ASK FATHER: Priest anointed me and then, without confession, absolved me.

From a reader…


Recently I was in the hospital being treated for cancer. I had a private room and my wife was in the room with me. Suddenly a priest came into the room, introduced himself and asked if I was Catholic. He asked if I wanted to be anointed, I said yes. At this point the priest did anoint me and then absolved me of all of my sins. I am 81 years old, a cradle Catholic and am ashamed to admit, that for many reasons, I have not been to confession for many years. My question is whether this confession and absolution were valid. The priest did not ask if I wanted confession, he did not ask my wife to leave the room, he did not put on a stole of office, he did not ask me to confess a single sin and, finally, he did not ask me to recite an act of contrition. At this point he turned and left the room. I have recovered and have tried to locate this priest, but to no avail. I am very familiar with the form of confession and, from reading your blog, where you admonish us to “Go to Confession,” confession is very seriously on my mind. Each day in my prayers I implore the Holy Spirit to assist me in making a good, holy and worthy confession of my sins, my sincere hope is that this was a gift from God. What say you?

What a strange encounter.

I am glad that you recovered.   I am also glad that you, as a Catholic, are well-informed.

Two things must be dealt with.

In the first place, the Sacrament of Anointing is considered one of the “sacraments of the living”.  That is, it is to be administered to those who are “alive in grace”.  It must be received in the state of grace.

In the case that a person is incapable of making a confession beforehand, then the sacrament can be given and it will also forgive sins.  If the person is capable of making a confession, he must make his confession first, be absolved (i.e., brought back to life), and then be anointed.

It is wrong for a priest to anoint without first discerning if the person is in need of making a confession.

The next point concerns the absolution he gave you without hearing your confession.

There are occasions when it is impossible for a priest to hear a confession because there are people in the room, right there, who would hear.  In that case, in an emergency, a priest can simply absolve.   If the person recovers, however, he is bound to make a regular, full confession of his mortal sins in kind and number at the earliest opportunity.   This is how it works with “general absolution”, that is, without confession of sins of an individual or more people in an emergency.  All who receive that absolution must go to confession in the regular way.  They cannot receive “general absolution” twice in a row without regular confession.  The second time they would receive a “general absolution” it would be invalid, except when in danger of death.

Your wife could have stepped out for a moment while you made your confession.  There was no emergency or necessity there, even in time of COVID Theater.   He could have heard your confession and absolved you and then anointed you.  THAT was the proper order.

If you were not in the state of grace when he anointed you, the validity of the anointing was highly questionable.   The “general absolution” he gave you without confession of sins might have been valid.

My advice:


You don’t have confess or explain any of this to the confessor when you go.  None of it was your fault and you likely did not sin in that strange encounter with that priest at the hospital.  Just make your confession as you would from the last time you went.

And be grateful to God for your recovery and your chance to go to receive this mighty sacrament of God’s loving mercy the right way.   Make a good examination of conscience and go right away, as soon as possible.  At 81 you mustn’t fool around with being shriven.  It’s more important than other things on your schedule… which is really God’s schedule.

Make sure your wife goes, too. Your vocation is to help her to get to heaven.

If I could make a suggestion…. Because of this whole experience, after your confession and your penance you might recite the Litany of St. Joseph for yourself and your wife (HERE) and then the Daily Prayer for Priests (HERE) for that odd priest from the hospital.

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  1. Nicholas says:

    My understanding is that there are two similar things called “in danger of death.” One means roughly “dying,” while the other means “is particularly likely to die” such as a soldier going into battle.

    Which is it in that case?

    [I written about this in the past. Going into battle or even going to execution are NOT occasions for anointing because the cause of death is external to the person who will die.]

  2. FrNigel says:

    If the priest believed the patient to be in imminent danger of death, perhaps he imparted the Apostolic Blessing? Nevertheless a conscious and mentally capable patient should have been given the opportunity to confess and make an act of contrition.

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