Washings and Anointings
From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Parry, Donald W.
Ritual anointings were a prominent part of religious rites in the biblical world. Recipients of the anointing included temple officiants (Ex. 28:41), prophets (1 Kgs. 19:16), and kings (1 Sam. 16:3; 1 Kgs. 1:39). In addition, sacral objects associated with the Israelite sanctuary were anointed (Ex. 30:22-29). Of equal importance in the religion of the Israelites were ablutions or ceremonial washings (Ex. 29:4-7). To ensure religious purity, Mosaic law required that designated individuals receive a ritual washing, sometimes in preparation for entering the temple (Ex. 30:17-21; Lev. 14:7-8;15:5-27).
The washings and anointings of the biblical period have a parallel today in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In response to a commandment to gather the saints and to build a house "to prepare them for the ordinances and endowments, washings, and anointings" (TPJS, p. 308), these ordinances were introduced in the Kirtland Temple on January 21, 1836 (HC 2:379-83). In many respects similar in purpose to ancient Israelite practice and to the washing of feet by Jesus among his disciples, these modern LDS rites are performed only in temples set apart and dedicated for sacred purposes (D&C 124:37-38; HC 6:318-19).
Many symbolic meanings of washings and anointings are traceable in the scriptures. Ritual washings (Heb. 9:10: D&C 124:37) symbolize the cleansing of the soul from sins and iniquities. They signify the washing-away of the pollutions of the Lord's people (Isa. 4:4). Psalm 51:2expresses the human longing and divine promise: "Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin" (cf. Ps. 73:13; Isa. 1:16).
The anointing of a person or object with sacred ointment represents sanctification (Lev. 8:10-12) and consecration (Ex. 28:41), so that both become "most holy" (Ex. 30:29) unto the Lord. In this manner, profane persons and things are sanctified in similitude of the messiah (Hebrew "anointed one"), who is Christ (Greek "anointed one").
McConkie, Joseph Fielding, and Donald W. Parry. A Guide to Scriptural Symbols. Salt Lake City, 1990.
DONALD W. PARRY