In my undergraduate class on Pastoral Care of the Sick, I always review with my students the history of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.
We have evidence that in the fifth century it was a ritual that could be performed by any of the baptized and that the primary focus of the ritual was on healing any of the baptized who were sick. At the time of the Carolingian Reform in the ninth century, belief and practice starts to shift: only priests and bishops were authorized to anoint and the primary focus was on forgiveness as preparation for a good death. Since children who had not reached the age of reason were judged incapable of sinning they were likewise not in need of forgiveness and hence such children were not suitable candidates for anointing.
I asked my students to evaluate these changes and also to state whether, in case of need, they would prefer to be anointed according to the ritual established by Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council or according to the ritual that was in place from 1614 to the eve of the Council.
As for the first question, students opposed all of the changes that took place following the Carolingian Reform except for one: all the students who expressed an opinion on this question thought that it was a good idea to declare that only priests and bishops could administer the sacrament. Students wrote that this policy ensures that the sacrament will be “more special” and that it would eliminate the risk of “mistakes” and “carelessness” if lay people were allowed to anoint.
As for the second question, nearly all of the students who expressed an opinion stated that they would prefer to be anointed according to the former ritual.
Each student offered some variant of this argument: “We have talked in class about how illness affects the entire person and how humans are biopsychosocial beings. The older rite anoints more parts of the body and it is therefore more holistic.” None of the students who expressed this view offered comments on the change in the sacramental formula (the older version with its emphasis on forgiveness, and the newer version with its emphasis on “help” and being “raised up”). The one student who did express a preference for the newer form did make reference to the emphasis on sin in the older rite which seemed too one-sided.
What say you in the world of Pray Tell? What are your thoughts on how my students evaluated the changes associated with the Carolingian Reform? What are your thoughts about how my students assessed the current and former rites of anointing?