Yes you can. No you can’t: Roman Catholic Bishop allows, then disallows, anointing by nurses.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts (USA), Mitchell Rozanski, granted permission for health care workers to anoint the sick with Holy Oil, and shortly thereafter, rescinded the permission.

Following, the bishop has reportedly suspended the Anointing of the Sick in all instances, saying the policy is under review.


  1. There has been discussion of a linked matter on the FDLC listserv. Archbishop Cordileone has permitted a nurse as the instrument of anointing in SFO, with the priest standing outside the room pronouncing the words. However, other commentators say that this is canonically impossible and invalidates the sacrament because the same person has to do the action and pronounce the words (matter and form).

    1. Both from an Anglican perspective, and also as a matter of emergency where normal practise need not be the enemy of the exceptional, I find the necessity for flexible pastoral care less problematic.

      What really intrigues me is that in this time of crisis sacramental theology (even on the pages of PrayTell), on all fronts, has degraded once again to arguments over neo-scholastic categories of matter and form. Is nothing which has developed theologically in the liturgical movement of these last 100 years capable of saying something new? I for one believe other answers are possible. Perhaps this is particularly a Roman problem, but I dare say the work of Geoffry Wainwright, Edward Kilmartin, David Power, Louise-Marie Chauvet, would allow us to think differently about the mercy of God and the absolute duty of solicitous care demanded of the Church at this time. To turn the biblical phrase – sacraments were created for man, not man for sacraments.

  2. “Is nothing which has developed theologically in the liturgical movement of these last 100 years capable of saying something new?”

    That wouldn’t be an answer that Catholics would be bound to be accept as authoritative until it is made such by authority.

    There’s an underside to this issue that is typically neglected: it’s one thing to take the extraordinary leap of trust and hope in God’s mercy being unconstrained by the power of the keys. It’s quite another thing then to (without necessarily intending to imply this) impugn or even condemn Catholics who do disagree and dissent with that as [insert negative adjectives here]. Most recently, those who bother to check on the side of the Barque listing deeply to the starboard can observe this in the dynamic of the Right-Thinking People(TM) condemning all those who disagree with the assertions of the RTP that Pope Francis is an anti-pope and worse.

    When we in good faith work around the box, we should not be spending a lot of time insisting that the box grew (even if there are engineers who could be engaged to describe how could happen or might that happened) but accept the current circumstances for what they are in hope of what they may or may not become. The reason is actually the nature of the ecclesial community and how it is ordered.

    1. ‘That wouldn’t be an answer that Catholics would be bound to be accept as authoritative until it is made such by authority.’

      Years ago one of the captains of industry in Rhode Island on his retirement among other matters publicly stated his reasons for never hiring Roman Catholics for managerial positions. Oh, yes, he’d hire them for menial jobs such as sweepers or toilet cleaners, but never for anything requiring responsibility. He was under the impression that RCs could not think for themselves and could only rely on ecclesiastical authority.

      I was profoundly shocked by his comments which were quoted in a public forum sometime in the late sixties or early seventies of the twentieth century, not the nineteenth. I did wonder how much free thought this Rhode Islander allowed his managers.

      When I saw Mr. Saur’s comments above I was immediately reminded of that gentleman’s remarks.

      1. Catholics can think for ourselves. We just can’t be mini-bishops, let alone mini-popes (that’s the TL;DR version of my comment, fwiw). As hard as it can be to resist the temptation.

    2. Canon law, etc. Is founded on the idea that the law is made by the will of the lawgiver. English common law is based on right reason. I’m in the latter camp.

  3. I thank the Bishop for trying to create a way that the Sacrament of Annointing with all the comfort and presence of the Church attached to it could be carried out. One can only imagine the firestorm this move created on all kinds of Canonical levels. If the “priest can be called” (James 5: 14-16) but cannot show up, then find someone in the Church to do this anointing. That is unless we are concerned that God will get confused as to how in the world this person got anointed when His Church has a policy “temporarily suspending the Anointing of the Sick in all instances.”

    This interaction is all well and good to be discussed and “theologized” unless you are in the middle of a pandemic that is killing 2% of the people infected. People are dying alone; please can the Church be there in the gifts that it can bring.

    1. Sadly, no the Church cannot be there. Nurses and docs are dropping from trying to save lives. They cannot be present, and staff Board Certified Chaplains are allowed only by phone because there is no PPE. Community clergy volunteers were denied weeks ago for infection spread. this administration chose to have thousands DIE ALONE.

  4. Any Catholic may use oil to bless or anoint someone who is sick or dying. We just can’t call that action The Sacrament of the anointing of the sick. And the only reason we can’t call it that is that the leaders of the church get to define these matters. I guess someone forgot that before the apostles were “ordained”, Jesus sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and anoint those in need of healing. They were just obedient disciples. And in Matthew’s gospel Jesus said that those who minister to those who are sick are ministering to him. In extraordinary times, why don’t we just leave it up to God what kind of anointing works for those who may be dying? All law is for the good of souls, is it not?

    1. This is fairly common in Charismatic circles I believe.
      I’m pretty sure God’s love isn’t boxed into set texts.

    2. Do I really need to remind you that James clarifies this issue by saying that if anyone is sick that they should summon for the priests of the church? Furthermore, as Catholics, we believe that Sacred Tradition is also infallible. That only priest may minister the Sacrament of the Sick is part of this infallible teaching. Any other anointing performed by a layman is done as a sacrmental ex opere operantis, not as a sacrament ex opere operato. This is a fundamental distinction that cannot be ignored in an attempt to eliminate the difference between a priest and a layman.

      1. I take it then that Our Father in heaven will only provide his healing power to those anointed by ordained priests and bishops? I take it that you also believe that the supreme authority in the Church may not use the keys to the kingdom or the power of binding and loosing to permit or direct a change in who may anoint the sick?

      2. Fr. Feehily, I am going to ask bluntly. Do you reject the Catholic Church’s teaching on the sacraments?

      3. Just to add for reference, from the 14th Session of the Council of Trent, for lurkers who may not be familiar with it:

        Canons Concerning The Sacrament Of Extreme Unction

        Canon 4. If anyone says that the priests of the Church, whom blessed James exhorts to be brought to anoint the sick, are not the priests who have been ordained by a bishop, but the elders in each community, and that for this reason a priest only is not the proper minister of extreme unction, let him be anathema.

  5. Mark 6:10-13 “He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
    ‭‭Mark‬ ‭6‬:‭10‬-‭13‬ ‭NABRE‬‬

    The word of God is the final authority. Jesus is the word. Therefore, Jesus is the final authority. In the famous words of David in Psalm 27:1, ”The Lord is my light & my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

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