Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 75

Vatican website translation:

75. The number of the anointings is to be adapted to the occasion, and the prayers which belong to the rite of anointing are to be revised so as to correspond with the varying conditions of the sick who receive the sacrament.

Latin text:

75. Unctionum numerus pro opportunitate accommodetur, et orationes ad ritum Unctionis infirmorum pertinentes ita recognoscantur, ut respondeant variis condicionibus infirmorum, qui Sacramentum suscipiunt.

Slavishly literal translation:

75. The number of anointings is to be adapted as seems opportune and the prayers pertaining to the rite of Anointing of the Sick are to be reviewed so that they may respond to the varied conditions [of life] of the sick people who receive the Sacrament.

During the rite of Extreme Unction in use at the time of the Second Vatican Council, the eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, and hands were anointed as well as the feet, accompanied by a prayer seeking forgiveness for sins committed by the particular sense and by the “power to walk.” Significant criticism of this practice appeared in the first half of the 20th C based on on-going theological, historical and pastoral studies. The Council Fathers here seem to agree that prayers for God’s healing presence and the on-going care of the Church for her sick members might be more appropriate that those in use then, focused as they were on the forgiveness of sins. In addition the Council Fathers envision the possibility of a variety of anointing practices better adapted to the condition of those being anointed.

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss: 1) how effective the transition from multiple anointings to anointing of forehead and hands has been in conveying the healing aspects of the Sacrament; 2) how the texts provided for the rite (beyond that of the central texts for the anointing of head and hands) respond to the varying conditions of those receiving the sacrament, i.e., are there categories of the faithful who might need other prayers to address their maladies and situation of faith?; 3) what adaptations of the rite may be appropriate for cultures who do not use oil-anointing as a sign of healing.


  1. I have never understood why the hands were anointed along with the head. I know that there are options to anoint other parts of the body as seems appropriate, but why just the head and hands. Perhaps there is a historical reason? Anyway, it seems just the head would have been sufficient if a minimalist approach were sought. If the goal was sacramentally to signify a more thorough treatment of the whole person, then it seems maybe head, hands, feet and breast would have maintained that. Anyway, the head and hands only seems like a strange compromise.

  2. It seems to me that anointing the forehead (signifying the mind) might be helpful. It isn’t uncommon for dying people to have problems with their thoughts and feelings.

  3. It seems from the wording of the rite that the anointing of hands is intended at least in part to evoke the image of breaking of the bonds of sin.

  4. I smear a good amount of the blessed oil on the person’s forehead and encourage recipients whose hands I am able to anoint to rub the oil into their hands to experience the soothing feeling of the oil. I will also ask family members to do that rubbing if the recipient is not physically able to do so. A few times I have anointed the actual part of the body in need of healing, but there are some obvious exceptions!!

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