Deacon Greg asks this important question…and gives this example from the Washington Post

“He said ‘I’m a dying man, and I want to see a priest,'” Mary Baus remembered. “All they said was that they didn’t have one.”

Baus survived, but his wife said it was a traumatic event that left both her and her husband shaken.

“There used to be a chaplain available if you needed him,” she said. “Or you could get a priest to come to the hospital. Now it’s not for sure that you will see anyone.”

Finding a priest to be at the bedside of the dying is becoming harder and harder across the country. The shortage of priests has been a problem for years, but its implications become most clear at dire times for the ill.

I agree with Deacon Greg who says that Deacons would be great here to use as ministers of the sacrament. My thought is perhaps even a new clerical position intentionally called “chaplain” that could administer anointing of the sick and the Eucharist only–a bet a lot of Catholic doctors would sign up.

It’s an important position. I remember when I worked in Calvary Hospital as a volunteer with pastoral care, all people really wanted was someone to talk to and someone who could pray with them in their dark moments. It would have been great to have some kind of ritual that we could have done together on a regular basis at a moment’s notice or to be able to administer the anointing of the sick. I’m sure it’s a question that will come up at the med school with me often. It’s going to take the laity to really speak up about this.

So what are you waiting for? Start writing your letters to the local bishop or to the USCCB.

0 thoughts on “Who will anoint the sick and the dying?”
  1. The anointing of the sick is a sacrament and only a priest can administer it.

    The Church has asked the so-called eucharistic ministers (wannabes spawned by Vatican II)to resign their positions and to return the care of the sick to the priesthood, but unfortunately the document (Redemptionis Sacramentum) was not as clear as it should have been, leaving loopholes, so nothing happened. The document does clearly say that the care of the sick belongs to the priesthood. More important than blogging!!! It is not so much the shortage of priests, at this stage still, but that the job has been given away to lay people, who are 'allowed' to carry Our Lord for communion. But they cannot hear confessions.

    We will not change the priesthood. It will take a crisis to wake us up that priests have this work, not other work that lay people can do. Like blogging.

  2. While I agree that there is a problem in this area, there is a theological problem with allowing deacons to administer the sacrament because implied in the sacrament and stated in the ritual, there is a forgiveness of sin component to this sacrament and currently only presbyters and bishops possess faculties for forgiveness of sin.

  3. Today is January 28, the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. I am reminded of how change happens because of this saint and Doctor of the Church.

    From the words of St. Thomas, Tantum Ergo:

    "Down in adoration falling,
    Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
    Lo! o'er ancient forms departing,
    newer rites of grace prevail;
    faith for all defects supplying,
    where the feeble sense fail.

    To the everlasting Father,
    and the Son who reigns on high,
    with the Holy Ghost proceeding
    forth from Each eternally,
    be salvation, honor, blessing,
    might and endless majesty."

    Newer rites of grace prevail. God never changes, no. But how we live and worship does – including ministry. Has anyone actually read any history?

    I am not sure that this will change soon. I am not even sure that it should. I am pretty sure conversations and discussions would help to deep understanding, let alone create change.

  4. I think that the "Chaplain" idea is a very interesting one. I also agree that Deacons are ideally suited to hospital ministry. And I really have to take issue with Jan's summation of the "situation" of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. There is a long history in the Church of lay people sharing the Body, and I'm glad to see its return.

  5. There are no theological issues here at all, right? I mean come on Mike — it's not just a personnel issue. Yes, there's a whole raft of pastoral issues as a result of the priest shortage (aside: the shortage is even more acute in some highly Catholic parts of S. America). But there is no acknowledgment at all that there *is* even a theological issues at the core of what the sacred priesthood is about in your piece, at the heart of which is the nature of the Sacrament, and its connection to the Sacrament of Orders. "We need Anointing. Write your Bishops!" Well, why on earth can't we just anoint each other? Why bother with the whole priesthood at all? Since the purpose of the ritual is simply to provide some meaning for the dying (no mean thing, I add. Not disparaging that), why the Sacrament of Anointing? Let's make something up. No need to even involve the Bishops.

    And, actually: Jan brings up a different but important point: yes, it's good for priests to be involved in evangelization through the digital media, but the sanctification of the world is *especially* and *properly* the apostolic call of the laity. I mean, I'm not suggesting that the Holy Father was off base in calling for priestly digital evangelizers, but really, the larger question here is the kind of actual formation that we provide the laity to follow this important part of the baptismal call.

  6. I think that since the anointing of the sick has an element forgiveness of sins that is left to the priest, it is not proper for a deacon to do it. It definitely isn't appropriate for laity to do it.

  7. There are two sacraments of healing; reconciliation and the anointing of the sick. Deacons can not adminster these sacraments as they impart the forgiveness of sin; reserved to a Priest.
    Anointing the sick is not part of the charism of the Deacon.
    Also, in the post by Jan I'm curious about the snarkiness. The church indeed has authority to use extrordinary ministers for Holy Communion. No lay person is charged with care of the sick except by our baptism. I know many extraordinary ministers who have no "wannabe" complex. Whenever a post takes a pot shot at Vatican II they indeed are exposed.

  8. Thanks for the postings to all. Gashwin makes a good point about the shortage of priests being much more severe in other parts of the world.

    I think some of you favor "priestly orders" over "pastoral care" at any cost. I would say we need to have a higher value over the latter without necessarily denigrating the former.

    Which is why I suggest developing something new called "Chaplain" in this instance. Perhaps it becomes a role that the Deacon by virtue of ordination can indeed fulfill, if the Bishops and Holy Father deem it so because of the pastoral need. Some of you think I'm suggesting that we just start doing this out of hand–and I'm not. That's a dumb conclusion and a rash accusation and I don't appreciate it, frankly.

    The door to discussion on these matter can indeed be opened. Many Deacons spend the majority of their time in hospital ministry in a variety of roles as do many lay people. The development of a new ordained ministry of chaplain may be an easy solution and I'm suggesting that we open the doors to the Bishops for discussion.

    And Jan, I too find your comments on Eucharistic Ministers distasteful–and not just because I'm one myself, but also because you suggest that we are some kind of "wannbes." I don't know ONE eucharistic minister, male or female, that has a desire to do anything beyond distributing communion to the faithful. My college classmates and the students I serve today have a great desire for the eucharist and to be close to Christ. It even takes some of them time to appreciate the fact that they might be worthy enough to be that close to Jesus. So they're hardly wannabe anything.

  9. I have read and reread this post and the comment thread and I am left with this thought after prayer.

    I think that we all understand the sacramental, I think we all respect the office of the priest. However, I wonder about entering into some conversations about how things do change in church – and they do change, slowly, very slowly. And I wonder about the letter of the law and the spirit of the law and the dynamic continuum on which they rest.

    Which of course, says a lot about what I think about the letter of the law, which I am clear about following and the spirit of the law, which I am attentive to discerning.

    Peace to all.

  10. As a priest, I would kindly inform you that it is quite infrequent (if ever) that any formal confession is made at the time of an anoiting. Most sick folks are not able because families call at the very last moment for "the last rites" and this leaves everything to chance and a state of emergency. The more pastoral approach is to prepare to receive the sacrament of the sick in a better state of mind and physical health well in advance of hospital stays or anticipated health concerns. This all takes careful catechesis and pastoral instruction. Therefore, that being said, a Deacon would generally be very helpful in doing anoitings in hospitals and nursing homes along with pastoral care and counseling. The people of God would be better served and be brought the formal care of the Church.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *