The Administration Of The Sacramental Anointing Of The Sick By Non-Ordained Ministers: A Historical Argument

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2002 »2002 1 »The Administration Of The Sacramental Anointing Of The Sick By Non Ordained Ministers A Historical Argument

Thomas M. Swiss

Thomas M. Swiss, J.D., Ph.D., a lawyer by profession, earned a Research M.A. in Systematic Theology from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago and a Ph.D. in Theological Studies from Graduate Theological Union/Foundation House, Oxford. He has also been appointed an Oxford Foundation Fellow. His primary interest lies in sacramental theology with special attention to the Sacrament of Anointing.

On a global basis, there is no denial of the fact that many Catholic faithful are denied the reception of essential sacraments due to the absolute absence of priests: namely, Eucharist within the Mass and Anointing of the Sick. Is not Baptism an essential sacrament? Yes. But it is not "essential" that it be administered by a priest. The common teaching of the Church is that in case of necessity, a person himself or herself not baptized but willing to intend to do what the Church does, pours water on the forehead of the intended recipient using the Trinitarian baptismal formula thus validly confers the sacrament of Baptism. The Church teaches that Baptism is necessary for salvation.1 Whereas while the absence of Confirmation renders Christian initiation "incomplete," it is not necessary [essential] for salvation.2 Likewise, the delegation of the non-ordained faithful to assist at marriage where there is a grave shortage of priests is provided for in canons 1111-1112 of the Code of Canon Law. Penance [Reconciliation], in the absence of a priest, can be effectuated through what historically has been called a "perfect act of contrition" which the Catechism of the Catholic Church [no.1452] refers to as a "contrition of charity." There is included therein the proviso that along with a contrition arising from a love by which God is loved above all else, there is a firm resolution to have recourse to "sacramental confession" (i.e., to a priest) as soon as possible where serious sin is involved. And, lastly, Orders is not essential within the economy of individual salvation.

What remains "essential" as to sacerdotal administration is the Eucharist within the celebration of Mass and the sacramental Anointing of the Sick. The issue of Eucharistic confection by the non-ordained opens the door to an issue covered by pronouncements such as the 1976 Instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Inter Insigniores, the "Declaration on the question of the admission of women to the ministerial priesthood." Furthermore, people even tangentially interested in this subject are aware of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter,Ordinatio Sacerdotis (1974) which excluded the priestly ordination of women. The "Responsum" issued from Rome (November, 1995) declared this teaching against women’s ordination to be part of the "ordinary magisterium," and therefore infallible. This issue is here not treated. Elsewhere one can find interesting discussions concerning the ordination of viri probati (well-tried married men) and relative ordinations for a set period of time (Kerkhofts 1995:163-88).3

What is here treated is a brief historical argument for the administration of the sacramental Anointing of the Sick by the non-ordained faithful in pastoral ministry. There are areas in the world, such as certain re-settlement camps in Asia, where priests are either unavailable or forbidden to enter. The non-ordained catechists are able to lead the faithful in Sunday celebrations in the absence of priests. The same catechists assist at marriages in these special circumstances where there is a shortage of priests. Where priests are impeded in the administration of Baptism, canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law permits the non-ordained faithful to be designated as extraordinary ministers of Baptism. Confirmation, practically but sadly, is neglected. Penance is an act of personal contrition. What remains is the sacramental Anointing of the Sick. In the practical world of necessity, these catechists carry 35 mm film canisters or other containers filled with anointing chrism which they use for the benefit of the ill among them.

There is one serious problem with allowing a non-ordained catechist to attempt the sacramental Anointing of the Sick: it is forbidden by the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church [no. 1516] emphatically states: "Only priests (bishops and presbyters) are ministers of the Anointing of the Sick."

In 1997, an Instruction was promulgated by eight Vatican offices4 which set out distinctions between the ministry specific to priests (the ministerial/hierarchical priesthood) and the ministries of lay people (the common priesthood of the faithful). A brief summary of the Instruction follows: The collaboration between the ordained and the non-ordained does not mean substitution. One reason for preserving the distinction between the ministries of priests and non-ordained faithful is the fear that a blurring of offices could encourage a reduction in vocations to the ministerial priesthood. There must be a well-organized pastoral promotion of vocations to the ministerial priesthood in order to provide the Church with the ministers needed and to ensure proper seminary training for those preparing to receive the sacrament of Orders. "Any other solution to problems deriving from a shortage of sacred ministers can only lead to precarious consequences [emphasis added]." Non-ordained faithful may be generically designated extraordinary ministers when deputed by competent authority to discharge (by way of supply) certain offices mentioned in Canon Law.5Circumstances can arise, e.g., a shortage of sacred ministers, that would recommend the admission of the non-ordained faithful to preaching. However, the homily during the celebration of the Eucharist must be reserved to the priest or deacon and to the exclusion of the non-ordained faithful. Homilies in non-eucharistic liturgies may be preached by the non-ordained faithful as permitted by law. "In eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers—for example, and especially, the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology —or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant" [Article 6, par. 2]. By mandate of the bishop, a non-ordained member of the faithful may lead a Sunday celebration in the absence of a priest [Article 7]. Under certain circumstances the non-ordained faithful may function as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. However, these extraordinary ministers may not self-communicate nor may they receive Communion apart from the other faithful as though they were concelebrants [Article 8]. As referenced earlier, the non-ordained faithful may assist at marriages [Article 10] and administer Baptism [Article 11]. The Instruction concludes with two further observations: the non-ordained may lead the celebrations at funerals [Article 12] and all non-ordained lay ministers should be adequately educated for the discharge of their responsibilities as long as the education is in an environment other than a seminary [Article 13].

I have passed over Article 9 [The Apostolate to the Sick] for special mention here. The non-ordained faithful may be with the sick in their difficult moments. They can encourage the sick to receive the sacrament of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick. The sick may be assisted in their examination of conscience. "Since they are not priests, in no instance may the non-ordained perform anointings either with the oil of the sick or any other oil [emphasis added]." Then, at para. 2 of Article 9, the Instruction reads: "With regard to the administration of this sacrament, ecclesiastical legislation reiterates the theologically certain [emphasis added] doctrine and the age-old usage of the church [emphasis added] which regards the priest as its only valid minister. No non-ordained member of the faithful may act as ordinary or extraordinary minister of the sacrament since such constitutes simulation of the sacrament.6 Lastly, Article 9 reserves the sacramental anointing of the sick to priests because this anointing is related to the connection of this sacrament to the forgiveness of sin and the worthy reception of the Eucharist.

Then, three months later (November, 1997), an Explanatory Note7 was promulgated. The Note made the following assertions: Christ left to his Church the gift of his own priesthood by means of ministers who are ontologically configured to him [emphasis added] Secondly, the original document, "Some Questions Regarding Collaboration of Non-ordained Faithful in Priests' Sacred Ministry, " had been approved by the pope in specific form "which makes it a text bearing his own authority and against which there can be no appeal [emphasis added]."

One must also keep in mind that in the aftermath of Vatican Council II, there have been various post-conciliar documents, published directly or indirectly, speaking to the issue of the sacramental Anointing of the Sick. The Apostolic Constitution on the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick8 affirmed that "the appropriate minister of the sacrament is a priest."

One of the ancient responsibilities of the office of the deacon is the care of the sick. Appreciative of this fact, the American Bishops' Committee on the Permanent Diaconate submitted in 1973 a petition to the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship requesting that deacons be empowered to anoint the sick. The request was denied.

The resistance of the Church to discuss, let alone approve, an alternative non priestly minister of the Sacrament of Anointing is grounded upon Canon 4 of the 14th session of the Council of Trent in 1551.9 This canon was the controlling canon as to the "proper minister" of the sacramental anointing of the sick which was then referred to as Extreme Unction. The scriptural basis for the sacramental Anointing of the Sick has been traditionally found in James 5:13ff which says, in effect, that if anyone within the community is sick, then the sick person should summon the "elders of the community" who should pray over the sick while they anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord.

If one reads the subject Tridentine canon, one concludes that the meaning of "presbyters," [as a translation of "elders] in the controlling text in James, as "priests ordained by a bishop" is a meaning that has endured throughout the period of the New Testament and has forever meant "priests." However, that conclusion is based in part on the assumption that that is how the Jamesian community understood the words used to describe those who were enjoined to anoint and to pray over those who were sick.

This appropriation of meaning is rooted in the phrase coined by Edward Schillebeeckx: "the sacerdotalizing of ministry" (Schillebeeckx 1980: 48).Schillebeeckx observed that the Theodosian sacerdotalizing of the ministry had a long prehistory (Schillebeeckx 1987: 144). The modern scriptures only know the "priestly" character of Christ and the Messianic people of God. The ministry in the name of the priestly Christ is a service for the benefit of the priestly people of God. There are some indications in the New Testament that the service of ministers was gradually being referred to as the "priestly" service of ministers.10

What is understood is that the New Testament does not refer to any Christian minister as "priest." One reason advanced is that the title "priest" was too closely associated with the Jewish priests and their cultic function in the early Church. So, by not referring to the ministers of the Church as priests, any confusion or identification of the Christian ministry with that of contemporary Jewish or pagan priesthoods was avoided (Ziegler 1987: 157, fn. 10). It also indicates that in the early Church there was a developing structural change and developing understanding of ministry.

Conceding the studied avoidance of confusion with contemporary Jewish or pagan priesthoods, some will argue that certain ministerial functions in the early Church were de facto priestly if not dejure. The grounds for this allegation are that these ministers were "ordained. " If they were ordained, then a fortiori, they must have been ordained by a bishop. So, in one giant step, there was an unambiguous, multi-century historical transverse. This is based on a presupposition that there were, in fact, some ministers mentioned in various modern scriptural texts11 who were ordained and some who were not ordained. As Kenan Osborne wrote:

Ordination, as we today understand this term, does not seem to be the intent of these situations, and to read an "ordination" ritual, such as one finds from the time of Hippolytus12 onward, would be clearly an eisegesis" (Osborne 1988: 70-1).

And elsewhere:

However, it should be restated that there is no passage in the entire New Testament which authors advance as an instance of ordination which is not disputed by biblical scholars of solid repute. Moreover, there are in the New Testament major silences on the issue of ordination, for example:

a. Nowhere are the twelve ordained. b. Nowhere are the apostles ordained. c. Nowhere are the apostles or the twelve described as ordaining. d. Nowhere is there a command of Jesus to ordain. e. Nowhere are episkopoi ordained. f. Nowhere areepiskopoi described as ordaining (Osborne 1993: 25-6).

And Osborne concludes: "What has happened over centuries is that a structural and subsequently a theological view has been developed, ontologizing the issue of ordination, so that one is apparently unable to think of the twelve, the apostles orepiskopoi except in terminology of ordination. This kind of later theologizing is then applied to the very beginning of the Jesus community" (Osborne 1993: 26). This is what Osborne appropriately called "eisegesis."

The Period from 100 c.e. to 604 c.e.

The five hundred years after the end of the period of the New Testament writings, from approximately 133 c.e. until the death of Pope Gregory I in 604 c.e., was a period of enormous change in every aspect of Christian worship which included changes in the emphasis and application of the rite of anointing of the sick.

In the effort to interpret accurately the Tridentine teaching on the anointing of the sick ("Extreme Unction"), the historical context of anointing of the sick of the centuries preceding Trent are reviewed so as to demonstrate the Church's understanding and practice regarding the [sacramental] anointing of the sick.

Hagiographic Accounts

Anyone who expects to find in the writings of the early Fathers an exposition of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick along the lines developed by the Scholastic tradition will be disappointed. The Patristic ages do not furnish one with any exposition of the rite in which the constituent elements are distinguished and the effects enumerated. In fact, there is little reference to it at all in the first eight centuries. As it is, the earliest commentary belongs to the early 8th century by the Venerable Bede. Nevertheless, the following is representative of the data for the era under analysis.

There are hagiographic accounts that refer to the Desert Fathers using the application of oil with resultant miraculous cures. However, the illness cured was mostly from demonic possession. One hagiographer, Rufinus of Aquileia [ca. 345-410] was a friend of Jerome when both were in Rome as students (Kelly 1992: 150). Rufinus writes about Macarius of Alexandria [d. ca. 3941 an Egyptian hermit who went to the desert around the year 335 and was known as a famous thaumaturge (Kelly, 101). Macarius is reported to have cured two persons who were possessed; and in each case there is mention of prayer and an anointing "in the name of the Lord.13

Palladius of Helenopolis [ca. 363-425], born in Asia Minor, who followed a monastic life and was a disciple of Macarius the Egyptian (Kelly 1992: 128), wrote of Macarius of Alexandria that for twenty days he anointed a paralytic woman with "holy oil" while praying over her (Meyer 1965: 61).

And ending this hagiographic sampler, Rufinus, once again, writes of Ammon (also, Ammonas or Amun, d. ca. 360) an Egyptian monk and abbot (Kelly 1992: 12) who cured a boy who had a dragon-like face because of diabolic possession. There was therein mentioned an anointing with oil but no mention of a prayer.14

There is need for one cautionary note with regard to hagiographic accounts. There are various biographies of sixth and seventh century saints which attest to the fact that when their end was near, they were anointed with holy oil, received Communion for the last time and died. The problem is that their biographies were not written until three hundred years after their deaths. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to be sure that the recitals about anointings in the fifth through eighth centuries (but written in the eleventh century) actually reflected the practice of the day. There is a rule of interpretation in old English law which says: Contemporanea expositio est optima et fortissima in lege.15 In application, the meaning vis-a-vis the interpretation of a statute, means that a statute is best explained by following the construction put upon it by judges who lived at the time it was made, or soon after. The same argument for contemporaneous exposition can be made about hagiographic accounts.

There is no claim at this time—or any time for that matter—that these hagiographic accounts are historically accurate. But for this purpose, it is interesting to note from the accounts that although there were stated references to the common elements of the ritual prescribed by James (prayer in the name of the Lord, and an anointing with oil), nowhere is the use of this oil referred specifically to the text of James. Also, the ministers (the "anointers") recorded in these accounts were variously a monastic, an abbot, a bishop: lay and cleric. So, although one reads of anointings and prayer over a person struck by malady, and cures of a miraculous nature, the references are not the ritual anointings of the sick in the manner of James but clearly examples of the charismatic gifts of healing.

Penitential Anointings

During the time span from approximately 200 c.e. to 350 c.e., there were two important documents which made clear reference to James 5:14-15. One document was the second homily on Leviticus16 written about 215 c.e. by Origen (ca. 185-253) and translated by Rufinus (Di Berardino 1988: 250); and, a treatise by John Chrysostom [ca. 350-407], De sacerdotio, a six-volume piece on the priesthood, and written circa 381-386 (Quasten 1986: 459).

Origen in his In Leviticum sets out seven ways one can receive pardon in the New Law. The seventh way is Penance wherein the sinner must have a need for remorse, confess to a priest, and then ask for a remedy so that what was written by James [5:14-15] might be fulfilled. But what was Origen referring to: the sacrament of penance? Or, the sacrament of anointing? Interestingly, when quoting James, Origen deletes "let them pray over him" and substitutes "they impose hands on him." He is either attributing the pardoning of sins to a penitential rite which may have included the imposition of hands or else he was referring to an anointing which targeted the sick.

Why Origen tampered with the text is unknown. And that being the case, speculation can run rampant without fear of rebuttal (Ziegler 1987: 161). Some will say that Origen was interpreting James allegorically suggesting that the infirmity is the "sickness of sin." But although the anointing of penitents for the pardoning of sins was done in parts of the East, it was not the custom at the time of Origen. Others suggest that the sinner in mind was one who had fallen seriously ill before completing a long and laborious penance, and hence the intervention of extreme unction which is the seventh way in the New Law for remitting sins. But, if so, why alter the text? The best conclusion is that there is no conclusion.

A Liturgical Text for the Blessing of Oil

During this period under immediate survey, the anointing of the sick, as a means of healing, was associated with olive oil that was blessed by a bishop and then rubbed on the skin of the sick person, usually in the area of the pain or discomfort, or taken internally by the sufferer. The application of the oil to the sufferer was done by a lay person, most probably by a friend.

The oil of this era was blessed by a bishop but there is no reason to believe that the oil itself, before the blessing, was anything other than common olive oil used for all other domestic purposes. The oil was probably not even specially reserved such as oil from the first pressing. One will find in various texts the expression "holy oil." It may mean no more than oil set aside for a special purpose. The Greek adjective agioz,a,on often translated as "holy," also means "set apart by God" (i.e., for special use as in the sense of "consecrated") [Newman, Jr. 1993: 2].

An example of such a blessing (Wordsworth 1964: 77) is the purported fourth century blessing of Sarapion, a bishop of Thmuis in Egypt:

We pray you to send healing power of the only-begotten from heaven upon this oil, that it may become to those who are being anointed [with it] or partaking of these your creatures, for a throwing off of every sickness and every infirmity, for a charm against every demon.

There was prayer associated with the oil application. It is unclear whether the prayer aspect of the ritual was before, during or after the anointing. But there was prayer for certain. During this period there was still no fixed formula. However, from parsing the Sarapion prayer, one can observe that, at least in this instance, the person blessing the oil (the bishop) petitions for an infusion of healing power to abide in the oil itself. Then, when the oil is applied by another, the effects of this application would be bodily wellness and a barrier against further malady by whatever cause or spirit.

As in the era of James, the anointing of the sick was still private in the sense that although there may be one or more persons in attendance for the purpose of prayer and support, the focus was on the one sick individual. And as in James, the sick were sufficiently ill so as to require the summoning of assistance, but their state of illness was not that of the dying.

The papacy of Pope Gelasius 1 [492-496] was chiefly devoted to achieving freedom of the Church from the tutelage of the State. Because of this activity, another aspect of his total work has often been relegated to his historical background, that is, his extensive pastoral work. Liturgical activity did not occupy the lowest rung in his pastoral work. He was regarded as the compiler of the old Roman Kyrie-Litany,and the Deprecatio Gelasii (Baus, Beck, Ewig, Vogt 1986: 616-20; 660). TheGelasian Sacramentary of the late seventh and early eighth century was attributed to him, and therein is found the prayer Emitte17 for the blessing of the oil which identifies three forms of administration: "anointing," "tasting," and "touching." Hence there was no great regard or consistency as to which part or parts of the body were to be anointed.

Some would argue that at least the administration of "tasting" would apply to self-administration and hence a lay person could effectively self-anoint.

The consecrating prayer, Emitte, as cited, indicates there was the belief that this sacred oil was salutary for all ills of both mind [mentis] and body [corporis].

It appears from the great emphasis given to the consecration of the oil that it was the consecrated oil, and not the anointing, which was the sacrament.

Letter of Pope Innocent I to Decentius

On March 19, 416, Pope Innocent I wrote a letter to Bishop Decentius, the bishop of Gubbio in reply to the bishop's request for advice regarding the text of James 5:14-15 as the text pertains to the recipient and minister of the anointing therein. This letter is an authentic document of the Holy See. It is an example of a local bishop consulting the Pope regarding the interpretation of a scriptural passage; and, the Pope then issuing a doctrinal/disciplinary statement about a sacramental practice in the Church.

This letter, was a document known throughout the Church [in the West] during the centuries prior to the Carolingian Reform. Ziegler (1987:42) reported that Pope Innocent's reply was quoted by a number of later writers and was included in several canonical collections of the Church prior to the ninth century as an authority substantiating a particular understanding concerning this practice of the Church.

Pope Innocent I:

[Your next question] concerns the text from the epistle of the blessed apostle James: "Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the Church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven" (Jas 5:14-15f). This must undoubtedly be accepted and understood [of the faithful who are sick] as referring to the oil of chrism, prepared by the bishop, which can be used for anointing not only by priests but also by all Christians whenever they themselves or their people are in need of it. The question whether the bishop can do what undoubtedly can be done by priests seems superfluous for priests are mentioned simply because bishops are prevented by other occupations and cannot visit all the sick. But if a bishop is in a position to do so and thinks it proper, he, to whom it belongs to prepare the chrism, can himself without hesitation visit the sick to bless them and anoint them with chrism. But it may not be used for [poured on] those undergoing penance for it is of the nature [genus] of a sacrament. How could one think that one kind of sacrament should be allowed to those to whom the rest is denied? (Neuner and Dupuis 1996: 15-16).

The actual inquiry from Bishop Decentius to Pope Innocent I is not extant. So, one must infer the question stated from the Pope's reply. This does not present an interpretational hardship because the response by Innocent I is sufficiently apodictic so as to allow one to reconstruct at least the form of the question to which the Pope is responding. But even here, there is contrary opinion. For example, Bernhard Poschmann suggests that because James only mentioned priests, then maybe only priests were allowed to administer this anointing of the sick (Poschman 1964: 239-241). However, this opinion seems to be held by a minority of one.

In the beginning of the fifth century there was introduced the notion of "chrism." For the purpose of examining this particular letter, "chrism" means olive oil blessed by a bishop. It would be anachronistic to suppose that this use of "chrism" was anyway related to the oil mixture of olive oil and balsam18 (i.e., "Holy Chrism") blessed by a bishop on Holy Thursday and used in the administration of baptism, confirmation, holy orders, consecration of a bishop and the consecration of sundry other things such as: churches, altar stones, chalices, patens, the solemn blessing of bells, and the blessing of baptismal water.

Also, this oil was referred to as "...of the nature [genus] of a sacrament." It is important at this early stage of documentational analysis not to impute to the word "sacrament" a modern signification. It would be sufficient to understand, at this stage of sacramental development, that no more is meant by "sacrament" than that this particular type of anointing of the sick was a sacred act of the Church that had some type of beneficial effect on both body and soul.

As to the recipient of this anointing, Innocent interprets the scriptural text to mean the faithful who are sick but there is no indication from his reply that the sick person must be in danger of death.

By the expression "to visit the sick," there is reason (from a plain text interpretation) to understand that the minister of the anointing visits the home of the sick person and there is no suggestion of some type of communal, ecclesial rite.

Then, to Decentius' pointed question: May a bishop administer this anointing? Innocent I answers in the positive, supported by two lines of reasoning:

1. The second answer is a type of argument of the "lesser included:" What is said of a priest must certainly be said of a bishop - if it is the obligation of the bishop to bless the oil used for anointing, then the bishop himself must be allowed certainly to do the actual anointing.

2. However, the first part of the answer is the part over which there is interpretational difficulty. On its face, it appears to say, in terms of the minister of the anointing: a bishop may anoint the sick, a priest may anoint the sick, and all Christians may anoint the sick. However, of course, all those doing the actual anointing will use the oil first blessed by the bishop. And further, "all Christians" may use this oil for the self-anointing of themselves, if ill, or on others close to them who are ill.

The interpretational difficulty arises from the Latin words:

Quod non est dubium de fidelibus aegrotantibus accipi vel intelligi debere, qui sancto oleo chrismatis perungi possunt, quod ab episcopo confectum, non solum sacerdotibus, sed et omnibus uti Christianis licet in sua aut in suorum necessitate ungendum.19

This must undoubtedly be accepted and understood [of the faithful who are sick] as referring to the oil of chrism, prepared by the bishop, which can be used for anointingnot only by the priests but also by all Christians whenever they themselves or their people are in need of it.

However, what seems to be more suspect is not the interpretational difficulty arising from the text but rather the difficulty arises from the "molehillists" whose interpretations reflect their personal theological bias in this matter. Ziegler (1987: 44-6; 162-3) does a concise summary of the three opinions:

1. Some theologians20 support the opinion that Innocent's words in reference to"ungendum" should be interpreted in a passive sense of "who may be anointed." This sense is not grammatically faithful to the text which is clearly active voice and should be translated as such. The passive voice interpretation changes the meaning from "all Christians" as being included in the recitation of available ministers to mean that "all Christians" are the recipients of the anointing. In further support of this position, H. Netzer (1911: 184) argues that in the Carolingian period [late eight and early ninth century], an active form of a verb was used in a passive sense. Even to assume the accuracy of that statement, it does not comport with the fact that Innocent’s letter was written three hundred years earlier when active verb forms had active meanings.

2. Another set of theologians,21 although they translate the verb in the active voice, see a twofold usage of the oil: sacramental when anointing is done by priest or bishop and non-sacramental (devotional) when used by non-clergy (de Letter 1962: 294).

There was the private anointing with blessed oil which the sick person either performed himself or had performed by his relatives; and there was the liturgical anointing done by priests or by the bishop. Both these anointings are done with oil blessed by the bishop, both are considered as applications of the text of St. James.

This latter use is not found in the Letter of James. This type of private usage is like the devotional use of holy water. This view sees a distinction between sacrament and sacramental which distinction was not known in the fifth century. Innocent spoke of only one anointing which used the same oil and referenced the same scriptural text in James.

3. The last major block of theologians22 expressed the opinion that Innocent spoke of only one anointing which was administered by a priest usually, by a bishop (hence the encompassing word "sacerdos") and by the laity. By indirection, Innocent was answering the question by saying: if the laity can anoint, and the priest can anoint, then surely the bishop (who is a "sacerdos") can anoint. This group held that the anointing by the faithful was truly a sacramental anointing (Puller 1904: 55-60).

A general note of caution, although Innocent calls this anointing a "sacrament," the use of the word itself gives us little or no proof of the sacramental character of the rite. In Innocent's time, and for a long time afterwards, up to the time of Peter Lombard, the term "sacrament" was elastic.

Venerable Bede

The Venerable Bede (672-735) [Bowden 1990: 15] was an English monk, theologian, and historian. His writings on chronology as related to the calculation of Easter and his historical writings were instrumental in introducing the practice of dating events from the birth of Christ. He also wrote a number of scriptural commentaries. One such commentary was his writing on Mark 6:1323 wherein he referred to James 5:

The Apostle James says: "Is anyone sick among you. . ." Thus it is evident from the Apostles themselves that this unction of holy Church was passed on so that those possessed or any other sick people were anointed with oil consecrated by pontifical blessing [pontificali benedictione consecrato].24

So, Bede, the historian, was able to demonstrate a relationship between the anointing in Mark with the anointing in James, and then he links these anointings to the then present eighth century practice of the Church. He was able to conclude that these practices dated back to the time of the Apostles.

In his commentary on James 5:14-15, his focus is not on those possessed by demons but rather those who were "infirm in body or in faith."25

It was due to Bede the Venerable that the separation between the two sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction took place. In his commentary on James, he states that the sacrament will not have its effect unless sins have been first confessed and forgiven in Penance. This becomes the common teaching, accepted by all who follow him, for unless one "has labored to correct and remove his sins by a perfect sorrow,"25 Extreme Unction will not produce its effects in the soul. He does not enter into any discussion of the exact meaning of this remission of sin by Extreme Unction but merely calls it remission of sins.

This relation between the two sacraments is repeated again and again by those who wrote of the sacrament at this time. For example, Jonas of Orleans reiterates the doctrine of Bede; 26 Paschasius Radbertus insists that sins must be confessed before the "sanctification of the Unction;"28 while Rabanus Maurus (quoted again later) warns that unless "we cleanse the thoughts of our heart from all evil and sin,"29 Extreme Unction cannot be received worthily.

This is also the teaching of the legislators of this period. Boniface [d. 755]30 and Charlemagne31 explicitly demand this confession of sins before the anointings in their many prescriptions regarding priests and their duties toward the sick. Henry Kryger (1949: 8ff) notes that the Councils of Pavia, Mayence, and Tours state that the reconciliation of the penitent through the confession of sins should and must precede the unctions.32 At the place cited, Kryger additionally noted that the liturgies of the Church, the codices of Ratoldus and Tilianus in the West and the Greek and Alexandrian Ordo in the East, mention the need of Penance before the reception of Extreme Unction.

None of these writings are explicit in determining the precise work to be performed by the sacrament in its task of remitting sins. Although the need for Penance is demanded before the anointing, the effect is stated in general terms as a remission of sins. Therefore, it seems that the sacrament was considered as acomplementum poenitentiae, that is, perfecting the work of cleansing the soul thoroughly of its sins and the remains of sin.

Some liturgies mention what sins are to be remitted, especially the liturgies of the East, as the Greek and Alexandrian rites. The prayers for the sick contained in them a prayer to petition God that all sins be forgiven through the sacrament, those committed voluntarily or involuntarily, knowingly or unknowingly, by omission or commission.

Towards the end of this period, there are some indications as to some definite explanations concerning the exact nature of this effect. Abelard states that the sins forgiven by this sacrament are those committed by the senses. 33 Honorius of Autun taught that the sins forgiven by this sacrament are those "confessed and not repeated, or the daily sins,"34 while Belethus asserts that venial sins are forgiven, "even if he were not in mortal sin."35 These testimonies of the early theologians began to indicate what sins are remitted by the sacrament. It seems that for them, there is not a general remission of sins that is indicated by James but a specific one.

Continuing with the Venerable Bede's commentary on James, one learns that Bede interprets the use of the term "presbyter" in the etymological sense of "elder" or "older person." Clearly more than one "seniores" ought to be called to the bedside. Bede describes the anointing with oil and recitation of prayer and then quotes Innocent I as to the lay person's involvement in the ritual:

And not only is it allowed to presbyters, but, as Pope Innocent I wrote, also to all Christians to use the same oil for anointing in their own need or that of their families, which oil is only to be confected by bishops.36

Bede's commentary is not conclusive evidence that lay persons performed the anointing in eighth-century England, but there is sufficient reason to argue that this may be the case. However, the majority of documents dating from this period under review clearly suggests that priests were the principal ministers of the anointing of the sick but not the only ministers.

The Period from 600 c.e. to 1500 c.e.

This is the period of great change with regard to the anointing of the sick. The previous era was the period in which the sacrament was administered by lay people. The oil was blessed by a bishop with the express purpose of healing. During this period the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick became entirely clericalized and completely associated with the dying. Hence it became known as the "last anointing," i.e., "extreme unction." A name first used by Peter Lombard about 1150.

It was during this period that Extreme Unction was linked to a final confession and last communion (Viaticum).

It was held during this period that sins not eliminated by Baptism and Penance could be removed by the last anointing. The efficacy of the sacrament shifted from bodily healing to an effective form of penance. St. Thomas Aquinas said that "...the principal effect of this sacrament is the remission of sin as to its remnants, and consequently, even as to its guilt" (Fathers of the English Dominican Province 1948: 2672). The shift was from the sickness of the body to the "sickness" of sin.

This shift in remedial emphasis does not come without warning. During the historical period previously discussed, the issue of penance evolved around the flagrant sinners which required of them a public once-in-a-lifetime event. That which was called penance (or, ecomologesiz) [White 1993: 65-6] was a period of public prostration and humiliation, wearing clothing no better than rags, long fasts and medicinal tears of contrition. The public nature of this process was reinforced by the view that sin offended not only God but community. Therefore, reconciliation was a process of rapprochement with both God and community. The period of reconciliation occurred at the end of Lent when these penitents were reunited to the community which expelled them from the Eucharist. It was at this time that the newly baptized were united to the Church. Because this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, there was an understandable practice of delaying penance until one was at death's door.

Then in the fifth and sixth centuries there came to be an unusual development in the Irish church in the practice of Penance (White 1993: 94). There one confessed to a holy person either man or woman who were mostly monastics but not necessarily so. Eventually guidelines were written which came to be known as "penitentials." Although there is no explicit historical evidence of this, it probably curtailed forum shopping among penitents. One set of penitentials, known as the Penitential of Finnan, contained some 540 rules.

Slowly the Irish missionaries spread through northern Europe and with them spread the tradition of the "tariff penance," i.e., reconciliation with penalties attached.

There were other differences with the earlier period: the person hearing the confession and granting the absolution was now always a priest. Ordination not holiness became the criterion. Penance, which was once a rare occurrence and for only flagrant sinners, became mandatory for all. What was a once-in-a-lifetime event now became an annual affair. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, during the pontificate of Innocent III, decreed that annual penance was a prerequisite to receiving communion.

In the twelfth century, Peter Lombard [ca. 1100-1160] writes that " penance not only once, but often, we rise from our sins, and that true penance may be done repeatedly" (Rogers 1976: 158). Then, as the details of confession were being worked out, he lays out "three steps to be observed, that is compunction of the heart [contrition or sorrow], confession of the mouth, satisfaction in deed" (Rogers 1979: 171).

Other Ministers of Penance and Viaticum

The Anointing of the Sick is a discrete sacrament, the Eucharist is a sacrament, Penance is a sacrament. When a person was ill and said to be approaching death, there was available to that person the opportunity to be anointed so as to seek prayers for the restoration of health and the remission of sins. Then, somewhat redundantly, the remission of sin through the sacrament of Penance was obtainable. Lastly, the ill person was able to receive the Eucharist, and if truly received presumptively for the last time, received that which became known to be called "Viaticum." These three sacraments were bound together so as to be viewed as administration of the "last sacraments."

With this in mind, what follows is a brief excursus regarding the ministers of Penance and Viaticum.

Minister of Penance

As early as the third century there was historical evidence that deacons heard confessions. St. Cyprian [ca. 210-258] wrote over eighty letters (Epistles) which constituted an inexhaustible source for the history of a most interesting period of the Church. The letters "mirror the problems and controversies of ecclesiastical administration around the middle of the third century" (Quasten 1986: 364-5). In his Epistola XII, St. Cyprian wrote that, if a bishop or a priest was not available to a person who was afflicted with illness, then the penitent was to confess his sins to a deacon [apud diaconum].37

It was from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries that the practice of the deacons' hearing of confessions became a common practice. During that time the deacons heard confessions not just in time of necessity, but also under ordinary circumstances.38

Those who would not accept the historicity of deaconal sacramental confession, argue, for example:

[...] not only with reference to the deacons but also in relation to all others who were not priests [...] could never absolve sinners from their sins. An ill person, or a person finding himself in some case of urgent necessity, was exhorted to confess his sins in the absence of a priest to a deacon, or to a minor cleric, or even to a lay person, in order that a greater sorrow would be aroused within the penitent, which sorrow might never have been achieved if the penitent had not confessed to someone [Emphasis added] (Statkus 1951: 11).

Arguments in curtailment of deaconal ministry were further advanced by juridical purists such as Adrian Kilker who wrote:

In later years the pendulum swung dangerously near the heretical end of the arc of theological thought, when Thomas Netter, a Carmelite of Walden, denied the necessity of the presence of Orders in the minister for the valid confection of this sacrament [extreme unction]. Launoi trespassed beyond the hedge-rows of Catholic dogma in his contention that deacons, in case of necessity could, with the Bishop's permission, administer this sacrament [extreme unction]. He defended his opinion on the ground that, since a deacon could administer Viaticum and, as was widely thought in the Middle Ages, receive confessions, he could also administer Extreme Unction. However the constant and insistent declaration of the Church, demanding the sacerdotality of the minister, and the remarkable clarity of the text of St. James effected the prevention of any notable discussion of this important matter [Emphasis added] (1927: 80).

Minister of Viaticum

It appears from the writings of the Fathers that there were times when lay persons communicated themselves or others.

Tertullian [ca. 160-220], the African theologian, writing during the Roman persecutions, wrote to his wife that lay persons carried the Eucharist to their homes and received communion there.39 Tertullian also alluded to the reservation of the Eucharist in private homes in another writing. 40 St. Cyprian forbade the lapsito communicate themselves from their household repositories.41 St. Ambrose [340-397], the Bishop of Milan whose main work was a book on Christian ethics for the clergy, On the Duties of Ministers (Bowden 1990: 5), wrote in another work that the Eucharist was carried by sea travelers in case of shipwreck so that they would not perish without first receiving communion.42 St. Basil [329-379], one of the Cappadocian Fathers, wrote in one of his letters that everyone kept the Eucharist in their homes in Alexandria, and they communicated themselves whenever they wished.43

Preparation for Death: Anointing, Penance, Viaticum

As observed by Porter (1956: 211-25), starting from the period of the Carolingian Reform, priests were instructed to anoint the sick, offer Penance, and see that no one dies without the benefit of Viaticum.44 One notes that during this era, the remission of sins became emphasized as an effect of the sacrament. One of the instructions in the Carolingian Order reads:

Let them do this for seven days, if there is the necessity [si necessitas fuerit], both Communion as well as the other duty; and the Lord will raise him up and if he is in sin, they will be remitted [et si in peccatis fuerit, dimittentur ei].45

Slowly, anointing formulae were being developed. The Sacramentary of Rheimseven provides an "emergency" form:

I anoint you with the blessed oil that you may be saved for all eternity in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.46

This so-called short form or abbreviated form still began with the recitation of the Creed and ended with the reception of Communion.

The Ministers

By this time of clericalism—at the conclusion of this era of the historical survey—the priest was regarded as the regular minister of the sacrament of anointing of the sick. It is instructive to recall that this was the period when the clergy was educated under the dispensation of Charlemagne and the regeneration and salvation of society was done in association with the clergy (McManners 1990: 103).

Although earlier in the period, an argument could be made that lay persons, or at least non-priests, were ministers. A popular example which advanced this position was the writings of Egbert (d. 766), the archbishop of York, whose penitential writings stated that when a person became ill, the sick person was to call in:

[...] his priest and other ministers of God [sacerdotem suum, et alios Dei ministros] so they may admonish him, and the sick person may indicate to him his need and theymay anoint [ungant] him with holy oil in the name of the Lord; and through prayers of the faithful and through anointing, he may be saved and the Lord will raise him up, and if he is in sin(s), they will be remitted…47 [Emphasis added.]

Certainly in this section cited, Egbert confirmed that the priest was the minister of this anointing which replicated the instruction in James. However, the expression "other ministers" remains enigmatic.

In the early centuries ecclesiastical writers indicated that lay persons were involved in the ministry of anointing. The custom seemed to be that lay persons anointed not only others but themselves.48 Those holding to exclusive sacerdotal sacramental anointing will interpose the distinction between a sacrament and a sacramental regardless of whether the distinction was known at the time.

After 1500

From the year 1500 and for at least a century afterwards, the Church was in an upheaval. The historical causes were many: clericalism based on the monopoly of education by clerics and the privileges of the clerical state; a "new scholarship" which was thought to be anti-scholastic, anticlerical and anti-Roman; an aloof disregard for the dogmas of the Church and its sacramental life; a papacy held in low esteem by the general public; and, the abuses of the clergy and the people. The Church appeared to be the exclusive property of the clergy who used it for their own economic advantage. Finally, the disgrace of the indulgence offerings.

There was a call to reformation at the end of the fifteenth century which demanded a radical adaptation to the new circumstance of the period and an awakening of the self to the needs of the hour. Historical abuses grew into theological differences which gave rise to the sixteenth-century movement known as the Protestant Reformation.

A basic tenant of the Reformers was that God made a promise of justification and the individual must place one's faith in the Word of God which is encountered in the Scriptures. The Reformers would accept as sacraments only those signs for which they could find a direct institution by Christ: basically Baptism and the Lord's Supper. They rejected a priesthood of sacrifice. One did not become a priest through ordination because all Christians were priests. The Reformers did not accept Extreme Unction as a sacrament. However, there ought to be a rite of anointing for the sick which could be conducted by one not a priest.

The history of the Council of Trent as it pertained to the sacraments in general and sacramental anointing in particular is interesting. The Concilium Tridentinum (Goerresian Society 1901), especially volumes V and VI, is a major work, in Latin only, and contains extensive summaries of the Acts [Acta] of the Council of Trent. For the specific purpose of this article, it is the end of the first period of the Council of Trent and the beginning of the second period which treated the sacraments in general at Session VII49 and at Session XIV50of Extreme Unction in particular.

For the purpose of rounding out this historical survey, I shall briefly comment on particular aspects of anointing as found in the Acta. But first, in summary, the Council Fathers, in their deliberations both at the session of 1547 and the session of 1551 saw as their purpose to respond to the writings of the Reformers. The Reformers set the agenda for the Council even though they did not attend. It was believed by the Council that no concessions to the Protestants would heal the schism.

The Protestants claimed that the Church had accepted sacraments which were, in fact, mere ceremonies that lacked explicit evidence of sacramental institution by Christ. In response, the Council of Trent affirmed the conclusions of the Council of Florence [1431-1445] as to the number of sacraments. The Council also affirmed the divine origin of the sacraments without precisely fixing the origin in a particular scriptural text. The Fathers probably were aware that this was an open theological issue relative to the modality of sacramental institution.

As to the issue of the sacramental minister, the Council condemned the Reformers' proposition that all Christians have the power to administer the word and all the sacraments. Luther was opposed to an official sacrificial priesthood to the detriment of the priesthood of all believers. The Council decreed that the priest is the proper minister of Extreme Unction.

The Council decreed that Extreme Unction was to be used for the sick who were dangerously ill, that is, those who were about to depart from life.

The effects of this sacrament are such that the anointing takes away sins, if there are any still to be expiated, as well as the remains of sin. It also has the effect of comforting and strengthening the soul of the sick person.

A review of the Acta of both the 1547 and 1551 sessions demonstrates that the earlier session was more thorough than the latter session. The theological analysis of the 1551 session was cursory and superficial. However, it was at the 1551 session that the final canons and decrees were enacted without reference to any of the theological debate of the earlier session.

In the Aftermath of Trent

Since the solemn promulgation of the Council of Trent in 1551 regarding the proper minister of Extreme Unction (Sacramental Anointing of the Sick) nothing has changed. It was as if the particular article and doctrinal statements were literally carved in stone and no matter whether the winds and rains of four hundred plus years battered the stone, the position has never been effaced.

Now, the short form of my argument is that the specific 16th century assertion of the Council of Trent—which prohibited the appointment of non-ordained extraordinary ministers of the sacrament of the sick—can be re-interpreted in favor of such appointment based on contemporary hermeneutics and doctrinal exegesis. And, by extension, the 1997 Instruction which located its authority at Canon 1003.151 which, in itself, restates Canon 4 of Trent52 "On Extreme Unction" is also indirectly subsumed into my conclusion.

Therefore, how can an appellant in his right mind presume to continue loyally persuasive theological dialogue on the subject of alternative ministers to the Sacrament of Anointing in the face of such a firewall of absolute dogmatism? For a start, one can take comfort from the Council of Florence, Session 11 of February 4, 1442 when, among a scattering of "the Church ... condemns [damnat] ...reproves [reprobat] ... anathematizes ... [anathematizat] ... execrates [execratur]" certain people and propositions, it held, inter alia:

It [the Church] believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life ([nec] eterne vite fieri posse participes) and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Catholic Church before the end of their lives;...53

This proposition of the Council of Florence was the unanimous teaching of the whole episcopate for a long time. Then 500-plus years later at the Second Vatican Council (Session 5, November 21, 1964) there was published the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, wherein at Chapter 1, paragraph 8 one reads:

This church, set up and organized in this world as a society, subsists [subsistit] in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him, although outside its structure many elements of sanctification and of truth are to be found [licet extra eius compaginem elementa plura sanctificationis et veritatis inveniantur] which as proper gifts to the church of Christ, impel towards catholic unity [Tanner 1990: 854 (Vol. II)].

What one learns from this example is that there are instances whereby a doctrine that had a long-held tradition was subsequently reversed. Other reversals from history include the morality of owning slaves and exploiting their labor, and the obligation which required rulers of Catholic nations to prevent the propagation of Protestantism in their territories. A cautious rule might be: "Never" is never "never."

It is not disloyal to test the propositions of our faith. This type of testing is the function of systematic theology. David Tracy described the goal of all systematic theology as "the reinterpretation of a religious tradition by committed and informed thinkers in that tradition" (Tracy 1981: 66).

The Council of Trent, since 1551 when it condemned the Reformation teaching which rejected the Church's limiting the administration of the Sacrament of Anointing (then, "Extreme Unction"), has held as a defined doctrine of the Church that only the priest is the proper minister of anointing. This position has been held for centuries through the catechisms following the Council of Trent, the theological handbooks, the Code of Canon Law of 1917 and the revised Code of 1983. Most recently, since August, 1997, this position has been re-asserted in the document published by eight Vatican offices, known by its English text title as: Some Questions Regarding Collaboration of Non-ordained Faithful in Priests' Sacred Ministry, as cited earlier, including a later Explanatory Note.

However, the issue of alternative minister for this sacramental anointing continues. Since the restoration of the permanent diaconate to a proper and permanent rank among the hierarchical offices of ministry the question persists. The Instruction, seemingly aware of the smoldering issue, sets up the "straw man" of decline in priestly vocation54 as a mere figment of one's imagination. The Instruction takes comfort in the unsupported statistic that since 1975 the number of major seminarians has doubled. It is silent regarding the number of ordinations. A quantity which is said to have "doubled," without a fixed comparative database, is meaningless and disingenuous. Regardless of what may be statistical dissembling, the solution advanced for the United States was to import clergy and relocate them to areas of most pastoral need.

Within the United States the shortage of priests has been admitted and certain accommodations have been put in place. Shifts to the suburbs from cities have enlarged suburban parishes to the point that parishes have been divided, then divided again. However, the staffing pool of diocesan priests, sorry to say, cannot divide and multiple with the same facility. A pastor with or without an assistant, may be the pastor of one domicile church and two mission churches. There is anecdotal evidence that on any Saturday/Sunday, he may well celebrate nine Masses. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, he may celebrate eleven Masses. Morning Masses, at one time available Monday through Saturday, are now alternated with Eucharistic Services conducted by parishioners. Deacons and female pastoral administrators are conducting funeral services. The home "sick call" is becoming a relic of the past. The Anointing of the Sick is administered in hospitals by the chaplain if the [Catholic] chaplain is on shift during the time of particular need; otherwise, the patient waits, or is not anointed. Hospice-givers partner with the seriously ill: they offer prayers, moral support, they share fears and sorrows, they tend to their physical needs, they are a presence, a reassuring clasp of the hand. But for the anointing they must turn to a stranger.

Our seminaries are closing and consolidating. Our priests are dying, resigning, retiring; our religious priests are leaving parishes and turning control back to the diocesan bishops.

Furthermore, the morale of the American priesthood is low. Long hours, frustration of the ministry, alcoholism, drug abuse, sex abuse, ambiguous gender identification, all erode morale.

Urban parishes are closing. Monasteries, abbeys, and friaries are selling-off long held properties in order to finance retirement funds.

Vocations are not re-supplying the ranks. Our bishops are telling the laity that it is their fault that vocations have not matured in their homes.55 The laity, on the other hand, look at the present-day lifestyle of the priest and see a group of men, often frustrated by their work, who have been scorched in the press for proven and alleged acts of sexual deviancy, and the commission of embezzlement and fraud. Parishioners have seen their building funds seized by their bishop in order to pay civil judgments in pedophilia cases. Some dioceses have discussed the possibility of filing for financial protection under federal bankruptcy laws.

Along with the credibility of the priesthood, there is the wider picture of the crisis regarding the credibility of the Church itself. Here the credibility is not an issue of bad publicity but rather "...this credibility crisis is the failure of Church teaching to evolve and find expression in such a way that stands up to the legitimate critique of personal experience, and also the retention of medieval and patriarchal structures which have long outlived their usefulness and which in fact alienate people" (Conway 1996: 2).

Amid all of this, we ask that the laity be permitted to sacramentally anoint their own sick and dying.

In the restricted area of lay administration of the sacramental Anointing of the Sick, consider some final points:

1. Canon 213 of the Code of Canon Law clearly states that the laity have a right to the sacraments: "The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments."56

2. There are Christifideles in this world, for one reason or another, and in great numbers, have been deprived of the sacraments.

3. As already noted, in the usual course of events, first comes the liturgical practice, then follows the theology. Lay Catholics must anoint, the practice must begin in earnest. And in this particular case, the theology is already in place.

So, the often-cited Canon 4 of Trent cannot be a basis per se for the Church to argue that it does not have the authority to institute change in some areas of sacramental administration. It is patent from even this cursory historical survey that the Church, through the centuries, has the authority to institute change in some areas of sacramental administration.

As examples of change, over time, in the area of Anointing of the Sick, one may look to two examples: the so-called remote matter required for the "validity" of the sacrament, i.e., olive oil; and, the evolution of the application formula.

One only has to note the evolutionary changes from Trent itself ("oil blessed by a bishop"), to a post-Tridentine catechism ("...oil consecrated by the Bishop" and not any kind of oil extracted from fatty or greasy substances "but olive oil alone"). Then, during the era of the theological handbooks through the early 1960's, there was great precision in this matter:

The remote matter required for the validity of the sacrament [of Extreme Unction] is oil (O.I.)57 specially blessed; the ordinary minister for the blessing of the oil is a bishop, the extraordinary minister any priest delegated by the Supreme Pontiff (c. 945).58 In the Greek Church all priests possess this delegation tacitly.

The remote matter required for lawfulness in ordinary cases is oil which has been blessed a) in the same year in which it is used, b) by the bishop of the diocese (or, if the see is vacant, by the bishop of a neighboring diocese).

Oil should not be used except in cases of necessity. "When the holy oils are about to fail, other olive oil that has not been blessed may be added, even repeatedly, but always in smaller quantity than the holy oils" (c. 734).59 The oil of catechumens and chrism are doubtful matter (Prummer 1949: 376).

Then in 1972, Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Constitution on the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, wrote:

Further, since oil, which hitherto had been prescribed for the valid administration of the Sacrament, is unobtainable or difficult to obtain in some parts of the world, we have decreed, at the request of numerous bishops, that in the future, according to the circumstances, oil of another sort could also be used, but it must be oil obtained from plants for this resembles olive oil more closely.60

Does that mean that the pressing of the olive may be replaced, for good cause, with the pressing of many kitchens' favorite plant—the medicinal aloe vera?


1. Regarding the minister of anointing of the sick, the evidence supports the claim that the restriction of the administration of this anointing to priests dates from the Carolingian Reform.

2. The documents of the preceding centuries support the position that the practice of lay anointing was widespread and regarded to be the sacramental anointing done by priests as described in James.

3. The disciplinary action of the Church in the 8th century which restricted the anointing to priests resulted in the cessation of lay anointing as a generally accepted practice.

4. There have been strained grammatical attempts to re-interpret the letter of Innocent I which testified to the practice of lay anointing by means of an anachronistic application of the distinction between a sacrament and a sacramental.

5. Regarding the Tridentine teaching on the proper minister of Extreme Unction, it is clear that the primary concern of the Council of Trent was to respond to the Reformers' claim that the Church in its practice erred and abused its authority. Methodologically, the Council Fathers became aware that they could condemn as "heretical" and by "anathema" those teachings whose content was unanimously held to be heresy in the sense of a denial of revealed truth. The sin of the Reformers, as understood by the Council Fathers, was that the Protestants taught positions contrary to what the Church taught and implied error on the part of the Church. So, because the Church considered its practice of restricting the administration of Extreme Unction to priests alone, the Council Fathers considered such restriction to be valid and binding for that time. The Protestants opposed this view and were considered heretical and worthy of condemnation.

6. In the view of some contemporary theologians such as Paul Palmer, John Ziegler and Charles Gusmer and currently accepted principles of hermeneutics, Canon 4 is not to be considered a "dogma of faith" in the strict sense of the term as understood today, i.e., the Tridentine canon was not "divinely revealed."

THEREFORE, Canon 4 need no longer be considered an obstacle to the Church's appointing someone other than a priest to administer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. The Church is competent to make this declaration in the same way that the Church was competent to make this declaration centuries ago when the administration was restricted to a priest.

And secondly, with the real and provable shortage of priests that certainly exists in the United States, Asia and Europe, the People of God have been deprived of the solace afforded by this sacrament. The Church gives every indication that it fears that by admitting a concession vis-a-vis the minister of the sacramental Anointing of the Sick to the laity, the role of the priest will be diminished. The problem with this fear is that it suggests an inordinate fear of a loss of power. The issue ought not to be constructed in terms of only winners or losers: if the franchise is shared, all can be winners.


1. Cf., See Catechism of the Catholic Church: no. 1256.

2. Cf., ibid., no. 1306.

3. Kerkhofs 1995:163-88 esp. Chapt. VI, "Where Now? Possible Scenarios" by Jan Kerkhofs and Paul-Michael Zulehner.

4. Cf., "Some Questions Regarding Collaboration of Non-ordained Faithful in Priests' Sacred Ministry," Origins 27/24 (November 27, 1997), pp. 397-409.

5. Cf., canons 230.3, 943 and 1112.

6. Cf., Canons 1379 and 392.2.

7. Cf., "The Instruction: An Explanatory Note," Origins 27/24 (November 27, 1997), 409-10.

8. Paul VI, Sacram unctionem infirmorum, 30 November, 1972.

9. "If anyone says that the presbyters of the church who, as blessed James enjoins, should be brought in to anoint the sick person, are not priests who have been ordained by a bishop, but the elders in any community; and that on that account the proper minister of last anointing is not exclusively a priest: let him be anathema" Tanner1990:713.

10. Rom 1:9; 12:1; 15:16; Phil 2:17.

11. Acts 6:5-6; 8:17; 13:2-3; 14:23; 19:5; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6; Heb 6:2.

12. First half of third century.

13. Historia Monachorum, cap. 28, De duobus Macariis, et primo, de Macario Aegyptio, seu seniore [PL 21:451].

14. Historia Monachorum, cap. 8, De Ammone [PL 21:421].

15. "Contemporary exposition is best and strongest in the law."

16. Origen, In Leviticum, hom. 2, cap. 4 [PG 12:418-419]

17. Sacramentarium Gelasianum, PL 74:1099-1100: "Et tua sancta benedictio sit omni ungenti, gustanti, tangenti tutamentum corporis animae et spiritus ad evacuandos omnes dolores, omnem infirmitatem, omnem aegritudinem mentis et corporis."

18. An aromatic resin derived from the terebinth tree. It grew abundantly in Palestine and was one of its principal exports (Sir 24:15-16). It was considered to have some medicinal qualities.

19. DS 216.

20. E.g., Tapper, Netzer, Kern.

21. E.g., DeSainte-Beuve, Bord, Ruch, de Letter, Poschman.

22. E.g., Chavasse, Puller, Boudinhon, De Clercq, Villien.

23. "They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them." This was the concluding sentence of the section in which the Twelve were given their mission and sent out two by two.

24. Bede, In Marci Evangelium expositio, lib. 2(PL 92:187).

25. Bede, Expositio super Epistolas catholicas: In Epistolam S. Jacobi (PL 93:39-40).

26. Expositio super epistola catholicas--Divi Jacobi apostoli, ML 93:39D. Si ergo infirmi in peccatis sint, et haec presbyteris Ecclesiae confessi fuerint, ac perfecto corde ea relinquere atque emendare satagerint, dimittentur eis.

27. De institutione laicali 3.14, ML 106:261B.

28. Liber de Corpore et Sanguine Christi cap. 8, 120:1292C. Prius adhibenda est confessio peccati, sanctificationem unctionis.

29. Commentarium in Ecclesiasticum lib. 8, cap. 14, 109:1032A. Si mundamus congitationes cordis nostri ab omni dolo et nequitia.

30. Moguntini statuta in Concilio Leptinenis c. 29, 89:823A.

31. Capitularia Caroli c. 10, ML 97:124.

32. De ecclesiasticis disciplinis lib. 1.116, ML 132:214B.

33. Epitome theologiae christianae 30, ML 178: 1745A.

34. Elucidarium sive dialogue de summa totius christianae theologiae 2, ML 172: 1155B.Peccata confessa, et non iterata, vel quotidiana per hanc unctionem relaxantur.

35. Rationale divororum Officiorum 95, ML 202: 96C. Remittentur ei peccata, videlicet venialia, vel si non fuerit in mortali peccato.

36. Idem., Bede.

37. St. Cyrian, Epistola XII, n. 1, PL 4:259.

38. Etienne, Bishop of Autun (1112-1139), De sacramento altaris, c. 7, PL 170:1279.

39. Tertullian, Ad uxorem, lib. II, cap. 5, PL 1:1296.

40. Tertullian, De oratione, n. 19, PL 1:1181.

41. Cyprian, De lapsis, n. 26, PL 4:486-7.

42. Ambrose, De excessu fratris sui Satyri, lib. I, n. 43, PL 16:1304.

43. Basil, Epistula XCIII, PG 32:486.

44. In absolute agreement with modern Canon Law wherein all restrictions are lifted when Christians are dying so that they may receive Penance and the Eucharist. Cf., CIC 566, 844, 867, 883, 913, 921, 961.

45 Carolingian Order, in Liber sacramentorum, PL 78:236.

46. Sacramentary of Rheims, PL 78:529-39.

47. Egbert, Poenitentiale, PL 89:416.

48. Eligius, Bishop (640-659), De rectitudine Catholicae conversationis, PL 40:1178.

49. Decretum primum [De sacramentis], 3 mart. 1547.

50. Doctrina de sacramento extremae unctionis: Cap. I - De institutione sacramenti extremae unctionis; Cap. II - De effectu huius sacramenti; Cap. III - De ministro huius sacramenti et tempore, quo dari debeat, 25 Nov. 1551.

51. "Every priest, and only a priest, validly administers the anointing of the sick."

52. Norman P. Tanner, 713. Canon 4 of the 14th Session of the Council of Trent in 1551: "If anyone says that the presbyters of the church who, as blessed James enjoins, should be brought in to anoint the sick person, are not priests who have been ordained by a bishop, but the elders in any community; and that on that account the proper minister of last anointing is not exclusively a priest: let him be anathema."

53. Norman P. Tanner, S.J., op. cit, [Vol. I], 567; DS 1351; ND810, 1005. "Decree for the Copts."

54. Instruction, para. 8.

55. According to the European Values Study : E. Ester, L. Hallman, R. de Moor, eds. The Individualizing Society: Value Change in Europe and North America, Tilburg, 1993. Traditionally, vocations are usually found in families of practicing Catholics.

56. Can. 213: Ius est christifidelibus ut ex spiritualibus Ecclesiae bonis, praesertim ex verbo Dei et sacramentis, adiumenta a sacris Pastoribus accipiant."

57. Oleum Infirmorium (i.e. the oil of the sick/infirm)

58. 1917 Code of Canon Law.

59. Idem.

60. Pope Paul VI. 1973. "Apostolic Constitution on the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick." AFER 15:173-5.


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