From a reader:
Can mortal sins be forgiven in the sacrament of Extreme Unction? The Catechism of Trent seems to say no:
“Pastors, therefore, should teach that by this Sacrament is imparted grace that remits sins, and especially lighter, or as they are commonly called, venial sins; for mortal sins are removed by the Sacrament of Penance. Extreme Unction was not instituted primarily for the remission of grave offences; only Baptism and Penance accomplish this directly.”
But the Catechism of St. Pius X says yes:
Q. What are the effects of Extreme Unction?
A. … (2) It remits venial sins, and also mortal sins which the sick person, if contrite, is unable to confess;
The Catechism of Bl. JPII just says “if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (Jas 5:15)
If a person’s mortal sins were forgiven through Extreme Unction, would that absolution be conditional on them confessing those sins to a priest if they recovered? (like with a General Absolution?)
I don’t see what is confusing here. The primary means for forgiveness of post-baptismal mortal sins is clearly the Sacrament of Penance. That doesn’t mean that the Sacrament of Anointing does not forgive mortal sins.
In short, if a person incapable of confessing his mortal sins is anointed, his mortal sins are in that anointing forgiven. However, on recovery he must make a confession of sins when possible. In that respect it is similar to General Absolution.
I can’t say everything there is to say about this sacrament here, but I can offer some comments.
The effects of the Sacrament of Anointing or Anointing of the Sick or, sometimes, Extreme Unction, are:
- To increase sanctifying grace in a moment of great need (danger of death)
- To console the person
- To strengthen against temptation
- To heal the body
- To forgive mortal sins when a person is incapable of confessing them or is unaware of his state of soul
Anointing was placed in the category of “sacraments of the living”, a handy way of saying that for them to be as effective as they can be, we must receive them while “alive”, that is, not “dead in sin”, that is, in the state of grace. The key to understanding anointing and forgiveness of mortal sins is that the person must be incapable for one reason or another of confessing mortal sins. However, upon recovery or a change of condition such that he is capable, he is bound to confess mortal sins in the normal way as soon as possible. Danger of death always changes the playing field.
This is one reason why I believe it is an abuse of the sacrament of anointing and unhelpful for people when the sacrament is given en masse without regard for the person’s condition of soul or, in many cases, body.
It can be argued that when a person reaches a certain age, he or she should be anointed because, at that age you live in a perpetual state of danger of death. I find that argument weak. If a person is baptized, he draws on the graces of that sacrament. The sacrament of confirmation is intended also to strength us against temptation and live our Christian character well in moments of challenge. The sacrament of penance also strengthens us against sinning and it also consoles us when we are not in danger of imminent death. The Eucharist forgives venial sins and is our greatest consolation and strength in good times and bad, and at every stage of life. Furthermore, as far as these en masse anointing services are concerned, there is often no provision for people to make a sacramental confession before they are anointed. It is wrong, simply wrong, to anoint a person in the state of sin if there is no real danger of death looming on the horizon. The sacrament cannot be effective for forgiveness of mortal sins if he or she is perfectly capable to make a confession.
The sacrament of anointing should truly evoke reverential awe because it associates us with the suffering Lord, the Crucified Savior, whose Passion gives meaning to all human suffering.
That’s not nothing.
The fact that the sacrament of anointing, in some circumstances, forgives mortal sins, then the only valid and licit minister of the sacrament is a sacerdos, a priest or bishop.
DEACONS CANNOT ANOINT. DEACONS CANNOT ANOINT. DEACONS CANNOT GIVE THE SACRAMENT OF ANOINTING OF THE SICK.
Neither can nuns in pantsuits with a lapel pin. Neither can a parish volunteer. Only a priest or bishop validly administers the sacrament of anointing.
This is a surprise to many.
Therefore, anything that resembles or simulates the actions of the sacrament of anointing should be stopped, so that people are not confused a) about what they are getting .. not getting, and b) what different roles in the Church are.
BTW… for those of you who are perhaps newer, less-seasoned Catholics. The term “extreme unction” means first, that it is an anointing (“unction” from Latin ungo or unguo, “to smear” and this unctio “an anointing”) and the idea that the person is “in extremis“, that is “”at the farthest points”, which usually means “at the point of death”, though it can be taken “at the limits of one’s powers”, which is pretty close to meaning “near death”.
That said: The sacrament of anointing is not simply for the nearness of death. It is for the sick or infirm. But I think we must be wary of making it into something that it isn’t.
Sacraments, all sacraments, should be simultaneously familiar and awesome. They should be thoroughly incorporated into our lives and approached and received as often as appropriate, with something I can only describe as fearful familiarity, timid boldness, reverential ease. They should be both commonplace and also as if the rarest of events. We should be at the same time filled with longing for them when we need them and also filled with pious dread at the mystery of God’s ineffable favor poured out on us for no merit of our own, all because He has deigned to make us His adopted sons and daughters.
So… in short, the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick can forgive mortal sins in certain circumstances. It is, however, a sacrament to be received, unless impeded, in the state of grace, and only a priest can give it.
Use it. Don’t abuse it.