Wherein a seriously annoyed Fr. Z rants – UPDATED


Concerning something I ranted about below, I read this at CNA:

Updated: Springfield, Mass. diocese rescinds policy permitting nurses to anoint

Thanks be to God.

One hour after the publication of the story below, the Diocese of Springfield informed CNA that it has rescinded its permission for nurses to conduct the physical anointing during the celebration of the anointing of the sick. The diocese declined comment regarding the decision to rescind its policy.

BTW… my old pastor drilled it into me that if a person is dying and not compos sui, Anointing is the sacrament to give, because it can also forgive sins in that circumstance.  And there’s this, from a priest friend…

Speaking of the Sacrament of Anointing, I think it would do well to remind priests of the following: “There is also the common opinion that if Extreme Unction is the only hope of salvation, e.g., if the dying man has not been to confession for a long time and can be absolved only conditionally now because unconscious, there is a grave obligation of the pastor to give Extreme Unction even at the peril of his life.”  (Kilker, Adrian Jerome, Extreme Unction: A Canonical Treatise (New York: B. Herder Book Co., 1927) 108)


THAT’s the attitude that has been LOST!

THIS is the time to RECLAIM IT!

____ Originally Published on: Mar 27, 2020 at 15:21

I am disturbed to serious anger when I have a sense that bishops are giving priority to the worldly over the spiritual in this time of pandemic, as if they are functionaries of the CDC rather than successors of the Apostles.

For the most part, I think bishops and priests are good men.  They are, however, men of their own epoch, not another.  We live in a radically secularized world now, where there is little sense of the transcendent.  This is the result of the relentless onslaught of the world, the flesh and the Devil, ratcheting up by orders of magnitude over the last decades.  Also ratcheting down has been the sense of the sacred, because of the stripping of sacred worship and catechesis of the sense of the sacred, the transcendent.  I suspect that many priests and bishops are really immanentists.  They are, deep down modernists.  That is, they reduce the supernatural to the natural at every turn.  I don’t like that idea, but, right now, I think we have evidence that it’s true.

Also, many of these otherwise good men are getting really bad advice.   Instead of giving priority to the transcendent and spiritual, some around them are mired in the material and temporal.  I’ll bet that lawyers and insurance company reps are calling the shots in some places.

Are the temporal concerns important? OF COURSE THEY ARE!  But when they shove out the sacred and the spiritual, they are the realm of the Prince of this world, the Enemy of the soul.

And those who promote such an attitude are the agents of the Enemy in doing so, witting or unwitting.

How comes this rant, today?

I had a note from a priest friend saying that, in his diocese:

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is to be suspended except for those in danger of death. All other means of providing the Sacrament should cease. In particular the practice being observed of “stational penance” via automobile “drive throughs,” etc., is not an appropriate celebration of the sacrament and should be discontinued. [Put your coffee cup down…] The necessary human interaction crucial to the celebration of the sacrament is impeded through the lack of full proximity and the ability to offer counsel and direction is hampered by the distance between the confessor and the penitent.”

That is entirely rubbish.  There is NOTHING WRONG with “drive through”, make-shift confessionals.  That B as in B and S as in S about “proximity” probably comes from the gooey sentimentality of those priests who want to put their hands on people during their confessions, which is both unnecessary for the sacrament, a little creepy, and more than a little an invitation to a lawsuit.  A priest can validly absolve from quite a distance.  He surely can, if the penitent is just a few, or even, say, 10 feet away.  We’ve been over this.

“Necessary human interaction”, properly understood (that is, not as this diocese put it) means that the penitent can confess sins (the matter) in a way that reasonably maintains the secrecy of the content confessed, and the priest can impart absolution (the form).   Matter and form.

Another thing: “ability to offer counsel and direction is hampered by the distance”.  Again, this is sentimentality.  It has nothing to do with the valid administration of the sacrament.  Making a confession is not the equivalent of spiritual direction.  When a priest can give a good insight or answer a question, that’s great.  But this is not the time for restricting the sacraments that can otherwise easily be administered without danger of contagion.

I suspect that whoever wrote this B as in B, S as in S, gives long rambling “advice” to penitents, who are otherwise itching to get on with it.   A pox on priests who ramble!  If we don’t want penitents to ramble, neither should we!

This is rubbish.  I find this appalling.

And also

Masses in open areas around the property of our churches are also discouraged as they cannot guarantee adequate distancing and protections of the members of the assembly.

This is a judgment call, of course.  But I think it is far too restrictive.  What’s “adequate” distancing?    What “protections” do there have to be outside?  Good grief.

And then there is this.

In the current state of the pandemic, the celebration of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick [don’t pick up that coffee cup yet!] cannot be fully administered as a gloved hand cannot administer the anointing.


Whoever wrote this needs a remedial course in the Sacrament of Anointing.

“cannot be fully administered as a gloved hand cannot administer the anointing”…?!?

First of all, a sacrament is either administered or it isn’t.  It isn’t either “partially” or “fully” administered.   You don’t get part of a sacrament, so fully is pointless.  It’s like saying “very unique”.  It’s either unique or it isn’t.  A woman is either pregnant or she’s not.  You are either validly anointed or you are not.

Also, more importantly, a priest or bishop can anoint with a gloved hand!

The anointing can be done with an instrument, such as a cotton swab, or a tong or forceps that pinch the cotton ball with the Oil of the Infirm.   If that is possible, then so is anointing with the thumb in a nitrile glove!  The glove is an instrument, a tool.   As a cotton used for the oil should be disposed of properly, and anything used to clean the instrument as well, so too a glove.


The manual of moral theology by Sabbetti-Barrett even has a point on this:

“in casu necessitatis, v. gr., tempore pestis, posse diversas unctiones fieri, mediante penicillo, quia in hoc sacramento nulla requiritur impositio manuum sicut in Confirmatione;”

I’ll translate for the sake of the folks in that chancery… keep in mind that a penicillum is “a brush/stylus, a small sponge” and also that different places on the body are anointed in the traditional rite – hence:

“In the case of necessity, that is, in time of disease, the different anointings can be done using an instrument, because in this sacrament imposition of hands is not required, as it is in Confirmation;”

The madness doesn’t stop there.

In another diocese, I’m told that the bishop gave permission to have a nurse apply the oil, do the anointing, while the priest gives the form from the doorway.


The priest has to do it!  He can use a swab or tongs, even a long one, and a glove, but he has to do it.  Neither can one person pour the water at a baptism while another says the Trinitarian formula.  NO! In Prümmer we read concerning the minister of the sacrament of anointing:

Si plures sacerdotes hoc sacramentum administrant taliter, ut alli faciant unctiones et alii pronunient formam, sacramentum videtur esse invalidum, quia requiritur, ut idem minister applicet materiam et pronuniet formam.

For that chancery…

If many priests administer this sacrament in that way [it is a discussion of several priests giving the sacrament at the same time], in such a way that some do the anointings and others pronounce the form [of the sacrament], the sacrament is considered to be invalid, because it is required that the same minister [of the sacrament] apply the material [the oil] and pronounce the form.

The one and same priest has to do both!  Apply the oil and say the words.

And what just came out of Newark, as of 25 March?

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is suspended until further notice with the exception of an extreme emergency.

All churches and adoration chapels must be closed and locked until further notice. Private prayer in any parish building must be discontinued until further notice.

Good heavens!  It’s like a war… not on the virus, but on the people of God!

A week or so ago, in a live sermon for Sunday Mass (also on YouTube) I mentioned that when the Lord miraculous fed the 5000, he had seen the sick in the multitude and he had compassion on them.  He didn’t send them away even though the Apostles were urging Him to.

This time, their successors are in charge, and getting their way.

Please, dear readers, get down on your knees and pray for these bishops of ours.  Pray for fortitude for priests, who have to endure this stuff.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    The bishop’s failure to recognize that “drive through” confession is infinitely superior to no confession is an example of “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

  2. Joy1985 says:

    Amen, Father. Praying for them all DAILY!

  3. Irish Timothy says:

    Thank you Fr. Z!

    When the concern is always about climate change and not offending, not preaching about sin…..this is what we end up with in a time like this. Sad.

  4. JustaSinner says:

    This don’t end til the Bishops are poor…without the fancy houses, tailored clothes, vacation homes and the the travesty traipsings they posess. Jesus didn’t need a $5 million mansion, a limo or thirty man support staff.

  5. iPadre says:

    I heard of one priest asking all the others to keep their churches closed. Yet, he was out in front of his church, in lay clothes handing out meals. It is a good and worthy thing to feed people. But feeding the soul is much more important.

  6. Matt R says:

    I would add that good precision comes from being a canon lawyer, and far too bishops are qualified canonists. Archbishop Sample gave clear measures even before things shut down further in Oregon, whereas in my diocese (a smaller diocese in France), the bishops went from banning communion on the tongue to saying “you can have Mass with 100 people” when that was allowed (but not saying how to achieve this, whereas the trads had Doodle Polls and Google forms and were all going to binate or trinate where allowed to do this) to cancelling all of the sacraments without giving guidance about how to do this, considering the duration of the emergency.

  7. Liturgy Lover says:

    This post sums up so accurately how I’ve been feeling the last week. Our diocese suspended all confessions as well, and has pretty much been sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “no” like a broken record to any and all suggestions of how to safely and creatively get Sacraments to people. We had at least one priest in our diocese all ready to do a “parking lot Mass” with FM radio that people could tune into to hear the prayers, but he was told “absolutely not” with no real reason why. Your comment is so on point about this feeling like a war on us instead of on the virus. My husband and I were saying to each other, “If we didn’t know better, we’d think our bishop was trying to persecute the faithful rather than keep us safe.” Because from our point of view that’s certainly how it feels. The end goal seems to be to keep us from the sacraments rather than to protect our health. We are fortunate enough to live close enough to another (saner) diocese that we could drive there for confession if necessary, but many in our diocese don’t have that luxury (we’re in a very large diocese in a western state). It’s all fine and good to say they’ll allow us to have the Sacraments when we’re in danger of death, but I’ve been seeing more and more hospitals now that aren’t letting priests in even for that situation. So, when exactly ARE we supposed to get sacraments? It seems they’re happier to let us die potentially in sin than to just figure out a way to let us get to confession, for gosh sake.

  8. chantgirl says:

    Dear God, have mercy, and protect us from the hirelings, the wolves, the pandemic, and our own sins!

  9. OrangeBlossom says:

    Creams my corn!

    With churches closed and locked and hearing of prisoners being released brings to mind the crowd, “We want Barabbas!!!”

  10. ColumbusJohn says:


    I have been aggrieved since this all broke out similarly. In justice, does a situation like this where my particular church has ceased virtually all operations with the faithful (I know the priests continue to offer private Masses) allow for a withholding of temporal support? I hate to be so transactional, and I worry terribly about the future of the church going without financial support during this extended closure, not to mention those that will never return, but it is hard to ignore the feeling that we are being abandoned sacramentally during a time we could use those graces the most.


  11. Lurker 59 says:

    My diocese has done pretty much the same.

    I am a convert, and as such, the elimination of access to the sacrament of baptism has me absolutely livid. To me, to say “under colour of law, we are not going to permit people to be saved” is a clear indicator that this is a Divine Chastisement.

    Additionally, before I start shouting at my screen, I strongly question those who say “well, we need to be good citizens” when 1.) We are to obey Christ before man. 2.) The law actually states “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. 3. Doing so relegates the Church to a “non-essential” component of society.

    There are better ways to handle a pandemic than saying “no sacraments”. In fact, such times call for more sacraments — opening the fonts of God’s grace wide not closing them. You still can eliminate Sunday Obligation, do social distancing, have people stay home, eliminate reception of the Eucharist by the laity, keep priests safe, etc. It is fully possible to be responsible, not spread the disease, and still get the sacraments to people. All it takes is faith and a bit of ingenuity.

    *Strong note: As much as each individual can, eliminate contact with others, social distance, etc. This is a pandemic, don’t underestimate it. My being upset about the way bishops are handling access to the sacraments does not mean that one should be living life as if everything is fine and “it is just the flu, bro.”

  12. LeeGilbert says:

    “The Sacrament of Reconciliation is to be suspended except for those in danger of death.” We are all in danger of death, your Excellency, and as Abbe’ Armand-Jean de Rance’ once wrote, we should hold ourselves ready to appear before our Judge at every instant.

    But those in mortal sin are in danger of eternal death. What a hair-raising thing it would be to be in a state of mortal sin and not be able to find a confessor.

    Can it be that a priest would commit sin by disobeying his bishop in this matter? It would seem akin to our Lord healing on the sabbath in apparent violation of the Decalogue. There was no crime then, and even less so now when it is a question not of healing people with dropsy or withered arms, but with withered souls and in danger of eternal death. When the religious authorities of his day bridled at his healing on the sabbath He addressed them in this fashion, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” Such is the Spirit of Jesus Christ concerning physical healing, how much more when the issue is the sanctification of the souls for which He died.

    Bishops who refuse their people the sacraments richly deserve to be removed. Why are they bishops if not, first of all, to sanctify their people? They have no mandate whatever to starve them spiritually.

  13. ddhue says:

    I read this earlier today and thought something along the lines of, “I wonder where this is?! I am so glad our diocese isn’t like this.” And then I just read the latest from our bishop… which is the letter/directive you quote and rant about above. I suppose there is more than one location where this is happening. The shelter in place order was necessary, I think. At least I hope it will help. But no confession?

    God, have mercy!
    Oh most gracious Virgin Mary, pray for us!

  14. The Astronomer says:

    So, for those in the Archdiocese of Newark who may die in the state of sin, because they had the Sacrament of Confession prohibited by the chancery, it may well and truly a case of “Nighty Night, baby…” in a tragically eternal way.

    Coming from that Archdiocese, the chances of laity there knowing WHAT an act of perfect contrition is, and knowing how to make one in danger of death, are slim to none. Catechetics there are ABYSMAL from the perspective of orthodoxy.

  15. The lawyers and accountants have been calling the shots ever since the sex abuse crisis started, and now we are reaping what we sowed back then. I am growing weary of the Church of Accommodation.

  16. moosix1974 says:

    The motto of the Marines is Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. This needs to be the new motto of the Catholic Church! Bishops, are you listening??

  17. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    Bishop Athanasius Schneider says that priests should disobey orders of bishops that unjustly deprive people of the sacraments: https://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/4826-exclusive-interview-bishop-athanasius-schneider-on-church-s-handling-of-coronavirus.

  18. PetersBarque says:

    There is an undercurrent of something grave and diabolical in all of this. Is it a coincidence that this current situation was preceded by the abdication of a Pope, revelations of horrific acts of sex abuse and rampant sodomy in the Clergy, blatant idolatry in the Vatican, and the making of a way for adulterers to receive Holy Communion?

    Repent, repent, repent.

  19. Rob83 says:

    The bishop has decreed no public celebrations of any type, even outdoors, with confessions and anointing limited to “grave” situations. Isn’t every mortal sin a grave situation, your excellency? [You have put your finger directly on the sore spot.]

    Strange how all these liturgical innovwreckovators we’ve had these last several years are now all of a sudden getting the vapors about priests finding innovative yet valid ways to deliver sacraments. [Again, a great point.] As if every Mass had to be in the church building with people in the pews or confessions have to be done in the church’s box and not any other place or manner.

    Open air Masses with people in their cars is a great idea where the option is feasible. Confession where one of the priest or the penitent are in their car is another. I’ve seen confession arrangements where the penitent is outside the priest’s window. I suppose the arrangement could even be flipped vertically, where instead of a box with a grille in the wall, it would be a two-floor setup with the grille in the floor/ceiling. [An example of “thinking outside the box”.]

  20. SPWang says:

    They have lost the faith. The churches will take a long time to clean but at least they will be ours.

  21. nnn says:

    Here in Poland, meetings in public space are limited to 2 people, however Masses can be attended by up to 5 people, excluding priest and servers (basically limited to those who booked the Mass intention.) I suppose this is better than absolutely nothing?

    Fortunately, there haven’t been any moves regarding confessions or last rites. We do confessions “in a box” and it’s required to have the screen covered with transparent foil or similar, and to frequently disinfect all the surfaces. Many churches, including my parish, set up additional confession hours each day (normally heard during the Mass) so that people can come without breaking the 5-people-in-a-church rule.

  22. Smukhavn says:

    Our bishop has announced that priests are no longer permitted to administer the sacraments to the faithful, not even to the dying and instead must remain at home. The bishop’s ruling follows a civil government order in my country for a lock-down in response to Covid-19. People are allowed out of their homes for exercise, essential services or to visit the supermarket, but otherwise must remain at home. Deeply troubling that spiritual care for the dying is not treated as an essential service.

  23. JonathanTX says:

    1. What is the story of a priest who was imprisoned/quarantined on a ship, so he shouted his confession to a priest on land (in Latin so no one else could understand him)? I forgot who that was.

    2. If a priest has a hearing aid, the confession is obviously still valid, despite the sound being transmitted through a technological medium. Why can’t a penitent call a priest on his cell phone, yet remain within sight distance? Clear vocal communication is retained, safety is ensured, the sacrament is retained. Yes, there is the privacy argument that perhaps someone could tap your phone, but if shouting a confession from a car at 10 feet isn’t a privacy, neither is being phone tapped, the risk of which is practically non existent for the average person.

  24. Hidden One says:

    I am reminded of the importance of precision in ecclesiastical decrees. Consider: “Private prayer in any parish building must be discontinued until further notice.”

    Strictly speaking, priests of the Archdiocese of Newark are now required to exit their parish rectories in order to engage in lectio divina, but they can still recite the Office indoors. They are still free to walk around the naves of their churches with breviary in hand, but it’s off to the parking lot for the rosary!

    (Humour is important in times like this.)

  25. jnxt7707 says:

    I have gone along with all the Bishop-mandated restrictions, up until the sanctuary doors were locked. I can’t get my mind past that.
    It’s become a cliche now, but bears repeating: The liquor stores must remain open.
    Our faith has been reduced to a quaint window-dressing, it seems. We’ll allow it when everything is “normal” but in an emergency it is only the essentials, please.
    Message received, loud and clear.
    Holy Mary, Pray for us!

  26. iPadre says:

    I hope our brother Priests don’t forget the Apostolic Pardon. Such a gift in our last moment in this life.

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  28. DeGaulle says:

    I attempted confession in my local cathedral here in Ireland, only to find a notice on the door that confessions had been cancelled. I had checked the internet and the latest pronouncements from the bishop had mentioned nothing of this. Given the paltry numbers that go and the vast size of the cathedral, allowing for great dispersion, and that the age profile of the bishops in the cathedral parish is exceptionally young, I don’t understand this decision. At least the doors weren’t closed and I was able to enter and say a few prayers.

  29. DeGaulle says:

    Re post above, the mention of ‘age profile’ should, of course, refer to priests, not ‘bishops’. Please excuse my carelessness.

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  31. Traductora says:

    In my diocese, the sacraments are completely locked away from us and we can’t even enter our churches. But don’t think the bishops and clergy are sitting around doing nothing…we received fund appeals from both the parish and the diocese, one of them even asking for money so they could “keep up their work.” Funny, right?

  32. jmaryb says:

    In reply to JonathanTX, I believe it was St Damien of Molokai who had to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation from his provincial Father Modeste Favens, while the two were in separate watercraft. The captain of the steamer refused to allow St Damien to board, or the provincial to go ashore, so Damien had to shout his confession, in French, across the waves.

  33. Fr_Andrew says:

    The bishops of New Zealand (according to a friend who is a priest down there), have not only forbidden Masses, and forbidden priests to anoint or hear confessions, they have gone a step further to presume to declare that priests no longer have faculties for confessions. Effectively a territorial interdict (which since the 1983 Code, no longer exists).

    That means that a handful of SSPX priests in that country are the only priests with faculties! And from what I’m told they are doing things like the drive-through or 6-foot distance outdoor confessional, and being creative in getting the sacraments to people like Pope Francis said to do.

    Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, as I don’t think even Stephen King, with all of his really bizarre plots, could have come up with that plot line.

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