Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 74

Vatican website translation:

74. In addition to the separate rites for anointing of the sick and for viaticum, a continuous rite shall be prepared according to which the sick man is anointed after he has made his confession and before he receives viaticum.

Latin text:

74. Praeter ritus seiunctos Unctionis infirmorum et Viatici, conficiatur Ordo continuus secundum quem Unctio aegroto conferatur post confessionem et ante receptionem Viatici.

Slavishly literal translation:

74. Beyond the distinct rites of the Anointing of the sick and of Viaticum, a continuous rite should be drawn up according to which Anointing is conferred on a sick person after confession and before the reception of Viaticum.

Since the Council Fathers opted in art. 73 to re-orient the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick from immediate preparation for death to pastoral care for those who are ill, art. 74 offers an new structuring of rites for the seriously ill in danger of death. Responding to the Council Fathers’ wishes, the Latin editio typica of the Ordo Unctionis Infirmorum eorumque pastoralis curae appeared in 1972. As we will see in our reflections on art. 75, an apostolic letter from Paul VI (“Sacram Unctionem infirmorum”) was needed to promulgate the new Ordo since the verbal formula associated with the sacramental anointing was changed. In 1983 a rather extensive re-working of the underlying editio typica was promulgated for use in the dioceses of the United States. While the editio typica’s material was translated according to the rules then in force (“Comme le prevoit”), it was supplemented by appropriate material from other documents (Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass, the Rite of Funerals, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and the Rite of Penance) as well as original material; the texts were then re-arranged to make this translation/adaptation as pastorally useful as possible.

Some have seen in this new structuring of the rites at close of life an echo of the rites of initiation celebrated at the beginning of Christian life. The reception of the sacrament of reconciliation corresponds to water Baptism, insofar as both have as a consequence of their fruitful reception the forgiveness of sin(s). The anointing of the sick corresponds to Confirmation, insofar as both sacraments use oil (chrism = perfumed oil) to designate and strengthen the recipient with the power of the Holy Spirit. The reception of Viaticum as “last holy communion” corresponds to the “first holy communion” that is the climax of the initiatory sacramental structure.

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss: 1) what adaptations, if any, appear in the vernacular versions of the Ordo Unctionis Infirmorum eorumque pastoralis curae for territories outside of the United States; 2) how often and effectively and in what circumstances the “continuous rite” called for by art. 74 is actually used; 3) how much of the extensive re-working of the rites of Anointing and Viaticum that appeared in the 1983 USA edition (and parallels) should be preserved in any future (re-)translation of these rites according to the rules articulated in Liturgiam Authenticam.



  1. I have never thought of the analogy between the rites for the dying and the rites of initiation. Do we know if this was a stated reason for the re-ordering? It is fairly unusual for SC to make so specific a directive so I presume that this change was one that was already long-discussed and widely desired.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #1:
      I echo Fritz’s reaction of surprise at the analogy with the order of the sacraments of initiation.

      Michael you introduced this analogy as “some have said.” Could you be more specific? Is this an after-the-fact interpretation, or was this actually part of the reformers intention?

      The whole analogy seems a bit forced to me, but I’m particularly puzzled by the presumption that anointing of the sick corresponds in some way to Confirmation. These are apples and oranges I would think: a different oil, different clusters of symbolism, different scriptural warrants and social background.

  2. I am in Ireland at the moment where the rite is the same as the US one. I also know that when a bi-lingual Spanish-English edition of the US version was produced the Mexican episcopal conference like the look of it and ended up publishing a full Spanish version of the US edition for use in Mexico. I have always found it to be a useful, well put together book and i would hate to think of elements being removed in a future edition. I think we need to be able to publish rituals that are pastorally useful. I would suggest including some of the blessings from the Book of Blessings in future editions. Not everyone can or wants to receive Sacramental Anointing, so when I make hospital visitations, i find it handy to bring the Shorter Book of Blessings, and these can be great in some situations. I have had people refuse to receive the Sacrament of the Sick for various reasons, but nobody has ever turned me down when I offered a blessing.

  3. I recently received the anointing of the sick before surgery. The priest (born and raised in Colombia) anointed the backs of my hands, not the palms. I asked him about what he had done, and he said he was taught that one never anointed the palms of a fellow priest.

    I’m wondering, is this a widespread practice? Is it taught in seminary practica? Or does it smack of being a form of pietistic clericalism?

    1. @Fr. Ron Krisman – comment #4:

      The older Rituale Romanum prescribes the anointing of the back of a priest’s hands; as far as I can tell, there is nothing in the current Rite to indicate that a priest’s hands should or should not be anointed on the backs instead of the palms. I would assume the reasoning is that the priest has had the palms of his hands anointed at his presbyteral ordination.

      Whether or not it is widespread, it certainly seems to not be contrary to the rubrics. In looking for a category to place it in, the one I would use is “laudable”.

  4. In response to Fritz and Rita’s comments: I, too, was rather taken aback by this proposed analogy when I first heard it and I’m not sure it’s particularly convincing. I would distinguish between a PARALLEL between the sacraments initiating one into Christian life and sacraments assisting our transition out of this present life and ANALOGIES between the three sacraments listed in each case.

    For the source of the PARALLEL one need go no further than the _Catechism of the Catholic Church_ 1525: “Thus, just as the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist form a unity called ‘the sacraments of Christian initiation,’ so too it can be said that Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist as viaticum constitute at the end of Christian life ‘the sacraments that prepare for our heavenly homeland’ or the sacraments that complete the earthly pilgrimage.”

    I believe the source of the ANALOGIES to be Phillipe Rouillard, OSB, former professor at S. Anselmo. I have not found these analogies in his written work, but I seem to remember him speculating about these analogies during the class I took from him on funeral rites. Fr. Rouillard was especially interested in anthropological issues and I think he was struck by a kind of “bookending” of forgiveness, oil (whether perfumed or not), and food rituals in Baptism/Penance, Confirmation/Anointing, and “first Eucharist”/”last Eucharist.” I seem to remember this idea as speculation, so perhaps Fr. Roulliard himself wasn’t particularly convinced by these analogies, since I haven’t been able to find any references to it in his writing about funeral rites.

    1. @Michael Joncas – comment #6:

      If there are parallels, there will be analogies.

      I’ve occasionally told people I think of the 7 sacraments in three groups of three, with marriage, ordination and Eucharist as the third triple. This has promoted a set of ideas in my mind that often startles me, both good and bad.

      The idea of the anointing of the sick as analogous to priesthood for instance make sickness a sharing in the suffering of Christ and sets illness as a ministry to the Church. JPII wrote some similar ideas in a different context, which certainly might one day make a full fledged analogy instead of just some half baked ideas in my head.

  5. Since I have not studied the acts of coetus a studiis responsible for the construction of the new rites of the Ordo for _Anointing of the Sick and Their Pastoral Care_ I don’t know if either the parallel or the analogies were part of the thought of the reformers. Since the parallel appears in the CCC, it could very well be a post-reform reflection rather than an iteration of the intent of the reformers.

  6. Thanks, Mike.

    To go to the last point about the reworking of the US edition, I think it’s a beautiful book, intelligently and clearly put together, and it would be a pity not to retain the adaptations and reordering that makes it so user-friendly.

    Since the main idea today seems to be that use of liturgical texts ought to be as awkward and difficult as possible, both for users and listeners, I suspect there is not much chance of my hope being realized.

  7. Re: Rita’s comment in #8: I, too, agree about how well this book is put together and how useful it is in pastoral settings. I hadn’t thought about adding some materials from the Book of Blessings as Fr. O’Donoghue suggests at #2, but it sounds eminently reasonable. Here’s my biggest question, though: how do we convince our bishops that this re-arrangement and supplementing of the editio typica of the _Ordo Untionis Infirmorum eorumque pastoralis curae_ (as well as what was done with the RCIA and the _Rite of Funerals_) is both within their competence and worth arguing for in the face of possible resistance from the CDW in the light of _Liturgiam authenticam_? What mechanisms/processes exist to survey those who actually use the book to see what they would want retained and what they might want to see changed? I do think a lot is at stake here, not just in terms of translation of liturgical texts, but in the continued pastoral utility of this book and other vernacular liturgical books reformed in the same fashion.

    1. @Michael Joncas – comment #9:
      I suppose that we have the great advantage here that the text is already available in multiple very usable editions which, even if they were withdrawn from bookstores tomorrow, the current editions should last for many years to come. It would not be like the new Missal that would have been very hard to ignore. Regarding the bishops, I think it is interesting to note that the 1998 edition of the Cuidado Pastoral de los Enfermos by Buena Prensa in Mexico City is an official liturgical book promulgated by the Mexican Bishops’ Conference without any reference to the CDW in Rome. The head of the Conference simply decided that the US ICEL edition was better than the editio typica and that it was a good idea to prepare a similar edition in Spanish “for the good of the faithful.”

  8. My information is that CDW in the person of Archbishop Arthur Roche is being more accommodating these days and is susceptible to pastoral reasoning. It may be worth going direct to him rather than to a minion.

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