OLDIE ASK FATHER: The pastor anoints everyone at Mass, sick or old or not – everyone.

last rites extreme unction anointing viaticum 02

I had a question about the Sacrament of Anointing. I looked up an old answer and figured I could simply repost.  This is from a year ago, exactly!

From a priest …


Every year at this time, my pastor has a communal anointing of the sick at mass. At the mass, everyone gets anointed, whether they need it or not. Is this correct? What should I, a lowly curate, do about this?

First, tread carefully.  The care of souls is the pastor’s and you assist him.  That said, it may be that the priest is not well educated about the sacrament, especially if he is of a certain age group.  Depending on your relationship with him, you might open up a discussion with him about the Sacrament of Anointing, telling him about some interesting things you read recently.  Hopefully the priest, once better informed, will not just cave in to the false expectations that people have by now and, thus, continue to abuse the sacrament rather than do the right thing (i.e., stop anointing everyone).

The Second Vatican Council said that “’Extreme Unction,” which may also and more properly be called ‘anointing of the sick,’ is not a sacrament for those only who are at at the point of death.  Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for that person to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.” [SC 73]

Let us remember that Anointing was and still is called Extreme Unction… the word “Extreme” does not mean that you are giving it on a skateboard or you are using huge amounts of oil. It means that a person is “in extremis“, that is, “in danger of dying”, as in, soon, in the final moments.

Another problem is that everyone is always in danger of death. However, we make distinctions.  We are always in danger of death from, say, a meteor, a drunk driver, a stray bullet from a drive by shooting, scaffolding falling from on high, earthquakes, etc.  These are all external to us.  There are other dangers that are internal to us, such as fourth stage pancreatic cancer, a known aneurysm, the massive gunshot wound that tore the femoral artery, being 93 years old, being 93 and getting pneumonia, etc.

So, the factors of old age and illness are internal  to our persons.

That said, the law – based on the Church’s teaching – is pretty clear.

Can. 1004 §1. The anointing of the sick can be administered to a member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, [thus, the ability also to commit mortal sins] begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age.

This doesn’t say “everyone”.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

1514 “The anointing of the sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.”

Common points? Danger of death… sick and old age.  Not “everyone”.

Some of you might be saying,

“But Father! But Father! You really hate Vatican II! Vatican II did away with rules. This is the age of mercy! Pope Francis said so! All sacraments should be given to everyone all the time. You make me cry. That means that you must do what I want.  I need to be anointed now.”

Dear Cry Baby.  It is my job to keep you out of Hell.  Therefore, it is my job to say “No!” more often than it is to say “Yes!”.

Let’s not abuse what God has given us, especially something as solemn as a sacrament intended to help us die well.

One of the serious ways to abuse this sacrament is to administer it higgledy-piggledy.  Why?

There is an old distinction about sacraments of the dead (baptism and penance), and sacraments of the living (the other five).  Sacraments of the dead bring you out of spiritual death into life.  Sacrament of the living are to be received by the spiritually alive, in the state of grace. Otherwise, they don’t bring you all that you need from them, even if they are validly conferred.  For example, a man and woman validly marry in the state of mortal sin, but they don’t have the actual graces of the sacrament until they are in the state of grace.  A confirmand or ordinand in the state of mortal sin are ontologically changed by their sacraments, but they don’t enjoy all the benefits of being confirmed or ordained until they return to the state of grace.

Even when a person begins to be in danger of death from old age or illness, the Sacrament of Anointing should – if possible – be received in the state of grace.  If a person is incapacitated, the Sacrament of Anointing also forgives sins, but if a person is capable of confessing he should confess properly and receive absolution before being anointed.

Again, the Sacrament of Anointing, or “Extreme Unction”, unless there is urgent need or incapacitation,  should be preceded by sacramental confession of sins.

These “anointing” Masses could be a great moment for catechesis and spiritual renewal.

At such a Mass it would be good to explain what I explained above, adding what the effects of the sacrament are and aren’t (i.e, it is not just to make people feel good or feel like they belong – which is what Communion is turning into – it is not a moment to “get something”).  They should know that they should receive it in the state of grace.  Therefore, there should be confessors available to hear their sins in regular auricular confession before being anointed.  It could be a two step process.  Catechesis followed by confessions and then the Mass.

Anyway… good luck with the parish priest.



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  1. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    While strictly speaking, this is not indicative of what the practice should be in the Roman Rite, the practice of the Eastern Catholic Churches (and the Orthodox) is to anoint all those at the Liturgy on Wednesday of Holy Week. So the practice is one of discipline more than theology.

    I might add that Confession is usually required before the anointing. And that some jurisdictions also give the Anointing to those very sick, at home, without major ceremony, when that is needed.

  2. Ellen says:

    I was told by a priest that the Sacrament of the Anointing could help people who are having difficulty with mental problems (depression, addiction etc.) At the time, I was struggling with a period of depression which has mostly lifted, thanks be to God. My pastor offers anointing rarely and NOT to everyone.

  3. The Masked Chicken says:

    Part of the confusion might spring from the rise of the so-called, “Healing Masses,” among some Charismatic groups. There is, technically, speaking, no such thing as a, “Healing Mass.” There are Masses at which prayers for healing are prayed, but that is a slightly different thing. The distinction is covered in the document, issued in 2000 A. D., from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entitled, INSTRUCTION ON PRAYERS FOR HEALING. The document may be found at:


    The document specifically says:

    “Art. 7 — § 1. Without prejudice to what is established above in art. 3 or to the celebrations for the sick provided in the Church’s liturgical books, prayers for healing — whether liturgical or non-liturgical — must not be introduced into the celebration of the Holy Mass, the sacraments, or the Liturgy of the Hours.”

    Article 3 provides for specific prayers:

    “Art. 3 – § 1. Liturgical prayers for healing are celebrated according to the rite prescribed in the Ordo benedictionis infirmorum of the Rituale Romanum (28) and with the proper sacred vestments indicated therein.

    § 2. In conformity with what is stated in the Praenotanda, V., De aptationibus quae Conferentiae Episcoporum competunt (29) of the same Rituale Romanum, Conferences of Bishops may introduce those adaptations to the Rite of Blessings of the Sick which are held to be pastorally useful or possibly necessary, after prior review by the Apostolic See.”

    Likewise, Article 8 says:

    “”Art. 8 — § 1. The ministry of exorcism must be exercised in strict dependence on the Diocesan Bishop, and in keeping with the norm of can. 1172, the Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of September 29, 1985, and the Rituale Romanum.

    Ҥ 2. The prayers of exorcism contained in the Rituale Romanum must remain separate from healing services, whether liturgical or non-liturgical.

    “§ 3. It is absolutely forbidden to insert such prayers of exorcism into the celebration of the Holy Mass, the sacraments, or the Liturgy of the Hours.”

    Thus, the so-called, “Deliverance Prayers,” which are done at some Charismatic Masses (don’t get me started on that) are illicit.

    As for the use of the Anointing of the Sick for mental illnesses, that is somewhat complicated. It used to be that the Anointing was done for physical illnesses which had a direct danger of death (including old age), but with the rise of better science, we now know that certain physical conditions also affect mental health, such as Huntington’s Chorea, where mood swings and depression result from the progressive break-down of neural tissue in the brain. Likewise, depression which becomes so overwhelming that suicide seems the only way out or so debilitating that one becomes catatonic, are, likewise, life-threatening, as is Anorexia Nervosa, when it has reached the stage of being immediately dangerous to life from the starvation. These illnesses can benefit from the strengthening of the Anointing of the Sick. Fr. McNamara comments:


    “Even if the serious mental illness is not caused by known physical phenomena, No. 53 of the introduction to Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum (PCS) opens up the possibility of the use the sacrament in such cases. To wit: “Some types of mental sickness are now classified as serious. Those who are judged to have a serious mental illness and who would be strengthened by the sacrament may be anointed. The anointing may be repeated in accordance with the conditions for other kinds of severe illness.”

    Survivable mental illnesses, such as personality disorders, OCD and the like, are not, usually, deathly serious and the Sacrament is not, ordinarily, given (these illnesses, as painful as they are, are a valid sharing in the Cross and usually benefit from other types of treatments). A competent doctor or priest would have to make the determination of seriousness of a mental illness on a case-by-case basis.

    In all cases of mental illness, Confession is an essential part of the healing process because of the strengthening it gives to the soul. Of course, prayers for healing are always good and going to places like Lourdes can be beneficial as long as one surrenders one’s will to God’s will for the situation so that whether or not healing occurs, one’s life may be a witness.

    The Chicken

  4. Charles E Flynn says:

    Speaking of hell, here is the unfluffiest essay I have read in a long time:

    How to go to hell, by Edward Feser.

  5. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Quod dixit Pater. Iterum.

  6. JARay says:

    I have always maintained that regular annointing of the sick, as happens every month in my parish, actually cheapens the value of the Sacrament. All queue up to receive it and we have 3 and 4 year old children lining up to receive the sacrament of the sick just as if it were a lolly to suck on.

  7. Lepidus says:

    While my parish doesn’t do everyone, once a year they do anoint everyone who wants it during a particular Sunday Mass, with little to no explanation of who “should” be requesting it. In addition to what Father clearly stated, I thought there was a additional restriction that you could not get anointed a second time for the same condition unless your condition worsened (or you recovered and then relapsed). In other words if you have XYZ condition or are just old and get anointed during the general Anointing, you shouldn’t get it again next year unless there is a significant change. Right?

  8. Bosco says:

    Well explained, Father. Thank you. I note the nuance in the Canon cited:

    “…begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age.” ‘Begins’ to be in danger.

    That could cover the onset of a multitude of illnesses both sudden and progressive such as diabetes, high blood-pressure, etc. The Church is a Merciful Mother in the truest sense.

  9. tzard says:

    If I might add, depending on the circumstances (7:00 mass, hospital chapel, retreat for cancer patients) – it could be reasonable that MOST of the participants receive anointing. So be careful with mere observations.

    But yes, I’ve seen situations where the instruction from the pulpit were “everyone” or “anyone” without qualifications or instruction.

  10. Sword40 says:

    My old parish used to “offer” anointing to all sick, alcoholics, and most any other reason, at least twice a year.

    Now my FSSP parish has two priests and a backup priest who is a retired traditional Jesuit. They follow the old rubrics. My family all have their phone numbers. Pays to plan ahead.

  11. Joseph-Mary says:

    Our parish has the Anointing monthly for anyone who wants it at one of the Masses. I visit a senior center and we have Mass once a month and the folks are anointed about twice a year which is not a bad idea for them: one week they are there and the next week gone. But the priest even wanted to anoint me and I declined.

  12. THREEHEARTS says:

    Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter as prefect of the Holy Inquisition was aimed at the Charismatics who demand an anointing as often as possible. They like to be “Slain in the Spirit”. I have never been able to get my mind around or discover when God started to deal in death, especially of the soul and or spirit. Ones I have dealt with and watched those whom Paul called of uncertain “humor” even con priests who just go along to get along to bless oil and the call it the oil of happiness. They rub it around their wrists so when they lay hands on people the devils don’t enter them. Some claim it is just like the sign of peace a forgiveness of sins.
    When the prefect mentioned above sent the letter our local Archbishop sent around his directive. The parish kept a record of all those eligible for anointing, the elderly and frail and could die for that reason, those who were sick with diseases that were of very poor health which could lead to a terminal illness. These were or to be anointed once a year or when necessary. The mental illness attitude worries me and always have it could and does lead to exorcisms by non qualified or not suited laity.

  13. arga says:

    Sadly, our priest does this once every single month; everybody toddles down to the altar — sick or not, old or not. Only 1 or 2 hang back. It is obviously an abuse.

  14. Thomas Sweeney says:

    Reading the question and Father’s reply, along with all the comments, makes me realize how well ordered the church was before VII. There was very little ambiguity, now everything is in flux, is it any wonder that we are confused. I liked very much the old adage, pray, pay and obey, even smells and bells pleases me.

  15. Sieber says:

    Is the Apostolic Benediction in remission of temporal punishment given at these events?
    Under what circunstances can it be given?
    I have spoken to priests who are unaware of it and others who dismiss it as superstition.

  16. The Masked Chicken says:

    “They like to be “Slain in the Spirit”. I have never been able to get my mind around or discover when God started to deal in death, especially of the soul and or spirit.”

    This is not the place to comment on this phenomenon, but the standard explanations within Pentecostalism for what it is are quite interestings examples of rationalization. The explanation is quite a bit simpler and in line with Catholic understanding, if one knows what one is looking at, but if one starts looking for the answers from Scripture, one will arrive at the odd interpretations common in the Charismatic community.

    The Chicken

  17. Alice says:

    I remember going to “Healing Masses” when I was a kid. As far as I can remember, it was a votive Mass for the sick followed by a “Healing Service” in which Father prayed over everyone who wanted to come up. I remember it being clear where the Mass ended and where the Healing Service began and it being made clear that the Healing Service was NOT a sacrament. I also remember going to Masses for the Sick where Anointing of the Sick was offered to everyone who wanted to come up. I remember being scandalized (in the true sense of the word), watching my mom go up for things that she’d been anointed for before or fighting my parents who wanted me to be anointed for non-life threatening things, even though they were the ones that drilled me on my Baltimore Catechism so I knew more about who could receive it licitly than, apparently, even the priests of our parish. Although I am not at all a charismatic, I miss the “Healing Mass.” It would be so nice to go and pray for healing of non-life threatening -but very annoying- things like my seasonal allergies.

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