursday. The Costco containers won’t work as well and God can tell. So don’t look for a general drenching. We’re talking a dab on the forehead and hands.
That all got set up in 1972. Prior to that, seven parts of the body were dabbed, corresponding to the seven ways to sin properly, but in English-speaking countries the anointing of the loins was omitted. It doesn’t do any good to arrange for the forgiveness of sins while committing a new one. As Saint Molly Ivins put it, it doesn’t get you any forwarder.
If you happen to have a mortally ill person in your care and they don’t want extreme unction or are afraid of it, you’re in a bit of a pickle. They have to want it, that’s part of the deal. So at that point you’re supposed to send for the priest and let him take the moral hit. You don’t want to have letting a Catholic die without the last sacraments on your scorecard of sins.
Any good ritual has its place, although I’m not the one to ask. I can’t even seem to make my bed in the morning. I prefer to use olive oil to anoint my frying pan. You can anoint objects with oil, as well as people. Biblical people did it all the time, anointing the tabernacle tent, for instance. This signifies that God’s heavenly presence has come down to Earth, and precisely there, at the tent. I guess if no one anoints stuff you wouldn’t know who was responsible for having created it.
So you can anoint your own house with oil, although some people think holy water is preferable for the purpose, and it certainly cleans up better. The late Dr. Rebecca Brown was totally on Team Oil. She suffered a terrific bout of spiritual warfare during which demons entered her house and tormented her and her family, knocking over furniture and pushing them out of bed and trying to strangle them and suchlike, and although she tried rebuking them till hell won’t have it, they kept coming back. Until she sanctified her home by anointing it with oil in all the places the demons could come in. Doorways and windows for sure, she said, but also air ducts, fireplaces, and the little plumbing vents that poke out the roof. It worked! The demons slid right off. She did it every day until her home was protected enough that she could just get away with hitting the doors.
She also realized that Satan can come in through the internet and recommended anointing the cords to your computer. If you have Wi-Fi, you’re going to have to get a big-ass spray bottle.
Dr. Brown probably had enough residual oil on her person to slide out of her life clean, at least we hope so. A medical board-appointed psychiatrist determined she was schizophrenic, but what did they know? They’re due for some rebuking. But if so, she wouldn’t have been eligible for extreme unction anyway.
Spiritual warfare sounds horrible. It’s described as being like demons fighting in your brain. The closest I get is when one part of my brain sees the neighbor coming toward me and says “I’m pretty sure her name is Gloria” and another part says “unless it’s Marilyn.” There’s not enough oil in the world. I just say Hi.