More to Anoint More of the Sick

Apparently Rita Ferrone’s anointing post got “picked up” at dotCommonweal. Yesterday’s post was more about poking at conservative Catholics putting their brains and truth-telling on hold to spit out the notion at PrayTell. Tonight I’d like to give my opinion and open it up for comments.

The idea has been around for a few decades now. I think the Church’s ministry and mission would be extended by local bishops deputing lay people and deacons to anoint the sick.

The priests I work with in my Northwest parish are diligent about visiting the sick and anointing them. But I cannot recall a parish with more diligent clergy.

I do remember my two years in rural ministry. Having a deacon colleague ready to anoint would have been helpful. My own perspective: it would have been an honor to be an extraordinary minister of anointing and fill the need.

The issue is mainly about serving the needy. Not the protection of institutional aspects. I know FrMichael values the past. But the past also found the Church officially condemning such things as priests presiding at Mass, or hearing private confessions, or bishops moving to a second diocese. All of those traditions fell. I think this one could fall sometime soon, too.

I don’t think it’s a matter of shortage of priests. The Catholic church, in places outside of men’s monasteries, large Christian cities, and seminaries, has usually not enjoyed a glut of clergy. If we are in crisis, it is surely a crisis of discipleship, not ordained ministry. Or perhaps it’s a crisis of needing more courage to move forward in pilgrimage, and leave behind the bunkers and circled wagons.

At the very least, the point is worth discussing. Openly. seriously. And without insults lofted from either side.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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12 Responses to More to Anoint More of the Sick

  1. Liam says:

    Bunkers and circled wagons? Nice try at avoiding lofting insults from each side….

    FWIW, there are ideas that have been around for centuries that are no more viable for the length of it.

    • Todd says:

      The topic is opening up a sacramental practice for discernment. Not lying about what people said about it. Not dodging the issues, theological, historical, or pastoral. But your point about the simplex priesthood (or are we talking viri probati?) suggests that a very wide study of all the sacraments may be needed. I wouldn’t argue against it. But it seems that would scare a lot more people than extraordinary ministers under the discernment of a bishop.

      Jen’s point in her first paragraph is indeed well-taken. There are regions, dioceses, and parishes that have taken conciliar reform in the sacraments more seriously that others. I don’t know that the East is necessarily slow to realize. But it seems that thanks to centers of learning and scholarship in the Midwest, even smaller sees there have done the legwork one doesn’t always see in the East.

      • Liam says:

        Simplex means limited faculties: no general faculty to preach or hear confessions (except in danger of death, the narrow standard, not the standard for anointing in the ritual books) – and they’d not be paid for by the diocese.

        I suspect Eastern dioceses may have historically been more likely to have their sacramental practices ruddered by canonists.

        Meanwhile, consider ditching the bunkers and wagons if you really want to reduce the risks of mirroring.

      • Liam says:

        PS: And, to make clear what should be obvious, simplex priesthood would not be deacons or laity of either gender. By the same token, however, it would avoid stepping on dogmatic and ecumenical (with Orthodox and Oriental Churches) landmines.

      • Todd says:

        Sure, but I’ve noted bunkers and circled wagons on the progressive side as well. In the PrayTell thread in question, there were some caricatures and mild insults on the pro-side, but not nearly as bad as one or two intentional mis-reads of what Rita actually wrote.

      • Liam says:

        I will say that, while the misreads were misreads, the explanations provided for them gave me enough pause that I would not convict of bad faith or malice. Rita’s Commonweal rewrite is stronger for having to clarify her own somewhat breezy initial approach at PT.

        But if you genuinely want folks to avoid insults, tu quoque is weak starting position.

      • Todd says:

        Possibly. But there is a creak in the moral life of religious people I’ve noted online and in person that surfaces as what appears to be a deliberate misreading no matter how carefully an idea is presented.

        I had an experience connected with this blog (an adoption post, I believe, though it was never specified) in which someone approached the personnel board of the parish I worked for with the notion that I was against church teaching in Humanae Vitae. Things got very vague when the board convened and the matter discussed. I had to insist on a full retraction and an erasure from the record that the board was ever called at all.

        Sometimes even well-meaning people get caught up in things that if they comprehended more carefully they would probably be rather disinclined to questionable or sinful behavior. And that certainly goes for me.

      • Liam says:

        The imputation of motives is the threshold that needs to be carefully considered and often isn’t enough. I’ve seen that coming from the other direction, too. I still have a vivid memory of listening to people impute all manner of sinister non-Right-Thinking(TM) attitudes to a new rector who made the mistake of being an introvert who listened quietly and observed before he said much – nature abhors a vacuum….

  2. Jen says:

    Might this be a regional difference? On the west coast, I noticed that it was offered far more frequently (before surgeries, any potentially life-threatening thing.) It seems like as you go further east, the more it’s reserved for immanent death.

    We do need to have some big discussions soon. Even if there’s a sudden surge in vocations, there’s going to be a gap between the current generation of priests and the new one. A bigger discussion would be about vocations as a whole. (My current theory is that no-holds barred capitalism is not favorable to growing vocations.)

    • Liam says:


      I think you are onto something in your first paragraph. The ritual book takes a more expressly broad view of the application of the sacrament, in keeping with the conciliar directive, while the related canon law is more frugal, shall we say, and I think some bishops have favored the latter over the former in practice. I think that’s one area where the canon needs express revision, and does not implicate dogmatic problems.

      Unfortunately, the historical development of the sacrament doesn’t on its own overcome the dogmatic developments. One finesse that has been discussed in the past but is curiously absent from the most recent discussions is the simplex priesthood. Some people seem to reach first for the diaconate and laity solution – and elide the dogmatic obstacles – but the simplex priesthood solution, while presenting issues of its own to be sure, would not require that. I am not yet persuaded that a form of anointing that is “merely” a sacramental rather than a sacrament is going be viable; I’ve personally been in a community in the past where non-clerics did that on their own initiative (and did not invite available priests to minister the sacrament), and the confusion was not a good solution.

  3. Melody says:

    I am understanding a simplex priest to be someone like Venerable Solanus Casey, who was an ordained priest but didn’t have faculties for hearing confession or preaching. He wasn’t considered intelligent enough for those ministries because he had a hard time with foreign languages ( I believe I read that the seminary lectures were in German). He was actually quite intelligent. That scenario would be unlikely to happen now. A simplex priest would be a rarity, unless you are talking about a laicized priest, and that presents another set of problems.
    Jen may be right about regional differences, I wasn’t aware that the Annointing of the Sick was treated more like Extreme Unction back east. Around here it is given pretty freely, before a surgery or even medical tests that one is worried about. And no reason why it shouldn’t be.

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