The Episcopal Church has four orders: the laity, deacons, priests, and bishops. People entering each order take vows unique to that order. For the laity, these vows are first taken at Baptism and are renewed at a Service of Confirmation. For those entering the diaconate, priesthood, or episcopate, the vows are taken at a Service of Ordination. An episcopate is the office or term of office for a bishop.
Each year, most dioceses of The Episcopal Church gather their clergy during Holy Week for a Eucharistic liturgy that includes the prayers and promises of the renewal of their vows and the blessing of two oils.
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington is unusual in that we offer the opportunity for members of all four orders to recommit to their vows during this service – called, appropriately enough – the Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils. Bishop Mariann invites all who wish – laity, deacons, priests, (and bishops!) – to participate in a Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils service.
The Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils service has roots dating back to 200 AD and was a part of the liturgical reforms of the 1960s and 1970s. At one time the custom was to hold the service on Maundy Thursday, but for practical reasons in more recent times, the service now usually occurs earlier in Holy Week.
Two oils are blessed during the service. One, oleum sacrum or Chrism oil, is used for baptism, and may only be blessed by a bishop in our practice. The other is oleum infirmorum or oil for the sick. Oleum infirmorum is used for anointing those who are ill or near death. This oil may be blessed by a priest, but traditionally is done by a bishop.
In some dioceses, though not in this one, a third oil – called sacrum catechumenocum – may be blessed and used to anoint those entering the Catechumenant. The Catechumenant is a time of instruction on the faith for adults prior to baptism.
The Ven. L. Sue von Rautenkranz