How Catholics Discuss New Ideas

An interesting, but not a novel proposal to examine the possibility of extraordinary ministers for anointing of the sick. Rita Ferrone is surfacing an idea floated elsewhere by John Ziegler and James Empereur in decades past. But perhaps it belongs on the table for a Jubilee of Mercy? Maybe we’re too late for that.

You might predict I think the matter is worth a wide discernment. I don’t think Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2005 word on this is the last. Sure shouldn’t be.

The contributions from the naysayers fascinate me. The default position for many Catholics is to scramble for the Catechism or the documents of Trent and play parrot. Very little curiosity on the part of some. If only the idea were being floated at a Pope Francis synod. Though it’s doubtless less sexy than remarried Catholics approaching the Eucharist.

Greg Kandra weighs in with thumbs down here, though technically, he’s just the bird on a branch. Of course, when you’re working in Brooklyn or Rome, the situation isn’t quite the same as rural areas in the world where priests are few and far between. And perhaps the suffering of souls with serious illness is at least as great.

I think the issue underscores what frustrates me in many internet discussions. One negative reaction attempted to put words onto Ms Ferrone’s post. Her response:

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.

Pfui indeed. Her foil needs a lesson in CCC 2478 before he tackles the catechism on anointing. Or anything else, really.

The truth of it is that believers have a need that is being unmet. Some of us are willing to explore the limits of history and practice to help discern a way to meet the need. Others want to slam the door shut. Non-sacramental anointing is offered as a possible solution, but how satisfactory is that with regard to the Eucharist (Communion services)?

We should look at the full scope of tradition, including the serious reasons why administration of the sacraments have been reserved to bishops, or to priests, or to clergy. Those who have nothing to contribute beyond what others said in the 1500’s or such might consider how to rework their arguments for the present day. Especially in light of a theological priority: human need.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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16 Responses to How Catholics Discuss New Ideas

  1. Melody says:

    I think one of the primary objections has been the lack of ability of a lay minister (or a deacon) to give sacramental absolution. The “Last Sacraments” traditionally have included Penance, Anointing of the Sick, and Eucharist. Of course if no priest is available, the person is not going to be able to receive the sacrament of Penance anyway. One solution would be to give faculties of the sacrament of Penance to deacons (after training them for that ministry). Of course an EMHC already has the ability to take Communion to the sick. I have heard some of them say that it ended up being Viaticum for a person who died shortly later.

  2. John McGrath says:

    The Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.

  3. FrMichael says:

    It is good to see a few of the wicked vipers who inhabit the progressive side of the Catholic blogosphere raise their serpent heads out of their dens with outright heresies now and then. NB I’m not calling most of the progressives satans: most of the citizens of that strange incoherent theological world seem to lack solid knowledge of dogmatic theology and are led into wickedness by spiritual deceivers and by their own parroting of the secular societies in which they live.

    How many times has the truth of the Catholic Faith been shaded by the appeal to the phrase, “Well, it’s not an infallible teaching”? Now some of the wicked have been caught on the public record at PrayTell contradicting infallible teaching.

    As a public service and as part of my ministry as a priest and teacher of the Catholic Faith, here is the infallible Canon 4 of the Unction section of the Tridentine Decree on Penance and Extreme Unction:

    “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.”

    BTW the referenced excerpt in James 5 is one of those few infallibly interpreted passages of the Bible (cf. Canon 1 of the same section).

    Anyway, it’s a good day when wickedness is exposed to daylight!

  4. Melody says:

    Fr. Michael, I understand how you believe that faculties for Annointing of the Sick should be reserved to the priesthood. I even agree to the extent that it is Scriptural; I do think it could be extended to deacons since they are in Holy Orders. But “…wicked vipers..raise their serpent heads out of their dens with outright heresies..”? That’s a rather over-the-top way to label people with whom you have a difference of opinion. It’s kind of sad when there can’t even be a discussion of a change without an acusation of heresy.

  5. FrMichael says:

    No Melody, when an ecumenical council of the Church declares something in this way, it is to be held definitively by all the Faithful as pertaining to the Deposit of Faith. The speculations over there about the Sacrament of the Sick are as spurious as considerations of adding a Fourth Person to the Godhead. Thus my harsh remarks against the deceivers.

    • Todd says:

      It’s a discussion, pure and simple. Nobody is getting deceived, and certainly nobody is confused. Melody has your number: you’re a bit over the top on this.

    • David A says:

      I’m a bit curious about some of the phrasing of your quote from Trent. It calls priests the “proper minister” of the sacrament. I find the word choice of “proper” interesting. Was that word choice common in documents from Trent or was this something specific to this situation? And I suppose what was the Latin word used?

      The word “proper” implies that something is appropriate or correct. But the underlying connotation of “proper” in some settings would allow for something to be “improper” but still technically acceptable or possible. I guess, I’m not as convinced that Trent was definitively ruling that only priests can anoint, so much as that it was only “proper” for priests to do so. There would be a world of difference between those two meanings.

      The article itself does address Trent and it points out the use of the word “proper” was unusual and it’s unclear if the intent was to say that only priests can anoint or if the intent was to make clear that it’s correct (“proper”) for priests to anoint.

      Finally, conflating a discussion about who can administer Anointing of Sick with a theoretical discussion of a fourth part of the Godhead seems a bit ridiculous, particularly in the light of the fact that even if anointing is limited to priests now, there is more than sufficient evidence to suggest that in the early Church the practice was much less certain. Or would you consider discussing past practice of the church as engaging in deception.

      • FrMichael says:

        No sir, I don’t consider the conflating inappropriate. By the technical language used by Trent for the sacrament of Extreme Unction and the explanatory language used prior to the solemn canons, it is has been clear that these are infallible teachings of the Church. Thus my harsh reaction to the Pray Tell discussion.

  6. David A. says:

    Father, could you address my question about the word “proper”? You did not address its meaning. Does “proper” mean “only” or could it mean “appropriate?” As you said it’s technical and specific language and the very article you are critical of makes reference to another author suggesting that technical language may have a different meaning than you may hold for it. I’m not disputing it is a solemn canon of Trent, I’m just not so certain of what the one word means. Of course, I also have no idea even what Latin word was used.

  7. FrMichael says:

    David A, the underlying word to “proper” is “propium.” The understanding of it is clear from the sentence, let me repeat it:

    “…and that for this reason a priest ONLY is not the proper minister of extreme unction, let him be anathema.” (my emphasis) The Latin word for only is “solum,” which like English’s “only,” excludes others. The reasoning for this is given in Chapters 1 and 3 of “The Doctrine of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction” is that the Church interprets James as providing the matter, form, administration (i.e. minister), and effects of the sacrament, this coming from Apostolic Tradition, in and of itself infallible.

    Read the (English translation) decree in whole at Scroll down halfway to you get to ON THE SACRAMENT OF EXTREME UNCTION. It’s not that long a read. Then scroll past the 15 solemn canons on Penance to get to the 4 canons regarding Extreme Unction.

  8. Todd says:

    Of course the only problem with basing one’s stance on the letter of James is how one interprets πρεσβύτερος. The apostolic age did not have parish priests as we know them today. Elders (plural) served in ministry under the bishop. There is a line between the elders of the New Testament and the parish priest of today, but it is neither a straight, nor a singular one.

    Your admitted “harsh reaction” seems a little too vehement for a fruit of the Spirit, at least to me. It is possible to refer to the New Testament and to Trent without “harshness,” but I think one has to address that fifteen-century gap in terms of the understanding of ministry.

    For the record, I don’t think your conflating is inappropriate. It’s darned silly. And a serious weakness to your credibility in discussing the matter. But it’s your choice.

    • Liam says:

      Well, the problem with the elders argument is that Trent confronted it head on, and emphatically rejected it. It’s not a new argument, but an old one that was rejected in an ecumenical council’s anathema. Orthodoxy also limits the sacrament to priests and bishops – they consider a concession to permit a single priest to do it, rather than the preferred seven….

      • Todd says:

        There’s a problem, in turn, with Tridentine-era scholarship. They had largely lost touch with the roots of ordained ministry. They could ponder the Scriptures, probably in Latin, but they didn’t have all the resources of the Patristic Era.

      • Liam says:

        The problem with that is the resources of the Patristic era are not themselves dispositive in a way that can negate an dogmatic pronouncement of a subsequent ecumenical council on sacramental theology. It’s not like a moral issue where additional factual context can alter the application of moral theology to concrete situations.

        Because of this, I can’t readily confess shock and horror at those who are shocked by a breezy elision of the dogmatic obstacle here – I don’t think their reaction is per se unreasonable, even though its particular expression is not put forth charitably. And it’s not like they are the only ones who jump to judge – it’s no less right out of the parable of the pharisee and the publican for an exasperated priest to tut tut at them and in so many words say something with the tone of “For the life of me, I can’t understand why they aren’t as enlightened as I am.”

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