Divine Worship


The Recipient of the Anointing

Pastoral Notes - Annointing of the Sick


The 'Introduction' to the Rite of Anointing of the Sick describes the baptized 'whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age' (PCS #6) as proper recipients of the sacrament. The same text goes on to note that a "prudent or reasonably sure judgment, without scruple' is sufficient to decide if an illness is serious. (PCS #8) For example, the common cold, not usually a justification for anointing, is apt to be a u serious" illness for an otherwise healthy ninety year old. The age and general health of the person is as important a factor as the specific ailment in making a decision about the sacrament.

Persons facing surgery are appropriate candidates for anointing when the surgery aims to correct an illness. The elderly may be anointed if they are notably frail or weakened even when no serious illness has been diagnosed. Seriously ill children who have the use of reason may be anointed. The unconscious' or seriously ill persons who have lost the use of reason may be anointed if, as, baptized believers, they would probably have asked or wanted to be anointed. (PCS#9-14)

Those who suffer serious psychological illness may be anointed 'if they would be strengthened by the sacrament.' (PCS #53) Although acute mental illness renders many incapable of certain sacraments such as marriage, they may have sufficient use of reason to be comforted by the sacrament of anointing.

Alcoholism is considered a disease, although the acute symptoms disappear when the alcoholic stops drinking. Hence, alcoholics 'in recovery' can perhaps best be assisted by celebration of penance and the Eucharist. On the other hand, in an acute phase, such as a residential or outpatient treatment program, it is often the case that the alcoholic is acutely ill physically and emotionally. Judgment is best made on a case-by-case basis.

When a priest is called to attend those who are already dead, he should not administer the sacrament. Instead he, or another minister when no priest is available, should lead the family in 'Prayers for the Dead,' Chapter VII of Pastoral Care of the Sick, or 'Prayers after Death" in the Order for Christian Funerals 101-108. In cases where death is uncertain, he is to administer the rites conditionally. One sometimes hears the plea that anointing the dead is 'good pastoral practice.' Such an approach is totally out of keeping with the nature and purpose of anointing.