Revisiting the Anointing of the Sick: Some Problems Today | Father Mark A. Pilon, STL, STD | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
The Church needs to clarify the administration of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick for a number of reasons.
In 1974, when I was a deacon in Texas, a priest from Fort Worth came to Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas to speak to the deacon class about ministry to the sick and dying. I remember only one thing he told us that day, because it indicated to me that the administration of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick was in some quarters going amuck. This was only a few years after Pope Paul VI’s promulgation of the apostolic constitution revising the Pastoral Care of the Sick and how this sacrament was to be administered. Because we had read this document prior to this talk, it struck me as quite an abuse when the priest stated that he had established the practice of administering this sacrament to all who reached the age of fifty-five.
At first I thought it was a joke, but it turned out that he was quite serious. When someone asked him how this practice was justified by the norms of the Holy See, he simply shrugged it off and told us that the theology of the sacrament had evolved, and was no longer restricted to any particular degree of sickness. Additionally, he said that he thought fifty-five was the proper time for its administration due to “old age.”
“But why fifty-five?” I asked. He simply replied that because a lot of people retire by that age, administration of the sacrament is appropriate. I guessed that if the speaker could propose this bit of illogic, and gross misreading of the norms, at this fairly conservative seminary, abuses of the sacrament were likely much broader in the rest of the country. Over the years, my suspicion has proven to be an unfortunate fact.
While I personally have not encountered this particular abuse again, I have witnessed a number of other quite common practices that are also difficult to square with the norms in Pope Paul VI’s Sacram Unctionem Infirmorum (On the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick) and the subsequent Ordo regarding Pastoral Care of the Sick (PCS).