«A Deacon is Not a Minister of the Sacrament of Anointing Rev Dr Anthony Gooley Enter deacon and anointing into an internet search engine and within ...»
A Deacon is Not a Minister of the Sacrament of Anointing
Rev Dr Anthony Gooley
Enter deacon and anointing into an internet search engine and within.23 seconds about 6.3
million items will appear. A sampling of deacon websites and blogs will reveal discussions
about why deacons (of the Latin or Roman rite) should or should not be permitted to
administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Deacons involved in hospital or military
chaplaincy or those with primary responsibility for the pastoral leadership of a parish in the absence of a priest will most frequently and fervently argue for the necessity of deacons being permitted to administer this sacrament. Other deacons, and sometimes priests and laity ask the question too.
In this paper I hope to show why it is that a deacon should not be the minister of this sacrament and to explain why it is that current Church practice and law defines the minister as a sacerdos (priest or bishop). I will outline the diverse practices of the past and the theology which explains this diversity. I suggest that many who ask the question about the possibility of deacons being granted the faculty to anoint have not received the theology of the Second Vatican Council regarding anointing and the theology which underpins the pastoral care of the sick and those who are dying or near death. Ideas of pastoral care of the dying remain linked, in the minds of many lay people and clergy, to the theology which underpins extreme unction. A consequence of this linkage is a devaluing of the role of viaticum and rites of blessing for the sick and dying.
Rather than expanding the number of ministers of the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick what is really needed is better formation of the laity and clergy, especially deacons, in the pastoral care of the sick and of the dying. To put it bluntly, for now, the Sacrament of Anointing is for the sick and the primary means of care for those who are close to death are viaticum and the Rites of Blessing and Commendation.
A diverse history The code of canons (1983) for the Latin Church names the minister of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick when it states, “Every priest (sacerdos), but only a priest, can validly administer the anointing of the sick.”1 The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Deacons
It is defined doctrine that the administration of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is reserved to bishops and priests since this sacrament involves the forgiveness of sins and the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist, but, the pastoral care of the sick may be entrusted to deacons.2 The minister of anointing has not always been so defined in the history of the Church but the current practice reflects our current theology. When we look to the past and see diversityin naming the minister we should not divorce those practices from the theology which justified it at that time. We need to be guided by an over arching principle of lex orandi, lex credendi CIC can 1003§1
Congregation for Clergy; Directory for the Ministry and Life of Deacons. Libreria Vaticana Editrice. Vatican:
1998. §34 1|Page (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith/belief) to match ways of celebrating a sacrament to what we believe we are celebrating.
Celebration of the sacraments exhibits a remarkable diversity throughout history which illustrates the freedom the Church has with regard to liturgy but it is not an arbitrary freedom.3 There is a logic revealed in the diversity when we look closely. Anointing the sick has its roots in the Scriptures of the First and Second Testaments.4 We discover that when we look at the texts, practices of anointing the sick display a link between healing and forgiveness and sickness and sin. Sickness and sin were intimately intertwined through belief that both reflected disorder in the universe and both of them linked to death. We need to remember that for societies without sophisticated medical treatment enjoyed in countries like Australia, serious illness is frequently perceived as a part of the continuum which ends in death. That is, serious illness and death are not as terminologically distinct as they are in our understanding today.
Catholics see in James 5:14-15 the germ of what would come to be the Sacrament of Anointing.
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will save the sick person; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
Three elements of what will become the Sacrament of Anointing are contained in the text of James. Anointing was something that occurred within the community (ecclesia), it is the elders (presbyters) of the church who are the ministers of the anointing and forgiveness of sin (harmatias) is a dimension of anointing the sick.5 We cannot read too much into James as the full sacramental understanding of anointing had not yet developed. We can at least trace a trajectory from this text to our later fully articulated Sacrament of Anointing.
Not much is known about the development of anointing in the first centuries of the Church.
Hippolytus (c.215 AD) offers one glimpse when he refers to a Roman custom of the blessing of olive oil by the bishop at Sunday Eucharist with a prayer for healing and restoration. 6 The faithful would take the oil home at the end of the liturgy to use. Oil, especially olive oil, was in general use in pagan culture throughout much of the ancient Mediterranean region. In Catholic and Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine rite oil is frequently used by the priest to anoint the whole congregation on the forehead as a means of promoting strength and vigour in living the Christian faith. This Byzantine practice may have its origin in the understanding In this history I rely on Joseph Martos, Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to Sacraments in the
Christian Church, London: SCM Press. 1981 and also William Bausch, A New Look at the Sacraments, Mystic:
Twenty-third Publications. 1983. These are very basic surveys of the topic and suitable for our present purpose.
We will not exegete passages in this article but some references readers may wish to peruse include; Psalms 32, 38, 88, 91 and Matthew 4:23-25, 12:28, Mark 6:13, Luke 7:18-23, 9:12-6, 19:1-10, John 9:1-39, Acts 3:1Cor 12:9-10, James 5:14-15.
We should not read into presbyter the modern meaning it has acquired as a synonym for a priest. It would be centuries from the composition of the letter of James until this development would occur. It is just simply worth noting at this early stage of ecclesial life some hierarchical ministry was already recognised.
Hippolytus, On the Apostolic Tradition Section 5/2 in Alistair Stewart-Sykes (ed) An English Version with Introduction and Commentary. New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001, p76 The prayer is simple: “O God, sanctify this oil, grant holiness to all who use it and as you anointed priests, prophets and kings, so may it give strength to all who consume it and health to all who use it.” 2|Page of anointing indicated by Hippolytus, which he observed in Rome, as strengthening of Christian life.
During the third and fourth centuries there are smatterings of liturgical texts written for the blessing of oil that include references to healing and strengthening, both physical and spiritual. There are no texts extant which tell us who anointed, how this was done, or indeed who were the recipients of anointing.
Martos notes that the earliest reference to anointing of the sick by priests comes from a letter of Innocent I, Bishop of Rome to the Bishop of Gubbio in the fifth century (written c.
416AD). Innocent clarifies the practice in Rome which permitted priests and all Christians to use the oil for anointing the sick for their personal use. He provides us with hints of some sacramental development with regard to the oil for the sick when he says it must not be given to those doing public penance because ‘anointing is a kind of sacrament’. Those doing public penance were not able to access the sacraments.
By the sixth century we have multiple attestations to the use of consecrated oils for anointing the sick in all of the major centres of Christianity around the Mediterranean and also into the areas of what are now France and Germany as well as lands south of the Danube River.
Evidence from this period shows use of the oils by priests and lay people, although no specific texts prohibit use by deacons can be found at this stage.
We need to keep in mind when evaluating this evidence that a fully articulated theology of anointing had not developed. Much of the practice of Christians regarding the use of oils for healing as well as anointing in other contexts was derived from former pre-Christian practice, which still remained the dominant cultural influence, even in Christian areas. In a sense the Church was still in the process of ‘christianising’ the use of oils and articulating a theology for the use of the oils grounded in the Scriptures and the Tradition of Christianity. That is, the Church had yet to articulate a use of oils and anointing that distinguished it from the practice already culturally in place.
During the eighth and ninth centuries we discover texts concerning the use of consecrated oils, though not always by priests, for a variety of physical, mental and spiritual disorders covering the spectrum from tooth ache, chronic illness, possession by spirits and protection for charms, spells and a massive variety of things in between. What is significant for our discussion is that those who were dying did not request anointing but requested Eucharist and reconciliation.7 In the patristic era it was common for those who were dying to be offered the sacrament of reconciliation and this was frequently accompanied by anointing with the oil of exorcism to protect the dying person from the ravages of demons and to strengthen against temptation in their final days or hours. By the late Middle Ages the rites of anointing with the oil of exorcism and reconciliation, last Eucharist and blessings and commendation of the dying began to be fused together. We need to caution here that the ritual concerns care for the dying through reconciliation and Eucharist with anointing with the oil of exorcism by a cleric, usually a priest. In the Latin Church deacons could anoint with the oil of exorcism those preparing for baptism (as they do now) but that is not the same oil consecrated for care of the sick, even in the Middle Ages.
Martos, Doors to the Sacred, p376
3|Page By the end of the ninth century there was still no clear rite of anointing the sick in the Roman Rite but in the Frankish Churches the rites for those in danger of death included reconciliation, communion as viaticum and anointing. As Roman practices became clearer and those of the Carolingian Empire were adopted canons began to be introduced to limit the ministry of anointing to the priests (sacerdos) because by this time presbyter (elder) and sacerdos were synonymous and therefore the practice outlined in James concerning the elders seem to apply to priests.
From the ninth century through to the twelfth century increasingly, anointing of the sick came to be applied to those who were in fact dying. The sick could no longer gain regular access to the sacrament of anointing because it was performed privately in homes by a priest and this required a stipend which people could not always afford. As Anointing of the Sick also brought with it other, sometimes difficult, requirements in the event of recovery from illness people had additional reasons to delay reception until death seemed imminent. Should a person recover following anointing most forms of commerce were forbidden to them as well as sexual relations, if they were married, and there were other effects. Anointing not only became the third and last element (literally the last anointing, extreme unction) of the rites for those dying but because of this, it increasingly became identified as the sacrament of the dying. Since viaticum had come to replace the rites for entry into life after death the anointing itself became known as extrema unctio the last anointing, or extreme unction as Catholics came to know it prior to the Second Vatican Council.
Anointing had gradually lost all of its significance as a sacrament for the pastoral and spiritual care of the sick. Anointing was rarely, if ever, applied to the sick from the ninth century onward until Vatican II. The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick disappeared and the Sacrament of Anointing the dying or extreme unction became the norm. It had shifted from a sacrament offered frequently and repeatedly to the sick to that of the last rite of the Church offered to the dying. Anointing had simply become the ‘last rites’.
The Second Vatican Council
Although there had been changes in the ritual from the twelfth to the twentieth century’s what had not changed was the focus on anointing as the ‘last rites’. Many Catholics lived in the hope that at their deathbed a priest would be available to ‘give the last rites’. Many families would search frantically for a priest or hospital chaplain to ensure that mum or dad would have the last rites, by which they meant anointing. Many people would express concern if a priest was not available to provide the last rites and perhaps have a feeling that their loved one had been deprived of a final aid toward preparation for life after death if this anointing did not happen. On the other hand people were reluctant to actually seek anointing until death seemed imminent and all hope of recovery seemed impossible. So that the sacrament which was intended to express Christian hope in God’s mercy and the resurrection of the dead came to be feared as a sign that we have given up hope and were bowing to the inevitable.