Hey everyone, welcome back to our Faith and Beliefs segment. In this episode, we’re going to be looking at another temple ceremony that Latter-day Saints consider very sacred. So please be respectful in your comments and let’s learn a little bit more about what we call the Washing and Anointing ordinance.
Now technically, the washing and anointing is the first part of the Endowment ceremony, which we talked about in a previous episode, but you’ll find that we often refer to it as its own thing. This ordinance, like all others, has been revealed line upon line, a bit at a time, over many years. The process has been refined many times. But as the name implies, the gist is that the person participating in this ordinance is symbolically washed with water and anointed with oil. This is called an “initiatory” ordinance because it prepares you for the rest of the Endowment.
The washing with water represents a cleansing, and the anointment is symbolic of being made holy. While this ordinance takes place, the person officiating over the ordinance blesses you along with several parts of your body. If you’re a guy, the officiator is a guy. If you’re a girl, the officiator is a girl, which is really cool because these women are technically using the Priesthood, which normally only the men are authorized to use. But I digress.
It is after this ceremony that Latter-day Saints start to wear the temple garment as an outward symbol and reminder of the promises they make with God in the temple. The temple garment is that magic Mormon underwear you’ve heard about. We’ve talked about it multiple times on the show. It’s not magic. Stop that.
Now, if you’re a normal person, which I’m sure you are, you might be thinking, “this all seems kind of weird. What does any of this have to do with Christianity?” And the answer is, it has everything to do with Christianity! The washing and anointing are referred to all over the place in Christian and Jewish history:
In Exodus 40 we read: “And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and wash them with water. And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.”
Similar scriptures appear in Exodus 28, 29, and Leviticus 8. Also, many prophets and many kings are anointed with oil, usually initiating them into their role. A similar ordinance also shows up in many historic or pseudepigraphical works. (By the way, I’m stealing a lot of this stuff from our friend Brett McDonald, go check his channel out—see the link below). I don’t have time to read through all of these so pause and read them: 2 Enoch 22: Go, extract Enoch from [his] earthly clothing. And anoint him with my delightful oil, and put him into the clothes of my glory…” From the Testaments of the 12 Patriarchs: “The first anointed me with holy oil and gave me a staff. The second washed me with pure water, … and put on me a holy and glorious vestment…” From a 2nd century Jewish text whose name I can’t pronounce: “And Gabriel and Michael stand over them in that hour, and wash them, and anoint them with oil, and heal them of the wounds of Gehenna, and clothe them in beautiful and good garments…” If you’ve been through the temple read the rest of that.
The last quote we’ll look at is from about 350 AD from a lecture given by Cyril of Jerusalem. He’s now a Catholic Saint. And for those who are familiar with the washing and anointing ordinance, you’ll recognize this as significant. It’s a bit long but take a second to pause the video and read over this.
You’ll notice that he mentions the Mystical Chrism, which is an anointing associated with baptism is the Catholic Church. The Coptic Church does something similar after baptism. It would seem that over time, the washing and anointing were merged with baptism, which is especially evident in the pre-baptism ritual outlined in the 1962 Catholic Sancta Missa, where we see similar blessings outlined. I would assume that at some point the early church understandably considered ‘baptism’ to be the ‘washing,’ but don’t quote me on that. We also see other examples of anointing in Catholicism, so it’s a fairly common practice, used for a variety of purposes.
Now one of the things many critics don’t like about the Latter-day Saint washing and anointing is that for a long time the person being washed and anointed would be naked. And I’m with ya there, that’d be super uncomfortable. It was never with anyone of the opposite gender. It wasn’t some kinky thing—but still, I get it. That said, the fact that that’s how they used to do it doesn’t bother me a whole lot, because as we’ve seen from these quotes, anciently, in this or some other forms of anointing you would have been naked. The good news is that you don’t even have to worry about it because the ordinance has since been totally “modestified.”
You will see a total of zero naked people in Latter-day Saint temples. The “washing” is a symbolic washing. Literally one or two drops of water and consecrated oil are used for this whole ordinance. There’s not some old guy waiting for you with a loofah stick. I just want that to be clear.
When you are washed and anointed as part of your own Endowment ceremony, normally you’d proceed from this ceremony straight into the rest of the Endowment, which we covered in this video. But again the Endowment, including the washing and anointing, is an essential ordinance for exaltation, which means we also do them vicariously for ancestors who have died that never had the opportunity—similar to baptisms for the dead, which maybe you’re more familiar with.
That’s a quick rundown of this ordinance. Check out the links in the description for more info, and have a great day!
- Brett McDonald’s video explanation: https://bit.ly/2UaLTcS
- From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/2ZwKdzB
- More from/about Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures: https://bit.ly/2Lr0n4D
- From Latter-Day Saints’ Q&A (start just before 21:00): https://bit.ly/2Ny0gXz
- More about the Temple Garment: https://bit.ly/1MqJPSA