Let Deacons Anoint the Sick

At present, Catholic Church discipline allows only priests and bishops to anoint the sick. I’d like to propose that, in light of the coming Year of Mercy, the Church consider an expansion of this ministry to include deacons and properly prepared and commissioned lay ministers among those who may anoint. This is not an idle question, but one which bears on real pastoral needs of entire families and communities, and is heightened by the priest shortage. The restrictions on anointing today, I would argue, diminish our evangelizing witness as a sacramental church.

Sickness and Suffering

At the close of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI delivered an address to the poor, the sick and the suffering. Here’s how it begins.

To all of you, brothers in trial, who are visited by suffering under a thousand forms, the council has a very special message. It feels on itself your pleading eyes, burning with fever or hollow with fatigue, questioning eyes which search in vain for the why of human suffering and which ask anxiously when and whence will come relief.

He goes on to say that we want to alleviate that suffering, as so many physicians, nurses, and others do, yet there is something more precious still that the Church has to give. “We have something deeper and more valuable to give you, the only truth capable of answering the mystery of suffering and of bringing you relief without illusion.” He is speaking of the mystery  of Christ, the Man of Sorrows, who embraces them with fraternal love and reveals them to be “the preferred children of the kingdom of God.”

The Gift of Anointing

The ordo for the Pastoral Care of the Sick voices many of the same themes Pope Paul VI named in this address—the mystery of suffering, the salvific effect of willingly sharing in Christ’s passion, and the profound love communicated by Christ, the Healer. The sacrament of anointing the sick beautifully announces and makes real the treasure we have through Christ’s compassion. holy-oils

Our problem today, I think, is not with any of that. The problem is that the priest shortage in many places has made it hard – if not impossible — to offer the Sacrament of the Sick to many of the people who could benefit from it. No longer framed as a sacrament celebrated only at the point of death (extreme unction), the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick is intended to bring solace and healing to anyone who is seriously ill, chronically ill, weakened by old age, or facing surgery. In this day and age when even medical interventions like chemotherapy can cause immense suffering before the person recovers, there is a wide range of instances when people are seriously sick and suffering. They are not at the point of death. Yet they surely deserve this powerful and beautiful ministry of the Church. Unfortunately, an increasing number of them won’t get it.

The Need Is Great

It’s not that the sacrament of the sick is never offered. Some parishes hold healing services. Anointing of the sick may be included in Sunday Mass, and it sometimes is (although I have to admit that only one parish I’ve ever belonged to did it on a regular basis). Parish priests do visit the sick, and hospitals generally have a priest they can call in an emergency.

The need on the whole, however, is far greater than our priests can hope to fulfill, even with the best of intentions. The challenge is keenly felt in rural areas, where priests may minister to two, three, or even four parishes. It is experienced in today’s mega-parishes that minister to thousands of Catholics. Also, priests who offer services to a particular language group or to persons with special needs face a formidable task in bringing this sacrament to their pastoral charges, who are typically under-resourced and far flung. Of all the sick, the letter of James, 5:15, says “Bring them to the presbyters.” Right. It may have worked in the first century. Look at today’s hospitals and health care institutions, nursing homes, and homecare networks. There’s no way we’re going to “bring them to the presbyters.” Someone has to go out to them.

It’s heartbreaking, really, to confront the barriers to anointing. I’ve heard it often in table talk with lay chaplains, deacons, and ministers to the homebound. They wish their beloved sick could receive this sacrament, but the chances are slim that they will get it because there just are not enough priests to go around.

The Costs and Challenges

This situation not only disadvantages the sick. It also diminishes the witness Catholics bring to the whole phenomenon of sickness, the frailty of old age, and the process of dying—critical times in the lives of whole families and communities. If we are not there for people sacramentally at such times, what is different about our approach from that of any other “good people” who practice other religions or no religion?

Some will say that the restriction of the administration of this sacrament to bishops and priests raises its status. I disagree. I think it actually undermines general esteem for the sacrament if it is not offered when the need is there. The message quietly sent by letting this sacrament go uncelebrated is this: Anointing the sick is nice but quite unnecessary.

As we approach the upcoming Year of Mercy, I think the church should revisit the question of who may anoint the sick—not as an abstract question, but as a question in all its concreteness. And I hope we might do so with evangelical boldness.

History and Theological Questions

Anointing the sick is a practice going back to apostolic times. It is the subject of exhortation in the letter of James. A literal reading of James 5:15 to warrant an absolute restriction to priests however (“bring them to the presbyters”) is not supported by Christian history. Lay persons anointed the sick during the patristic era, as church sources attest. Anointing of the sick was not restricted to clergy until the eighth century.

The letter of James associates anointing with forgiveness, but it does not say explicitly that forgiveness comes through the priest who anoints. The statement is more general, clothed in the exhortation to pray for one another. The Council of Trent however did explicitly say that the priest or bishop is the proper minister of anointing and that the sacrament of the sick forgives sins. The Second Vatican Council repeated these assertions.

The question of whether a permanent deacon may anoint the sick has come up in our time because of pastoral need. This has been argued against on the basis that the anointing of the sick also forgives sins and a deacon does not have that power. This argument does not dispose of the question, however. Deacons are permitted to baptize (and even a lay person may baptize in case of an emergency), and baptism forgives all sin. Is it theologically possible to distinguish between the sins of the unbaptized, which can be forgiven by a deacon who baptizes, and the sins of a baptized person, which may not be forgiven via the anointing of the sick? It’s also interesting to note that the practice of private confession and reconciliation as we know it today originated with Irish monks (lay people) and was only later restricted to priests. The question of how forgiveness is mediated – even in the Sacrament of Reconciliation — has been answered variously in Christian history, prompted by pastoral circumstances and needs.

David N. Power, writing in the journal Concilium (“The Sacrament of Anointing: Open Questions,” Concilium, 1991/2) noted that there are three historical factors that must be taken into account in considering the question of the minister of anointing in the present age. First is the identity of the presbyteroi of whom the letter of James speaks. They had some official role in the church, but it is not clear that these elders received it by the laying on of hands—an assumption usually made by those who simplify the question and say they are the exact equivalent today’s priests. Second is the widespread practice of lay anointing in the early centuries, as we’ve already noted. Third is the intention of the Council of Trent in defining the “proper” minister. Drawing on the work of André Duval, he observes that the word “proper”—an unusual usage—may have been chosen to counter attacks by the Reformers on the nature of priesthood rather than to settle once and for all the question of who may anoint.

Imagine New Solutions

The Catholic community has been resourceful in ministering to the sick through the years, founding hospitals and health care institutions, devoting whole religious apostolates to care of the sick, and praying in various ways for their welfare. In our own day, deacons, lay chaplains, parish visitors to the homebound, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion have augmented the role of priests in meeting the spiritual needs of the sick. They show the face of Jesus by their caring presence, by their prayers, and by bringing the Eucharist to those who cannot come to church. I am profoundly touched whenever I see ministers of the Eucharist sent out from the altar at the end of the communion rite at Sunday Mass—knowing that they are taking Holy Communion from our celebration and going out to bring it into the homes of the sick, and into hospitals and other facilities. It deepens our sense of being united with the sick and homebound.

We already send out ministers to bring  the Eucharist, the premier sacrament to which all other sacraments are ordered. Could the bishop not also properly train and depute special ministers to anoint the sick, and similarly send them out to places where the need is great? To increase the number of people who may anoint the sick is not the same as creating a free-for-all in which anyone with a warm heart can take a bottle of Bertoli’s and do what they will. A preparation process and an adapted rite would have to be devised, the limits of which would need to be carefully delineated. But the point is, we have the ingenuity to do it. We have the faith to do it. If we can come up with an order of service for a Sunday celebration in the absence of a priest, we can certainly do this.

And as we do it, perhaps the most important ministry to remember is the ministry of the sick themselves. The sick are also ministers of the celebration. They themselves are a powerful sign and a true participant in Christ’s saving work of redemption. In the words of Paul VI: “Know that you are not alone, separated, or useless. You have been called by Christ and are His living and transparent image” and “with him, if you wish, you are saving the world.” The experience of anointing the sick that brings forward this grace-filled truth is well worth extending.


  1. Rita, what a marvelous article.

    I’ve spoken through the years with a number of deacons who do hospital ministry and have expressed the pain and frustration they’ve experienced at having to decline to anoint the sick. I’ve also spoken with other deacons who surreptitiously ‘anoint’ anyway – another worrisome phenomenon (or abuse, if we are willing to use that term) brought about by the existing pastoral practice and theology. And finally, I’ve heard from deacons who make their rounds at the same time as lay chaplains from other denominations who do anoint; it will happen from time to time that a Catholic patient will ask a deacon to anoint, and upon being politely declined, will ask the Protestant layperson anointing the other person in the semi-private room to please anoint him/her, too.

  2. One other thing that I’ve witnessed because of the declining numbers of priests: having a priest on call at a hospital doesn’t mean that a priest will respond to a call from a hospital. For whatever reason, it happens from time to time that a priest doesn’t pick up the phone, doesn’t come when he’s needed. I’ve seen hospital staff call a whole list of priests in a vain attempt to find one who will come to visit a patient who needs a priest. I don’t say priests are bad guys in this; they have many demands and may not always be able to get to the hospital. But it’s hard to think of a more serious pastoral breach between church and disciple than failing to respond to someone who is seriously ill or dying.

    1. @Jim Pauwels:
      Thank you, Mr. Pauwels, for extending Ms. Ferrone’s cri du coeur.
      After 34 years working as a hospital chaplain I can attest that I have witnessed/experienced all that you write about.

    1. @Jeffrey Maurer:
      Thanks, Jeffrey. The adaptation for use by deacons and lay ministers would have to exclude the provision for sacramental confession, which at present exists in the rite as an option. The option would simply not be available in those situations where the minister is not a priest.

  3. As a former diaconate director, in the past Rome has steadfastly refused. Here’s hoping Francis may believe differently. Susan Wood gives a very good insight on why deacons (and laity, I think) should have the faculty to anoint, in a book published by Lit Press which I cannot lay my hands on at the moment (not Sacramental Orders, one on the Anointing of the Sick).

    Excellent thoughts, Rita, and here’s hoping also for Reconciliation Rite III.

  4. Recourse to historical practices of anointing can’t resolve the issue without being linked to historical theory. Okay, non-priests used to anoint in the ancient Church . . . but was it considered a sacrament? The case of tariff penance provides a good parallel. Irish monks used to confess to lay brothers and receive penances, but was this a useful spiritual practice or evidence of sacramental absolution by laymen? Are you also contesting the restriction of absolution to sacerdotes on the basis of this historical evidence?

    1. @Aaron Sanders:

      “Okay, non-priests used to anoint in the ancient Church . . . but was it considered a sacrament?”

      Short answer: Yes.

      Slightly longer answer: The precise numbering of the sacraments as 7- no more and no less -dates only to the 12th century as far as we know, so it is anachronistic to talk about “sacrament” too restrictively before then. But of course there were rites celebrated before the 12th century that we would now say is one of the 7 sacraments. And from that standpoint, I’m pretty confident we can say that laity anointing with episcopally-blessed oil was what we now call the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.


  5. As an assigned Hospital Chaplain by my Archbishop, I welcome this dialog. Although I have a nice list of Priests to call upon along with an assigned Priest who is on the Hospital three days a week, receiving limited faculties to anoint those near death when a priest is unavailable I believe supports our Catholic faith of salvation of souls. I have performed several Hospital Baptisms of premature babies prior to their death. The mercy received by the infant and family underscore the richness of Jesus’ love for us through Holy Mother Church. Dialog is important on this topic. There are times when I could not provide that mercy as the patient slipped away from earthly bonds. Thanks for the dialog.

  6. Thank you Rita for the article. It is well thought out and certainly very timely. I do not oppose deacons anointing the sick and administering holy communion (if so desired) so long as the anointed are not near death. Perhaps a lay minister might merely anoint each point of the body without any words.

    I am still convinced that confession and the apostolic pardon must accompany the viaticum. I certainly want to confess and receive the apostolic pardon before I die. I have a great fear that in my hour of death there will be no priest available to hear my confession and pronounce the pardon. Anointment by deacons and by laypersons is never a substitute for the unique sacerdotal role in the spiritual departure of the dying. I fear that some consider a ministry of deacons and laypersons to be a suitable substitute.

  7. I have had two close relatives and several friends from my former parish who were in the end of life stages or hospitalized unable to find a priest for whatever reasons. For this reason, rightly or wrongly, i keep a small vessal of oil of the sick in my home and use it when called upon. I am not ordained or pretend to be; i bring the healing presence of Christ to these people in word and anointing. As far as forgiving sins, it is CHRIST Himself who forgives whether through an ordained person or not. I simply ask the person (in silence) to make their confession to God and assure them that they are forgiven. i even had to give the final rites a few times due to the same problems. rita wrote an excellent artical and it shound be studied. in the meantime there are thousands of the faithful who will die without the final rites/sacraments because we can’t find a priest…..

  8. Thanks for this, Rita, which sums up a lot of my own thinking.

    In this part of the world, the number of ministers of Communion who visit hospitals and who have been telephoned by those hospitals to come and anoint when no priest or deacon was available (yes, I know deacons can’t anoint, but hospitals don’t know that) is considerable. This is why all our ministers of Communion are trained in visiting the sick, and in what I call “the Church’s ministry of touch” — the best we have in the absence of anointing by a priest. It may be something as simple as laying a hand on top of a sick person’s hand when praying with them, or touching their upper arm or shoulder, or it could be tracing a large sign of the cross on their forehead. Whatever seems an appropriate thing to do becomes part of that physical contact which we all need as human beings.

    I am intrigued by Jeffrey Maurer’s reference (#3) to confession. I am sure that many other ministers of Communion will echo my own experience, which is that I have often in fact been asked to hear someone’s confession by a person who will not take No for an answer when I tell them that I cannot do that. And so you become part of “the Church’s ministry of listening”. What they want is for someone to listen to them and pray with them in their spiritual discomfort. When the time comes for what would in a different situation with a priest be absolution, I find a formula of words which is definitely not sacramental absolution but which brings them comfort and peace. We pray together for wholeness and healing. I say again, I know that many other ministers of Communion and sick visitors will have had this experience and will have done something similar.

    Is this sinful? I do not think so. I may not be able to pronounce the apostolic pardon that Jordan would like to have, but I can help people travel what may be their final journey, with sensitivity and gentleness, in the absence of any other minister of the Church. It is a tremendous privilege.

  9. One sorry memory from my mother’s agony in dying last October: I had to remotely arrange for a priest to administer the Sacraments while she was in an ER bay awaiting ICU. Their pastor directed me to the hospital chaplain. I had to leave a message with an ER nurse to summon the chaplain. My father was present with my mother (I did the arranging so he didn’t have to leave her side). The chaplain came and gave her the Sacraments, bless him. But when my father asked him about apostolic pardon, the chaplain said “I’ve done what I can” and left my father with the impression that it’s not done any more and left. I realize some people (including priests) may view indulgences with something like benign neglect (I’ve encountered contempt, too), but I plead with hospital chaplains with the necessary faculties: be generous – at least if asked (my attitude would be – unless your are indeed pressed between emergencies, which does happen, but was not the case here, always err in being generous – it’s the progressive thing to do – and just offer it anyway). The prayers, blessings and indulgences associated with dying are among the most gorgeous Catholicism has to offer: don’t be frugal. Pour them out like balm.

  10. The idea seems interesting. Two questions:

    Would letting deacons become extraordinary ministers of anointing of the sick cause ecumenical issues with other Christians who administer this sacrament? I imagine that the Orthodox might care about this more than Anglicans, for instance.

    Are there other instances when ministers of a sacrament have been changed for a jubilee or papally-declared year? It seems unprecedented.

  11. This is a great discussion and challenging points, Rita. Thanks for bringing it here.

    I’m not sure that simply adapting the rite of anointing to exclude sacramental confession and absolution would solve the problem. Not only is there still the question of who can forgive sins but also in what part of the rite does sacramental reconciliation happen? The anointing itself, as Rita mentioned from Trent and VII, takes away sins through the Holy Spirit. But is it simply the oil infused by the grace of the Holy Spirit that forgives? Is it the anointing joined by the words of the minister at the moment of anointing? I guess I’m trying to figure out what exactly would need to be adapted to make a ritual used by deacons and laypersons viable within our current sacramental theological system?

    I’m more intrigued by Rita’s question on whether or not there’s a difference between the forgiveness of sins effected by baptism and reconciliation that is post-baptismal. My gut wants to say yes. A quick look at the Catechism offers one possible difference: the forgiveness received through baptism does not remove the inclination to sin nor human frailty and weakness. Prior to baptism, I presume that one “sins” for lack of sacramental grace that helps a person avoid sin. However, after baptism, the sins committed are those caused by our own weakness despite having been made new by baptismal grace.

    That pre/post baptismal difference must matter, shouldn’t it? Wouldn’t this line of thinking be related to the essential difference between the Scrutinies and the Sacrament of Penance?

    I know I’m not addressing the pastoral realities Rita raised. But in our struggle to address the pastoral need, I also want to uphold the connection between ritual practice and theological expression of our belief.

    Here’s a thought related to Paul’s comments. All the baptized are called to the ministry of comfort, which helps prepare one for the sacraments of healing. Until we have a solution, we can encourage the faithful to exercise…

  12. I am so thankful that the Holy Catholic Faith remains the same in and out of season. His Holiness Pope Francis has exhorted us to refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to help confirm our knowledge of the True Faith.

    Therefore, in obedience to His Holiness Pope Francis, on the issue at hand, I will rely upon the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    CCC #1516…”Only priests (bishops and presbyters) are ministers of the Anointing of the Sick.”131. The CCC’s footnote in question referenced the Council of Trent.

    I accept that which the Church has taught always and everywhere in regard to the Sacrament in question.

    That is sufficient for me.


    Mark Thomas

    1. @Mark Thomas:
      Mark, “fundamentalism” could be defined as “insisting on certain fundamentals, oftentimes for emotional reasons, in the face of contrary factual evidence.”

      A Protestant example of fundamentalism is “I will believe what the Bible teaches about creation of all things by God in six days, despite the solid scientific evidence of gradual evolution over billions of years.” A more common Catholic version of fundamentalism is that “popes have always taught the same thing and the doctrinal formulations of the church have never changed.”

      Your assertion that the Catholic Faith remains the same, and that the Church has always and everywhere taught the same thing, seems to be a case of fundamentalism. The historical evidence is clear that in the early Middle Ages, bishops blessed oil and then this oil was used by priests, deacons, and lay people to anoint sacramentally. The church has not always and everywhere taught that only priests may anoint sacramentally. Things changed so that the church began teaching this.

      There may well be good reasons for reserving anointing to priests. But what you give – which is historically unsupported – is not such a good reason.


  13. This is an interesting article, which provides a solution to a perceived problem. While we might be able to trade anecdotes over the years of those who have sought the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and have been unable to by either a lack of available priests or the unwillingness of priests to administer this Sacrament which according to current teaching of the Church only they may celebrate.

    I really question that today there are many people who would desire to receive the Sacrament of Anointing who are unable to. I live in a “Rust belt” diocese where most of the last 25-30 years it was often stated that weekly Mass attendance was somewhere at 25% of Catholics, now optimistically the chancery states that 12-17% are attending Mass weekly.

    It goes without saying that if even 17% of baptized Catholics are attending weekly Mass, only a small percentage of them are taking part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a yearly basis. Catholic funerals and weddings, have plummeted.

    It’s hard for me to imagine that other than some of our older Catholics, catechized prior to the Vatican II, would even find the need to receive the Sacrament of the Sick.

    That being said – if this is a Sacrament that is in demand and diocesan and religious priests aren’t willing or available to celebrate it – there is an option. It’s my understanding that in addition to being able to hear confessions of a dying penitent, those priests out of active ministry can not only hear their confessions but can also celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick.

    Instead of changing doctrine to increase the number of ministers of the Sacrament, why not even unofficially put laicized and other priests not in ministry in places such as hospice, nursing homes, and hospitals where they can validly and licitly celbrate Penance and Anointing of the Sick?

  14. We also need to remember that the Church’s real “Last Rite” is Viaticum, “food for the journey.” I know some people are not able to receive at the end of their life because of medical/hospital situations, but the reception of Eucharist as Viaticum is THE last rite.

  15. The council of Trent taught things consistent with the understanding of sacramental theology and ecclesiology that prevailed at the time. We have come a long way since that time. While VII continued to maintain an essential difference between ordained priests and the priesthood of the faithful, it’s understanding of Mass and the sacraments represents a huge development. There were things unthought of at Trent that today are common practice. People receiving communion regularly. Priestly people offering Mass with the priest. “Merely” baptized people distributing holy communion and leading services when necessary. Married deacons ministering at the altar and preaching. And on and on. Do not the signs of the times allow for thinking outside the box if it means serving the genuine needs of God’s people.
    The practice of extra sacramental anointings with blessed oil is also an option for the fundamentalists who insist on looking upon sacramental anointing as a preserve of the priests. The people are asking for a little compassion for their suffering, shall we only offer them quotes from the CCC?

    1. I don’t understand as to why it’s a problem to quote the CCC, which, His Holiness Pope Francis has exhorted us to study and refer to as the CCC is “a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.”

      The Church teaches that the CCC is “a sure and authentic reference text for teaching catholic doctrine…it is also offered to all the faithful who wish to deepen their knowledge of the unfathomable riches of salvation…is offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes.”

      Therefore, to discuss whether to permit persons other than priests to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, it would be bizarre not to consult that which Holy Mother Church teaches on said topic.

      I don’t understand the need to inject emotionalism into this discussion. It is unhelpful to suggest that it’s unfortunate to quote the CCC when people are asking for a little compassion for their suffering.

      We must pray for and comfort the suffering. That is without question.

      But that aspect is far removed from the fact that a topic was introduced for discussion. Rita Ferrone said that she would “like to propose that, in light of the coming Year of Mercy, the Church consider an expansion of this ministry to include deacons and properly prepared and commissioned lay ministers among those who may anoint.”

      To consider intelligently her proposal, we must understand that which the Church teaches in regard to her proposal. We must examine the history of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick…and so forth.

      When somebody does just that, he or she is subjected to emotional responses…”people are suffering, they require compassion. Therefore, why are we referring to the CCC?”

      Again, how can we possible consider Rita Ferrone’s proposal without referring to and referencing the Church’s teaching on the topic at hand?

      Thank you.


      Mark Thomas

      1. @Mark Thomas:

        I think the official line that has been taken by the Catechism and the CDF statement, which you cite, is well known. (See Lee Bacchi’s comment at #9.)

        The trouble is two-fold. First, the description of the evidence found in the supporting text of the CDF statement is, I believe, incomplete and biased in favor of maintaining the status quo. The full argument that may be made on the basis of historical sources, however, goes well beyond the goal of this blog post.

        Second, and more important for this post, is that the official statements on these questions are being heard as “Let them eat cake.” — “So, you are sick. You are dying. There is no priest, so no anointing. Too bad for you. We are right. We are the ones who are protecting the sacraments.” What I am saying is that we can do better. This approach does not do justice to the people of God. It does not proclaim the gospel faithfully. It does not further the great tradition, which always responds to human need. Rather, it assures that a narrow interpretation of the tradition will hold sway. And that means people will go without the sacrament.

        The care of souls is the highest value in the administration of the sacraments. I believe a middle ground can be discovered if we have the will to do so. I am not opposed to the priestly ministry to the sick. I fully endorse and respect it. I only wish it could be augmented through “extraordinary ministers” who would assist in cases of need, and in a way that is carefully crafted and appropriate.

        Our current ritual books allow a priest to bless oil of the sick — something never done before. If we can change the role of the Bishop (who was the exclusive agent of blessing previously), in order to assure that oil will be available, surely we can make a reasonable accommodation for deacons (and others) to assist in the act of anointing. This represents a change. But a needed one.

      2. @Mark Thomas:
        Dear Mark,
        Rita has answered well and I hope I’m not repeating her comments.
        I don’t think anyone is denying that the Church now teaches what it does, and that it is the Church authorities who make the final decision on this matter. The CDF statement is to be ‘definitively held’ (which is actually a someone low category in the ranking of teachings), and I certainly hold to that statement as the current teaching by the legitimate authority.
        But church statements can’t change the facts of history, and historians will keep doing their work as they should. When the Pontifical Biblical Commission decreed in the early 20th century that Moses wrote the Pentetuch and Noah existed as a historical figure, that didn’t make it historically true. Historical scholarship showed otherwise, and the Vatican later ruled that the earlier decrees could be ignored.
        It is one thing to hold to Church teachings, as you seek to do. But it is another thing to claim that the teachings settle historical questions, and yet another thing to claim that theologians should not reflect on Church teachings and contribute to their ongoing development. Please note that at Pray Tell, our discussions go forward with the common understanding that the last two claims (about history, and about doctrinal development) are wrong.
        It is agreed at Pray Tell that those who wish to shut down discussions by claiming that church teaching settles historical questions, or that doctrine can’t developed and can’t be discussed, are not able to contribute to our discussions. That’s a harsh truth, but that’s the way it is and it is my job as moderator to enforce that – for the sake of our readers who want a good discussion.

  16. Three problems.

    Firstly, the case that lay people administered the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick has not been made out. All that has been shown is that both lay and ordained were involved in anointing, and that a subset of these anointings (those administered by presbyters) have subsequently been recognised as a Sacrament (per Trent and Vatican II etc).

    It does not follow the remaining anointings were or can be Sacraments. So that assertion, unless further evidence can be provided, must be put aside.

    And this leads to the second problem – The trap of fundamentalism denying development is not just for those saying a teaching cannot change. The development, yes valid change in the teaching of the Church, which recognised the Sacraments out of a larger group of rites which early Christians may not have distinguished must equally be respected. It is after all no less fundamentalism just because you make it sola up to the end of the patristic age, rather than sola scripture.

    Thirdly, and more positively, we should keep in mind that those of us who are not presbyters don’t need to act like one to fulfil our ministry. Could we not propose perhaps a deacon or lay person anointing with episcopally blessed oil be reintroduced as a sacramental, which could undoubtedly bring grace and comfort to the sick, while respecting the truths revealed by the Holy Spirit in the doctrinal developments at Trent and Vatican II?

    1. @Scott Smith:
      “It does not follow the remaining anointings were or can be Sacraments. So that assertion, unless further evidence can be provided, must be put aside.”

      This is special pleading. Since this is a historically disputed issue, we shouldn’t “put it aside,” i.e. dismiss it, but keep it on the table and note that it is disputed. It’s an open question at the level of historical research (I mean that, not doctrinal pronouncement); it is not a dismissed and dispatched of question.

      I like your idea, though, of a non-sacramental anointing by deacons and lay people. It seems that the tradition allows for that.


      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:

        This is special pleading.

        No, I am afraid I have not been sufficiently clear. The historical evidence provided does not establish the point, and really, it is not clear how it could.

        Even if it could be shown, historically speaking, that at Christians at various earlier times before the Sacraments were fully defined may not have distinguished between such lay and priestly anointings, what of it? I could likely make an even better case along these lines for the anointing of a King at his coronation to be the eighth sacrament, as it some indeed apparently called it in the middle ages.

        But with the growth and development of doctrine, later Tradition has authoritively distinguished these anointings into those which are Sacraments proper and those which are sacramentals. And so unless one denies the validity of the development of doctrine, these later developments must be respected, regardless of the earlier history. Because protestant fundamentalism with a later cut off point is still protestant fundamentalism.

        Non-sacramental anointing by deacons and lay people. It seems that the tradition allows for that.

        Indeed. The historical case for this HAS been made out, and it would seem to meet the identified pastoral need.

        Particularly when, with the history we are discussing in mind as well as current Eastern Catholic theology, we remember the divide between Sacraments and Sacramentals is not a wide as some make it. They are all equally mysteries of the Church in their own way.

        Accordingly, a proposal along those lines would be much more likely to reach consensus, be adopted, and actually assist people in need.

  17. A very interesting conversation on many levels. It does, however, raise a question for me. As a priest in a parish which shares coverage of a hospital with other local parishes, it is commonly known – by the hosppital and the other parishes – that “St. Kunigunda” will cover all calls, day or night, even on those days which are not ours to cover. We know and accept that it is our privileged task to care for the sick when they need to be cared for. Others, sadly, do not see it that way. My question to the current conversation is this: when an emergency call is received in the middle of the night, will the deacon or lay minister “on call” (I presume) be there to respond? Or, is that when the priest is needed… or used? Or, is the proposal that the additional “anointers” operate only during the day, with the night belonging exclusively to the priest?

  18. Father Anthony Ruff #20

    Dear Father Ruff, thank you for allowing me to converse with you. Father, you said that my “assertion that the Catholic Faith remains the same, and that the Church has always and everywhere taught the same thing, seems to be a case of fundamentalism.”

    Father, I don’t understand as to how that is a case of fundamentalism. The Catholic Faith is the same today as it was yesterday. God’s Truth does not change.

    Father, you also said that “The church has not always and everywhere taught that only priests may anoint sacramentally. Things changed so that the church began teaching this. There may well be good reasons for reserving anointing to priests. But what you give – which is historically unsupported – is not such a good reason.”

    Father, Holy Mother Church teaches that from the earliest of times, only priests have administered the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. That is what She has taught always and everywhere.

    In 2005 A.D., the Church reiterated that She is so certain as to Her teaching in question that She declared the following:

    “The doctrine which holds that the minister of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick “est omnis et solus sacerdos” enjoys such a degree of theological certainty that it must be described as a doctrine “definitive tenenda”.

    “The Sacrament is not valid if a deacon or a layman attempts to administer it.”


    Mark Thomas

  19. This is a fine conversation. I would suggest that there are three areas that merit further (long term) reflection: the sacraments as actions of the whole Church (Christ and his members), the implication in the restored Rites of Christian initiation that at least one sacrament (baptism) is a process, the influence of medieval thought that the priest has “power” over the sacraments ( the idea that the Church controls grace). None of the will provide an immediate answer to the important question posed, but I think do provide some broader context for thinking through the question.

  20. If we are going to quote CCC, paras 1393-1395 are relevant to this discussion. They tell us that receiving the Eucharist frees us from all except grave sin. So, even if anointing it not possible, at least someone who is dying may receive some comfort at the hands of a minister of Communon, whether ordained or not. And lay ministers of Communion often do not realize that they may also give Communion as viaticum.

  21. Really, this is an astonishing proposal by Rita. Well intended, no doubt; but astonishing.

    The criticism leveled against Mark for simply leaning on the CCC and the CDF statement would be worth some discussion (one having no dogmatic authority per se, the other having a limited one) if both did not rest upon the universal and unbroken tradition of the Church, West and East (which indeed requires not just one but multiple priests as normative practice), but also multiple dogmatic affirmations that a priest is the sole minister of the sacrament (Sess. XIV, Ch. 3), as well as Scripture (James 5:14-15). That current (problematic, in my view) law now permits priests to bless the oils is really…just not a valid analogy, given that there is not anything like the same tradition or anathemas of the contrary position. We are talking about a sacrament, not a sacramental.

    The whole proposal is even more problematic once it becomes apparent that, in the effort to answer obvious difficulties, Rita opts to expand the ambition of what is being proposed. What about the necessity of confession, she asks? Not a problem; this can be extended to the deacon/lay minister, too. So now we’re talking about two sacraments which can now dispense with priests. Why not all the rest? There is an ominous theological diminution in the priesthood at work in the logic of this proposal.

    I fully grok the pastoral crisis at work: fewer priests, especially fewer younger priests, means less ready access to this sacrament. Rita is right to say that “The care of souls is the highest value in the administration of the sacraments” – even more emphatically, we might add, salvation of souls is the highest law of the Church. But while praxis can and should adapt to reality, the teaching of the Church cannot. Nor are we even so helpless (yet) as the Catholics of Japan, who were compelled to sustain their faith without the Eucharist for two centuries. The answer is a priest shortage is to ordain more priests.

    1. @Richard Malcolm:
      “What about the necessity of confession, she asks? Not a problem; this can be extended to the deacon/lay minister, too.”

      Not true. I never said this. How you could possibly think I had is sort of mysterious, since I said the exact opposite.

      Here’s what I said, in comment #4: “The adaptation for use by deacons and lay ministers would have to exclude the provision for sacramental confession, which at present exists in the rite as an option. The option would simply not be available in those situations where the minister is not a priest.”

  22. Jim Pauwels : I don’t say priests are bad guys in this; they have many demands and may not always be able to get to the hospital. But it’s hard to think of a more serious pastoral breach between church and disciple than failing to respond to someone who is seriously ill or dying.

    I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, I have been witness to at least one priest who did not take this duty seriously.

    My sense is that most are simply over scheduled and overbooked. Fewer priests are on staff or on call at hospitals, even Catholic ones. (Likewise, serving as military chaplains.) But the increased priest-to Catholic ratio we face in the U.S. now dictates that extra effort must be made to be attentive to those in need of this sacrament.

  23. Hello Rita,

    If I’ve misread you, I apologize. But two difficulties appear here: 1) If sacramental confession is excluded, it is not, by definition, the sacrament of anointing/unction, is it, since as defined by Trent and Eugene IV it includes as its necessary effects the remission of sins (even if in the Pauline reformed rite, penance is listed as an “option”)? 2) Your original discussion certainly seems to be flirting with doing just that, which leaves me to wonder how firmly you are backing away (if indeed, “backing away” is a fair characterization) from the idea now.

    In the essay, you suggest that this concern about confession “does not dispose of the question,” noting that deacons are permitted to baptize, and “baptism forgives all sin.” You then pose questions which seem almost leading, also noting the winding historical byways of the sacrament of penance (for ex., the subsequently condemned sporadic practice of confessing to laypeople, some of them monks, in the Medieval era). It certainly does seem that you are not excluding the possibility that this sacrament, too, could be extended to laypeople – or at least that you are suggesting that there is a good case for it, even if you don’t explore it at length.

    So are you absolutely excluding any possible conferring on laypeople the office of minister of the sacrament of penance now? If so, why did you not make this more plain in the essay?

    1. @Richard Malcolm:
      “If I’ve misread you”

      You haven’t read me at all, so far as I can tell. I repeated what I said, and now you are willfully ignoring what I’ve said, preferring your imagination of what you think I meant and then challenging me to deny it. And then you want to blame me for not making more explicit what I’ve actually said, and said again, when I’ve never said or implied otherwise? Pfui.

      And by the way, you owe me a real apology. You stated directly that I said something which I never said. I proved to you that I said the opposite.

  24. It is not possible for deacons or laity to offer the Sacrament of Anointing for the simple reason that it is beyond the power of such persons to do so validly. The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick carries with it—with or without the confessional element—the sacramental forgiveness of sins. This sacred power and authority, the forgiveness of sins of the baptized, resides only within the person of a priest (or bishop) because it is the priest who is ordained to Christ as Priest, as Head (of the Mystical Body, the Church). It requires this sacramental configuration in order to validly confer the Sacrament of Anointing.

    A deacon is configured to Christ as Servant by his ordination, and so he can only act in the manner of a servant, at the discretion and delegation of bishops and priests. He does not have the authority and power to forgive sins, and this cannot be delegated apart from ordination as a priest. An un-ordained layperson is even less capable, having no share in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

    It is good to be inspired by holy years, but one must not be overtaken in such a way as to think that they imply a wholesale upending of divine law itself. It is divine law that governs the Sacraments, not simply the whimsical rules or programs of human clerics.

  25. To go meta here, I think it’s unrealistic to expect that a broad concept discussion will prosper by avoiding what may at first blush appear to be narrower technical issues. Those technical issues can turn out to be illuminating hinges in a broader discussion, not necessarily rabbit holes.

  26. Alongside the letter of James, the Gospel of Mark describes the first mission of the apostles as including an anointing ministry to the sick. The connection made there persists when the Church associates anointing of the sick with apostolic ministry.

    Is this an accurate way to read the Gospels? I think it would be better to see in this a description of the fundamental mission of the Church. When we are sent, we bring healing to the sick. We see the suffering and recognize Christ, the anointed.

    We might also read that Jesus was anointed “beforehand for burial” by someone who was not one of the 12. But that is another story…

  27. I would certainly support a proper method of getting more folks into the business of anointing the sick. Let the un-hospitalized squabble over details.

    Several years ago I was in hospital for a long period. After two weeks, a gentleman came in, introduced himself as Fr. Bob, and apologized profusely about the delay. It was a big hospital, a tiny church, and we chatted amiably and he administered Communion.

    Two weeks later, a different guy came in and introduced himself as a Eucharistic Minister and apologized about the month’s delay. When I told him not to worry, that Fr. Bob had been in, he grew silent. Then he went on:

    “Short guy? Brown hair? Sort of young?”
    “Yep. That’s him.”
    The man paused. “He’s not a priest. He’s a Eucharistic Minister and it’s not the first time he’s pulled that. Thank you for letting me know.”

    Not sure what would have happened if I’d asked “Fr. Bob” for Anointing (or Confession!). Saw neither of them for my remaining month there.

  28. I believe that any member of the faithful, in the absence of a priest (or deacon) should anoint. Same dispensation as for baptism.

    1. @Anthony S Ercolano:

      Same dispensation as for baptism.

      Actually, the dispensation for baptism gets interesting, in light of more recent developments. It appears to have always been understood as required due to the absolute necessity of baptism for the salvation of souls.

      But with the developments, such as for example baptism by desire and anonymous Christians, the mercy of God is now understood not to be limited by physical baptism such that it does not appear there is an absolute necessity for physical baptism.

      In which case, if the main reason for its existence has fallen away, does the dispensation still hold? I mean, I think it must due to its deep sources in the Tradition, but it makes it very hard to see how the dispensation can be extended by analogy where the Tradition does not provide similar support.

  29. I appreciate hearing both sides of the debate and take all of it to heart, however my point is this:

    If we continue to transfer priestly functions to the laity why do we even need an ordained priesthood? Isn’t the answer to our problems an increase in priestly vocations? And for those who say thats an impossibility why are certain dioceses flush with seminarians?

    For those who advocate allowing the laity to perform this sacrament I laud you for your compassion and care. I also hope everyone here prays for an increase in vocations as we do in our parish at every mass.

  30. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the mindset of those who apparently believe that papal and other church teachings are more sacrosanct than the scriptures. Since the 1940’s we’ve learned to cope with literary, historical, and form criticism in order to more fully divine the deeper meaning of God’s Word. These tools of sholarship have brought challenges but have liberated us from biblicism.
    Are we not aware how priests came into being? The numbers of believers grew so large that the one altar at which the bishop presided was no longer sufficient. Certain elders were set apart to preside at the Eucharist. The ordination of such “priests” was occasioned by the need of the faithful. If there’s to be any change to praxis to accomodate the right of the people to the sacraments, let it be done with gracious generosity. Do the doctrinal rigorists imagine that whoever in the divine realm is responsible for crossing t’s and dotting i’s is making a list and checking it twice? The only legitimate authority in the church has been given for the purpose of fulfilling the mission of Christ.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily:

      Once, when I was quite ill and in the hospital, a retired priest came to visit me every other day for a week (what a luxury these days!) He did not carry chrism with him, only a pyx. I never requested anointing, but I did request confession beforehand at first meeting. I pray for him with sure hope at the memento. He was certainly a worthy servant of the Lord!

      Father, you write at #47, “the only legitimate authority in the church has been given for the purpose of fulfilling the mission of Christ.” Here is but one example of the fallacies in this thought. The hospital chaplain crisis does not alone justify the consideration of EMHC hospital visitors, for example, as a pseudo-order legitimized merely by the “mission of Christ”. Apostolic authority does not look only to “mission” as sollicitude for spiritual welfare of the faithful (salus animarum suprema lex), but also to the deposit of faith where Orders are contained.

      I have never had an EMHC visit me in a hospital. Still, I if I did not consider myself prepared, I would say without hesitation “I am unprepared for communion. Please send a priest when he is available so I may confess and commune.” Do some EMHCs consider themselves endowed with the discernment of a priest hearing confession? (I certainly hope not!) So, how would an EMHC know my spiritual fitness and the fitness of those whom they commune indiscriminately? Is a worthy confession before communion a dead letter now that confessors are often scarce at hospitals? I often wonder if many Catholics (including some clergy) consider confession efficacious and necessary anymore even when available! These contingencies and attitudes never change the efficacy, necessity, and theology of confession.

      Please Father, do see that the presbyterate is still crucial to the necessity of sacramental absolution before communion in many cases. The priesthood cannot be ad-hoc substituted with laypersons through a generous and vague notion of missio.

  31. @Fr Anthony #12

    Concerning the fixed number of 7 sacraments: I have no intention of hijacking this thread, but are there any rites that at one time were sacraments but are not any longer, and/or rites that did not begin as sacraments but later were ‘elevated’ as such? I would welcome a future discussion on, shall we say, “sacramental fluidity”.

    1. @Nick Basehore:
      Influential medieval theologians such as Hugh of St. Victor used the term “sacrament” to describe the consecration of a church building as well as the blessing of palms and the paschal candle. Of course, one might respond that Hugh did not have a clearly defined distinction between a sacrament and a sacramental…but that’s exactly the point. It was largely due to the influence of Hugh’s student Peter Lombard that the number got fixed at 7 and thinks like the blessing of palms got excluded.

      As for things that were not originally considered sacraments but now are, Marriage was for many medieval theologians a borderline case (despite the Vulgate translating mysterion in Ephesians 5 as sacramentum), not least because its institution predated Christ. Confirmation was arguably not thought of as a sacrament distinct from Baptism until the two came to be celebrated separately in the early Middle Ages.

    2. @Nick Basehore:
      Hope I am not too late joining this discussion! The sacrament of ordination used to include several roles that are no longer included e.g. reader, acolyte. Does this count as “demoted sacraments”?

  32. re: #47/Fr. Jack Feehily:
    “The only legitimate authority in the church has been given for the purpose of fulfilling the mission of Christ.”

    +1. Thank you.

  33. I practice medicine in Australia where many are wealthy enough that much of the illness I treat has at least part of its genesis in a loss of meaning in life. This stimulating discussion leads me to think that anointing in a more widely used form may be part of a response to those maladies.

    I’ve often thought that priests may not be best placed to use the sacrament of anointing as, unless they are hospital chaplains, they aren’t necessarily where the sick are and they are busy elsewhere.

    The comments on the need for Priests’ involvement in anointing because absolution from sin is part of the sacrament, point to the history of the sacrament as being the last rites and to the pre-modern thought that sickness is God’s punishment for sin.

    With anointing now widely used apart from the viaticum is it time for the sacrament to evolve (as it has over the centuries to deal with pastoral need) into two separate sacraments, only one of which requires the presence of a Priest?

    1. @Geoffrey Madden:
      I think your suggestion is the best I’ve seen. Just as emergency medicine has evolved and much work has devolved to first responders, perhaps it is time for emergency treatment of the soul devolves as well.

  34. “Jesus said to her (Martha), ‘I am the resurrection [ἡ ἀνάστασις] and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live’ ” (John 11:24 NRSV)

    If Martha trusted in the Lord’s triumph over sin, and moreover the prophets, what will we do when anointment become mere “spirituality”? Nothing to harrow, as we the modern “enlightened” have only time for a Cross hollowed of its victory.

  35. Rita thank you for this wonderful discussion. When I served as a hospital chaplain I anointed about 70 people a week. We were blessed with several lay women and “retired” Sisters who brought communion to the patients seven days a week.

    I think having deacons and lay people anoint is needed not just because of the shortage of priests but also because of the recognition of the gifts of the body of Christ.

    On occasion as I was about to enter a patient’s room I heard one of the Sisters praying with the patient. I will humbled and touched by the deep prayer and attention given to the patient. The church’s pastoral mission would be enhanced by recognizing that some people are especially gifted as ministers of the Sick. And Father needn’t worry, when anointings are well organized and people are seen during the day it is quite rare to be called in the middle of the night.

    1. @Brian Culley:
      Brian, thanks for this. Seventy people a week. Wow, the concrete reality gives one pause. Thanks too for acknowledging the giftedness of those who pray with the sick, lay or ordained.

  36. Scott Smith : Could we not propose perhaps a deacon or lay person anointing with episcopally blessed oil be reintroduced as a sacramental, which could undoubtedly bring grace and comfort to the sick, while respecting the truths revealed by the Holy Spirit in the doctrinal developments at Trent and Vatican II?

    This is a possibility which doctrine would not (as I read it) forbid, and it is an interesting proposal. The one obvious practical difficulty is the inevitable risk for confusion among recipients as to whether they received the sacrament, or a sacramental – assuming they all even understand the difference? One imparts grace that the other does not, and even thorough training (of lay ministers) and catechesis (of everyone) on the subject might not eliminate all possible confusion – especially given the current state of most lay knowledge on the sacraments, which in my experience is . . . well, the working assumption is that I assume nothing.

    It is something that would have to be explored more deeply.

  37. Rita Ferrone : @ And by the way, you owe me a real apology. You stated directly that I said something which I never said. I proved to you that I said the opposite.

    With all due respect, Rita, I don’t think I owe you anything further at this point until you provide clarification you’ve yet to supply. It is your proposal – an extremely audacious proposal, you have to concede – not mine, under discussion; and you had an obligation to make this clear in the original essay, not in a later post…a post which, on my reading, doesn’t adequately answer, because it’s not categorical in its denial of the possibility.

    And it does not adequately answer because the only discussion you provide on the question in your essay is a brief digression (?) on the history of the sacrament of penance wholly focused on instances of lay ministry of sacrament in the medieval Church, a digression which I do not think is unreasonable in reading as – at minimum – a real openness on your part to at least the possibility of laypeople as ministers of the sacrament of penance, either in the context of the sacrament of anointing/unction, or on its own.

    Either way, two difficulties still remain, one dogmatic and one of praxis: 1) I do not see how extending anointing to laypeople as ministers doesn’t run afoul of Trent’s anathemas (forget the CDF statement) any less readily than would doing the same with penance; 2) the prospect of pastoral confusion that would be created by such a confession-less anointing/unction would be just as prevalent, if not more so, than Scott Smith’s proposal of a lay-administered sacramental above.

    I don’t wish to be argumentative (really, I don’t). But I think you had a responsibility to make this point fully clear in your essay.

  38. Scott Smith : @Richard Malcolm: Agreed, you would have the consider and balance the pastoral pros and cons, and there would be some cons. But at least it is doctrinally possible.

    We have a real problem, given the shortage of priests, and I think yours is at least exploring. It’s creative. The problems of praxis do worry me, especially given the catechesis I see out there. I do not have an answer on that: I haven’t thought it through. Perhaps implemented in some kind of team, always led by a priest…I’m just musing, however.

    One other possibility, more readily possible: I do think that dioceses need to make a renewed effort to emphasis availability for this sacrament, and to make more provisions to make clergy available to administer it. I think most clergy take it seriously, and go out of their way to do so. But not all do.

  39. Annointing the sick properly belongs to male and female deacons

    Forgiveness for sin properly belongs to the bishop (and his priest-delegates).

    The problem is the conflation of the two into one sacrament.

    1. @Phyllis Zagano:
      Phyllis, could you say a little more about why you say anointing the sick properly belongs to deacons? I know you have made a study of the diaconate, and I suspect you could enrich our discussion with some more historical perspective on the issues.

      Your comment dovetails with the observations of Geoffrey Madden above (see #53). The shift at Vatican II has made a real difference, but we are still stuck, as it were, between two models.

    2. @Phyllis Zagano:

      It is St. James himself who tells us that the forgiveness of sins is a component of the anointing of the sick:

      “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” James 5:14–15

  40. Richard @ 5:37 am,
    Your energetic attack on my possible thoughts and intentions does not obscure the fact that you falsely accused me of saying something I never said. That is what I am seeking an apology for.

    Second, just because you are worried about the Sacrament of Penance does not mean that we can’t discuss the Sacrament of Anointing until all your fears and anxieties have been allayed, nor that I, as the writer of this post, should have catered to those fears and anxieties in advance.

    No blog post ever covers every question to the satisfaction of every reader. You are dissatisfied. Fine. That does not give you the right to malign what I have said by inferring dark intentions and making an untruthful representation, then demanding that I prove otherwise. That’s a ruse.

    Finally, it disturbs me not at all that you think my proposal is audacious. As I said in the post, I hope we may approach the important issues at stake here with evangelical boldness—gospel-fueled courage for meeting the real challenges of our time. But I don’t deserve credit for the proposal, which has been raised by many before me — bishops, pastors, priests, theologians, chaplains, and lay leaders. I only take credit for raising it now, in light of the coming Jubilee. The Pope has urged us to open doors, go out, heal wounds, extend mercy, and be creative in our thinking and imagining of how to do this.

    I would like to think that the Sacrament of the Sick can be offered more generously. If that’s audacious, so be it.

  41. You are aware that the Council of Trent solemnly defined that the sacrament of anointing absolves a person of sin, right? The sacrament itself, apart from the sacrament of penance, absolved the anointed from sins. Absolving from sin requires the priestly character, which is also why the Council of Trent declared heretical the position that anyone but a priest could confer the sacrament.

    1. @Rev. Thomas Petri, O.P.:
      You are aware that it has been solemnly defined that Baptism absolves a person of sin, right? And you are also aware that deacons, or anyone, even an atheist can validly baptize. So what’s the problem?

  42. Rita,
    This is an excellent post. I have seen the need you speak of, and I think this would be a worthy topic for further study – and also by non-Roman Christians.

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