ASK FATHER: Can a bishop permit permanent deacon to administer the Sacrament of the Sick?

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Can a Bishop give a permanent Deacon (Military Ordinariate) the authority to administer the Sacrament of the Sick?

NO!  One hundred times… NO!

Deacons are not able to administer Anointing of the Sick.

Only the sacerdos (which term includes both priest and bishop) can anoint.  Deacons cannot anoint.  Period.

If a deacon attempts to anoint he simulates a sacrament, which is a grave abuse and, if he knows this, a grave sin.  However, he should know this, since it pertains to what he must know for his ministry in the Church.  Furthermore, every bishop should know this too.

If this is going on, the bishop, the local diocesan bishop or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith must be informed.

For questions about how the rite is to be conducted, one can have recourse always to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.  In the case of the question about validity of a sacrament in a concrete case you must have recourse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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25 Responses to ASK FATHER: Can a bishop permit permanent deacon to administer the Sacrament of the Sick?

  1. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “Can a bishop permit permanent deacon to administer the Sacrament of the Sick?” Do people, these days, engage in the SLIGHTEST research of their questions themselves? How many times have you answered this IDENTICAL question posed by folks who apparently have never heard of Google?

  2. Joe in Canada says:

    tangential but relevant where I live – can we imagine circumstances under which it would be good to administer the Sacrament of the Sick to someone intending to have a doctor legally kill him?

    [No.]

  3. jhayes says:

    Since the question came from the Military Ordinariate, I suppose one cncern might have been the shortage of priests to administer the sacrament to someone dying in a remote area.

    It’s interesting that Cardinal Ratzinger mentioned that pastoral concern and rejected it when he issued the CDW “Note” on the subject.

    In these last decades theological tendencies have appeared which cast doubt on the Church’s teaching that the minister of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick “est omnis et solus sacerdos”. The approach to the subject has been mainly pastoral, with special consideration for those regions in which the shortage of priests makes it difficult to administer the Sacrament promptly, whereas the problem could be overcome if permanent deacons and even qualified lay people could be delegated to administer the Sacrament.

    The Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith intends to call attention to these trends to avert the risk of possible attempts to put them into practice, to the detriment of the faith and with serious spiritual damage to the sick, whom it is desired to help.

    HERE

    [Simply put: NO!]

  4. APX says:

    Joe in Canada,

    The Bishops of Alberta and the NWT are the only bishops who issued directives for last rites and funerals for assisted suicide and euthanasia. You should give them a read.
    http://www.caedm.ca/Portals/0/documents/family_life/2016-09-14_SacramentalPracticeinSituationsofEuthanasia.pdf

    I don’t understand why this question needs to be asked or even why this is an issue. Anointing of the Sick requires a priest because of its ability to remit sin if the person is unable to confess sins. Since the power of remitting of sins belongs only to priests, only a priest can administer anointing of the sick. Seems pretty simple to understand to me.

  5. jbazchicago says:

    Essentially, a layman with special permission, under the right circumstances, can do anything a deacon can do. Beyond that, it’s a “no” I believe?

    [Ummm… No.]

    Sign me,
    “The Most Mister JBD”
    (I have all the ministries! Bahahahaha)

  6. Gerard Plourde says:

    This raises an additional related question: Deacons regularly perform Baptisms. Part of that rite includes anointing with chrism. Does that mean that a priest must be present to perform that part of the rite?

  7. Deacon Bill says:

    Believe me, there is no deacon in our country who does not know that we cannot do the Anointing of the Sick!

    Gerard, no, a priest does not need to be present at a sacrament of Baptism celebrated by a Deacon. This is different from the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  8. iamlucky13 says:

    @ Dr. Edward Peters
    ” Do people, these days, engage in the SLIGHTEST research of their questions themselves? How many times have you answered this IDENTICAL question posed by folks who apparently have never heard of Google?”

    Then again, if a serious question like this has practical relevance, perhaps it is better the answer not simply be left to Google, but at least on occasion answered anew.

  9. ASPM Sem says:

    “Essentially, a layman with special permission, under the right circumstances, can do anything a deacon can do.”

    Beyond holding the chalice at the per ipsum and benediction with the Blessed Sacrament, everything else a deacon does can be done in some other context by a lay person. At least that’s what we tease the deacons with in seminary.

    [There are a few more things.]

  10. hwriggles4 says:

    By the way, the Archdiocese for the Military Services does not have permanent deacons. There may be a permanent deacon at a base chapel, but he is most likely helping out at the base chapel, particularly if a contract priest is assigned for Mass on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.

    This permanent deacon is most likely a deacon from the Diocese or Archdiocese in the geographic location of the base, and the deacon (who most likely is former military himself) helps out at the base chapel.

  11. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Deacon Bill,

    Thanks for the clarification. That was my understanding but the statement that only a sacerdos could anoint confused me.

  12. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    iamlucky13, my point stands.

    btw, Pater, what if the deacon was ordained by the pope, and the nearest priest is more than a hour’s donkey ride away, and the sick person is dying of a non-contagious disease, then, can ecclesia supplet work to let the deacon do a conditional anointing?

    [Hmmmm… good question. In this age of donkey ride distances, it might be better that the deacon rush to the sick person – BUT by certified donkey, lest he be accused of sitting on his ass while the sick person languished. Also, it might be necessary to check the phases of the Moon. And the papal ordination thing too… wow. I obviously need to think about this more deeply.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  13. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    ASPM Sem “Essentially, a layman with special permission, under the right circumstances, can do anything a deacon can do.”

    Riiiiiight. Unless you count things like, Gee, I dunno, proclaiming the Gospel at Mass, preaching homilies thereafter, sitting as sole judges in tribunals, baptizing in ordinary circumstances, a few little things like that.

  14. FXR2 says:

    Dr. Peters,
    If there are no priests within a 2 hour flight, can my crazy Aunt Gertrude hear my confession and validly absolve my sins using the principal of Ecclesiae Supplet?

  15. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Is that an African or European swallow’s flight?

    I know the European swallows think the African ones “should not tell us too much what we have to do.” This may apply to donkey rides too.

  16. Deacon Bill says:

    Dear hriggles4:

    Full disclosure: I served for 22 years on active duty in the Navy as a Special Duty Officer in Cryptology (I want to be clear that I was not a “chaplain”). My last three years, I was also a deacon, so I have some experience with this question:

    1) Essentially, the AMS has NO priests or deacons (there are exceptions, of course, like the bishops of the AMS themselves); all priest-chaplains and assisting deacons are incardinated elsewhere and are “on loan” to the AMS (if they are still in uniform). So, in response to your point that “the AMS doesn’t have deacons”, that’s true enough. They don’t have priests either.

    2) In the US military, only priests may serve as military chaplains. (In other countries’ militaries, such as in Australia, deacons serve as chaplains alongside their priest counterparts.) So, here in the US, a deacon who is still on active duty is never assigned to the chaplain corps; instead, he is assigned someplace because of his military specialization and then is further assigned to the local base chapel. In my case, I was serving as Executive Officer of a Navy base on Okinawa. That’s why I was there. However, I was also ecclesiastically assigned to be deacon at the Air Force Base at Kadena, where we lived. Many of my own sailors were also my parishioners.

    3) Then there is the category you mention, of deacons from a particular geographical area who help out at nearby bases and posts, especially in support of either uniformed or contract chaplains. This seems to be the growing practice here in CONUS with the decline in unformed priest-chaplains serving at CONUS commands. Most uniformed chaplains are rightly assigned to deployable units and units located overseas. Since these CONUS locations generally use contract chaplains from the local presbyterate, so too do they draw from the local deacon pool as well.

    Bottom line: pray for vocations (to the priesthood and diaconate) and for our women and men serving in harm’s way. But my point remains: no deacon in the US does not know that he is — and never can be under current law — capable of administering Anointing of the Sick.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  17. Michael_Thoma says:

    Clearly – if the Ordinariate is in the dire need to the point of using Deacons in priestly roles, and laymen in deaconal roles – it’s time to ordain that Deacon a Priest and let him get on with it

  18. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I mentioned the donkey ride because Ligouri, somewhere, mentions length of donkey rides as one factor to figure in regard to the obligation to attend Mass. :)

    btw, if someone wants to explore the possibility of the law changing so as to permit deacons to celebrate Anointing, I say, have at it. But unless and until that happens, the law is crystal clear. NO.

  19. Worm-120 says:

    Can laypeople/deacons perform valid catholic marriages? Our bishop says they can because we are a mission, but I thought that was only possible if you where deprived of a priest for multiple generations? Priests are short here but you can always find one, but we have some sister who’s a trained ‘minister’ who looks after one of the missions and performs ‘marriages’ with full knowledge of the bishop? I know it wouldn’t be a sacramental marriage but this seems to muddy the waters.

  20. Deacon Bill says:

    Worm-120,

    Deacons indeed witness Catholic marriages, and not merely in the absence of priests. In virtue of ordination and the faculties extended to us by our bishops, we typically exercise this ministry “extra Missam.” All clergy, priests and deacons, require the further delegation of either the pastor of the place or the diocesan bishop.

    Properly trained and formed lay persons, in times of necessity, may also be delegated by the Bishop to serve as the Church’s official witness.

    I will defer to canonists, such as Dr. Ed Peters, but I believe it is accurate to say that deacons and priests (both pastors and priests who are not in the office of pastor) are ORDINARY ministers of the sacrament, while the delegated lay persons I mentioned above would be EXTRAORDINARY ministers.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  21. Elizium23 says:

    In the Latin Church, the husband and wife are the ordinary ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony. And I seriously hope that there would be no Extraordinary Ministers.

  22. robtbrown says:

    Dr. Edward Peters says:

    ASPM Sem “Essentially, a layman with special permission, under the right circumstances, can do anything a deacon can do.”

    Riiiiiight. Unless you count things like, Gee, I dunno, proclaiming the Gospel at Mass, preaching homilies thereafter, sitting as sole judges in tribunals, baptizing in ordinary circumstances, a few little things like that.

    I think he’s saying that a deacon has no Sacramental power (potestas ordinis). All your examples are acts that of themselves don’t need it.

  23. robtbrown says:

    Dr. Edward Peters says:

    btw, Pater, what if the deacon was ordained by the pope, and the nearest priest is more than a hour’s donkey ride away, and the sick person is dying of a non-contagious disease, then, can ecclesia supplet work to let the deacon do a conditional anointing?

    No.

    The question is of course related to whether a deacon is a possible minister of the Sacrament, who is merely presently prohibited by canon law–or whether it demands potestas ordinis.

    In positive theology, it is de fide (Council of Trent) that only a priest or bishop can administer the Sacrament.

    The relevant Scriptural text is of course James 5:14 and the meaning of the word presbyter. Literally, it means elder. In the OT, however, anointing is always function of priests, never of elders, who had an organizational function.

  24. ASPM Sem says:

    @Dr. Edward Peters

    ASPM Sem “Essentially, a layman with special permission, under the right circumstances, can do anything a deacon can do.”

    jbazchicago said that statement, not me; my contribution was

    Beyond holding the chalice at the per ipsum and benediction with the Blessed Sacrament, everything else a deacon does can be done in some other context by a lay person. At least that’s what we tease the deacons with in seminary.

    Riiiiiight. Unless you count things like, Gee, I dunno, proclaiming the Gospel at Mass, preaching homilies thereafter, sitting as sole judges in tribunals, baptizing in ordinary circumstances, a few little things like that.

    My remark refers to how a layman can proclaim the Gospel and preach at a communion service outside of Mass, can baptize extraordinarily, parents can bless their children, etc. I suppose I can add tribunal judge to the list of things a deacon can do that a layman can’t in other circumstances – but that’s juridical, not sacramental. Canon law could be changed to allow a non-cleric to be a judge.

    In the end though, my comment was a smart-alec remark than a theological/canonical proclamation. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made it.

    Though, it does bring up the question – what is a deacon? What truly can they do by power of ordination, that’s not purely juridical? Two of my canon law friends tell me this is somewhat debated.

  25. SD says:

    Edward Peters wrote “Do people, these days, engage in the SLIGHTEST research of their questions themselves? How many times have you answered this IDENTICAL question posed by folks who apparently have never heard of Google?”

    Actually Edward people do. I was the one who wrote the question to Fr. Z after a great deal of ‘googling’, and my intent was to see if I had missed anything. I am by no means an expert on cannon law.

    I also searched Fr Z’s blog to see if the question had been asked before and could not find any information.

    I was not sure that being a military ordinariate there might be some exception to the rule being military and all. The ordinariate in question is a Canadian one. The ‘Permanent Deacon’ in question is a commissioned military officer who has been appointed as a base chaplain due to the shortage of Priests in the Canadian military.

    I argued that this is forbidden but was told that it’s ok because the Bishop said so….(right…/s)

    And now Sir you know the rest of the story.

    P.S. Fr Z, thanks for taking the time to answer!