Washing and anointing

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One of ten washing and anointing rooms of the Salt Lake Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints circa 1911.

Washing and anointing (also called the initiatory) is a ritual purification ordinance similar to chrismation that is part of the temple endowment ceremony practiced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and Mormon fundamentalists.

In the deeply sacred ritual, a person, generally a teenager or young adult, is sprinkled with water, then anointed with perfume or oil as a cleansing before God.[1][2] Once washed and anointed, the participant is dressed in the temple garment, a symbolic white undergarment.[3] The ordinance performed by the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood, and by an officiator of the same gender as the participant,[4] is "mostly symbolic in nature, but promis[es] definite, immediate blessings as well as future blessings," contingent upon continued righteous living.[3] These ordinances of washing and anointing are referred to often in the temple as "initiatory ordinances" since they precede the endowment and sealing ordinances.[5]

Just like the other ordinances of the temple, washings and anointings are also conducted on behalf of deceased individuals as a type of "vicarious ordinance".[6]

The origins of these rituals can be traced back to the biblical period, where anointings were used to sanctify individuals and objects, while washings were used for ritual purification.[2][5] The LDS Church introduced washings and anointings in the Kirtland Temple in Ohio in 1836, before revising the rituals in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1842.[1] The modern LDS Church only performs these rites in temples set apart and dedicated for sacred purposes according to a January 19, 1841 revelation said by Joseph Smith to be from Jesus Christ.[7]


Old Testament Period[edit]

Abraham Bloemaert, Ritual Washing of the Israelites, 1606, NGA 56692

Ritual anointings were a prominent part of religious rites in the biblical world. Recipients of the anointing included temple officiants (e.g., Aaron), prophets (e.g., Elisha), and kings (e.g., Jehu, Solomon).[5] In addition, sacral objects associated with the Israelite sanctuary were anointed. Of equal importance in the religion of the Israelites were ablutions (ceremonial washings). To ensure religious purity, Mosaic law required that designated individuals receive a ritual washing, sometimes in preparation for entering the temple.[5]

New Testament Period[edit]

Jesus washing Peter's feet. Painted by Ford Madox Brown.

The rites are in many respects similar in purpose to ancient Israelite practice and to the washing of feet by Jesus among his disciples.

Kirtland Period[edit]

As the Latter Day Saints were completing their first temple in Kirtland, Ohio, founder Joseph Smith led many of the prominent male church members in a pre-endowment ritual patterned after similar washings and anointings described in the Bible.[1] This ritual took place beginning on 21 January 1836 in the attic of a printing office.[1] Their bodies were washed with water and anointed with perfume, and then their heads were anointed with consecrated oil.[1] Soon after the temple's dedication ceremony on 27 March 1836, about 300 Mormon men participated in a further ritual washing of feet and faces.[1]

Nauvoo Period[edit]

Several years later, after Latter Day Saints moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, Smith revised the washing and anointing rituals as part of the new Nauvoo endowment.[1] On 4–5 May 1842, nine prominent male church members were inducted into this endowment ceremony in the upper story of Smith's store.[1] The first woman (Smith's first wife, Emma) was inducted into the endowment ceremony on 28 September 1843.

As the washings and anointings were practiced in Nauvoo, men and women were taken to separate rooms, where they disrobed and, when called upon, passed through a canvas curtain to enter a tub where they were washed from head to foot while words of blessing were recited.[4] Then oil from a horn was poured over the head of the participant, usually by another officiator, while similar words were repeated.[4] As part of the ceremony, participants were ordained to become kings and queens in eternity.[4] Men performed the ritual for men, and women performed the ritual for women.[4] Also, as part of the ceremony, participants were given a new name and a ritual undergarment in which symbolic marks were snipped into the fabric.[4][8]

Early-Utah Period[edit]

After the Latter Day Saints left Nauvoo, women continued to administer washings and anointings in their homes as well as in temples. The in home rituals were part of a practice of administering to the sick.[9] These washings and anointings were encouraged by church leaders of the time including Brigham Young.[9] In one instance Ezra Taft Benson called on women who were ordained to wash and anoint to get rid of a disease affecting the Cache Valley.[9] This practice of washing and anointing in the home was curtailed in the 1880s and by the April 1921 General Conference, the consensus was that Priesthood blessings by Melchizedek Priesthood holders should be sought whenever possible.[9] In 1946 Joseph Fielding Smith sent a letter to Belle S. Spafford saying these washings and anointings were discouraged.[9]


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",[10] these ordinances were introduced in the Kirtland Temple on January 21, 1836.[11] These modern LDS rites are still performed only in temples set apart and dedicated for sacred purposes, according to a January 19, 1841 revelation said by Joseph Smith to be from Jesus Christ.[7]

Symbolic interpretations[edit]

Many symbolic meanings of washings and anointings are traceable in the scriptures. Ritual washings (Heb. 9:10) 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 51:2 expresses the human longing and divine promise: "Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin".[5] The anointing of a person or object with sacred ointment represents sanctification and consecration, so that both become "most holy" unto the Lord.[12] In this manner, profane persons and things are sanctified in similitude of the messiah (Hebrew "anointed one"), who is Christ (Greek "anointed one").[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Buerger (1987, p. 35).
  2. ^ a b John Christopher Thomas describes this Old Testament practice, “This cleansing from bodily uncleanness was a symbol of putting away of the filth of sin; the washing of the body therefore was a symbol of spiritual cleansing, without which no one can draw near to God..." Footwashing in the Old and New Testament, the Graeco Roman World, the Early Church, and the Liturgy
  3. ^ a b Packer (2007).
  4. ^ a b c d e f Anderson, Bergera & Van Wagoner (2005).
  5. ^ a b c d e f Perry (1992).
  6. ^ Gaunt (1996).
  7. ^ a b D&C 124:37–38.
  8. ^ Buerger (1987, p. 56).
  9. ^ a b c d e Newell, Linda King (December 1999). "A Gift Given: A Gift Taken Washing, Anointing, and Blessing the Sick Among Mormon Women" (PDF). Sunstone Magazine (115): 30–43.
  10. ^ Smith (1938, p. 308).
  11. ^ Roberts (1904, pp. 2:379–83); Buerger (2002).
  12. ^ Exodus 30:29