Anointing Palms Down

hands downA retired priest was in line for Anointing of the Sick. He presented his hands palms down for anointing. The parishioners behind him noticed, and figured the clergy must know best, so the whole line presented themselves for anointing backhanded. My present pastor was at the sacramental end of that line and after the liturgy asked his elder brother priest why he set that example for everyone.

Once a priest’s palms are anointed, the explanation went, they cannot be anointed for anything else. Ever hear of that, my pastor asked me. I had not. Have you?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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9 Responses to Anointing Palms Down

  1. Mike says:

    Sounds like the liturgical equivalent to an old wives’ tale!

  2. Deacon Eric Stoltz says:

    Ridiculous claptrap. Must be a holdover from the bad old days when the anointing eclipsed the actual laying on of hands and all kinds of pious practices accumulated around it.

  3. Katherine says:

    I don’t know what they’re telling them in seminaries these days, but for whatever it’s worth, here’s Archbishop Sheen on the subject:

    “… The priest on dying is anointed on the back of his hands, his palms having been anointed in Holy Orders. The layperson is always anointed on the palms. …”


    I recall reading that the notorious ex-bishop Talleyrand, on his deathbed, presented his hands palm down to the priest who anointed him.

    I do think the priest doing the anointing should have gently asked the lay people to offer their hands palm up, so they would know that was the normal, correct way.

    Anyone have a copy of Pastoral Care of the Sick at hand to consult about this?

  4. CarpeNoctem says:

    There is no specification in favor of the backs of the hands made in the Pastoral Care of the Sick, but this was a custom from days gone by. The old Rituale gives instruction, but no explanation for this custom, neither confirming nor denying the pious explanation that the priest was already anointed on his palms at ordination.

    There are lots of lacunae in the present rites which are habitually and gladly provided for by deferring to the older rites… “purple” stoles are not mentioned in the Rite of Penance, how to genuflect or make the sign of the cross is not mentioned in the IGMR (suggesting, perhaps, many interpretations or innovations are possible– anyone seen a ‘Byzantine’ sign of the cross recently?), and the instruction that the sponsor ‘physically touch’ the confirmand during the sacrament of confirmation is not there either. All of these things, I think, are rightfully presumed, even though not formally instructed.

  5. Jim McK says:

    Todd commented on the relevant passage from the PCS on 1 Dec 2008, and on the passage on anointing the priest on 11 Sep 2008. Both specify anointing with palms up, iirc what I just read moments ago.

    Most today see the anointing at ordination as less consequential than our immediate ancestors counted it. Leo XIII taught, and Pius XII confirmed, that the essence of the ordination rite is the laying on of hands rather than the anointing or the giving of the chalice & paten. So in the rite the anointing comes after giving the chasuble, ie is a subsidiary rite.

    OTOH, anointing on the forehead, and not the laying on of hands, is the essence of confirmation according to Paul VI.

    Suffering through sickness is a different ministry in the Church from serving through the priesthood. The two are complementary ministries that re-present Christ to us. Both can be exercised by a single individual, as with JP2’s service during his declining health, so the practice of priests offering the backs of their hands is not imo necessary.

    I suppose that this is only relevant if you believe, as I do, that the anointing of the sick is a consecration to the ministry of the suffering Christ. Not exactly in the rite, but how I understand it nonetheless.

  6. CarpeNoctem says:

    Hmmm… I am seeing from PCS that it only specifies “hands”. In my read (without seeing the Latin to determine for sure if the word used was ‘hands’ or ‘palms’) that could mean either the palm or the tops of the hands.

    Normally I do request ‘palms up’ when I administer the sacrament (although I will not scrupulously seek a palm when a patient is unconscious in bed– I’ll settle for anointing on the tops of hands in this case). If a priest presents himself ‘palms down’, I have always anointed on the tops of the hands without question or comment.

    Again, if I can find that the Latin text gives more precision (i.e., ‘palms’), I’ll happily defer to the instruction of the Church on this matter, even for priests.

    I really like Jim McK’s idea about consecration into the ministry of the suffering Christ. I’m going to have to ‘steal’ that. (Thanks!)

    • Jim McK says:

      Ooops! I knew I should have gone back to check the PCS, but I had just read it moments earlier.

      I am not sure where I got the idea of consecration via the anointing of the sick, but it sits better with me than just ‘healing’ since I have a disease that can only be healed by miracle. (diabetes for 40+ years) I am glad you like the idea and hope you can use it to benefit someone.

    • Todd says:

      Thanks for the link, Tom. The 1962 Missal indeed makes some specifications that are no longer in the Pastoral Care rite. It recommends eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, and feet. The feet are the limbs which may be omitted at the discretion of the minister.

      The modern Pastoral Care rite provides for the anointing of parts of the body other than hands and head (#124) but the formula is not repeated for these. This may be a site where an injury or pain is, or some culturally appropriate part of the body.

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