Mass. bishop ‘suspends’ sacramental anointing while rescinding controversial policy

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 08:51 pm (CNA).- After rescinding a controversial policy concerning sacramental anointing of the sick, the bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts told priests Friday afternoon that anointing of the sick is “suspended” within the Diocese of Springfield.

Earlier this week, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski authorized a change to norms for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, permitting a nurse, rather than a priest, to conduct the physical anointing, which is an essential part of the sacrament.

“I am allowing the assigned Catholic hospital chaplains, standing outside a patient’s room or away from their bedside, to dab a cotton swab with Holy Oil and then allow a nurse to enter the patient’s room and administer the oil,” Rozanski told priests in an email March 25.

On Friday afternoon the diocese told CNA it had rescinded that policy.

In fact, Rozanski emailed Springfield priests Friday afternoon explaining that “After further discussion and review, I am rescinding my previous directive and temporarily suspending the Anointing of the Sick in all instances.”

The sacramental anointing of the sick is conferred upon those Catholics who are in danger of death.

“The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God’s will. Furthermore, ‘if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven,’” the catechism adds.

The catechism explains that “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.”

According to the Church’s canon law, parish pastors “have the duty and right of administering the anointing of the sick for the faithful entrusted to their pastoral office. For a reasonable cause, any other priest can administer this sacrament with at least the presumed consent of the priest mentioned above.”

Canon law specifies certain circumstances under which the sacrament is expected to be administered, among them are cases “of doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead,” and when a sick person has “at least implicitly requested it when they were in control of their faculties.”

In his Friday email to priests, Rozanski noted that the diocesan Chrism Mass would be postponed, and told priests that “Should you run out of either the Oil of the Sick or Oil of the Catechumen, you may bless these oils to replenish your stock.”

The Church’s canon law says that bishops and their equivalents in law can bless the oil to be used in anointing of the sick, while other priests may do so “in a case of necessity, but only in the actual celebration of the sacrament.”

The Diocese of Springfield did not respond to questions regarding the intended length of Rozanski’s temporary suspension.

The bishop’s Friday announcement came as the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference liturgy committee issued a memo to U.S. bishops, informing them that “with regard to the Anointing of the Sick, it is not possible for the anointing with oil to be delegated to someone else, such as a nurse or doctor.” That memo seemed to refute the liceity of Rozanski’s March 25 policy.


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4 Comments

  1. I can only wonder what Sts Peter and Paul are thinking of this–suspending Mass, confessions, annointing, etc, in the face of possibly getting sick and maybe dying from Covid19. What of the martyrs who were sawed in half, froze to death on a pond, or fed to the lions?
    .
    Tell me again why celibacy is such a precious treasure? Is it not so the priests and bishops can go out and administer the sacraments with no concern their possible death in the service to God will leave a helpless wife and orphans behind? (Although one would think God would take care of the wives and children of priests.)
    .
    Our priests and bishops are clearly afraid of dying. No one should want to die, but being afraid to carry out their priestly duties shows a lack of belief and trust, does it not?

    • I’m isolating myself, too, not so much because I’m afraid of getting coronavirus as because I’m afraid I might pass the virus on to my elderly mother, with whom I live.

      I don’t think the priests and bishops are avoiding public Masses and the sick to avoid the illness themselves but rather to avoid passing it on. The martyrs gave their own lives; they weren’t at risk of giving others the “disease” of being chewed up by lions or frozen.

      • Well, then I am not entirely sure why the Apostles went out and preached the Word at a time when converting to Christianity was a death sentence. Better to leave the people to worship the pagan “gods” so as not to be put to the sword, no?
        .
        I can understand limiting the attendance at Holy Mass to some extent-maybe people with last names A to F on Monday, G to K on Tuesday, etc. Sit 6 feet apart, no hand shaking/holding and only a Spiritual Communion. Some Dioceses and Eparchies are live streaming or posting to Youtube.
        .
        This article is specifically about Anointing the Sick, however, and I should not have mentioned the Holy Mass in my first post. Instead of suspending Anointing, then, could not one one or two priests in the area be appointed, whose (temporary) sole purpose is to work in the hospitals with Covid patients?

  2. Today we have a generation of people that believe they are above or equal to God, they’re God’s buddies and can change things as they choose to, in reality they commit blasphemy.

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