Father Dietzen: Who is authorized to anoint with oil? - Catholic Courier

Father Dietzen: Who is authorized to anoint with oil?

Q. Our community is confused about anointing of the sick. According to a friend of mine in our parish, their study group anoints sick people with oil as part of their prayer. Unless I’m mistaken, only a priest should do this.

 

Some churchgoers report they have seen the Blessed Virgin and now have healing powers. Please explain who is authorized to anoint with oil. Can an ordinary priest bless the olive oil and consider it a holy oil? (Indiana)

A. Not all your questions can be answered fully here, but a few points can be made that should be helpful. It is important first to recognize that the sacrament of anointing of the sick is not the only form of mental, physical and psychological healing in the Catholic spiritual storehouse.

Prayer for and with sick people, comforting them with one’s presence and words, or blessing them with the sign of the cross on the forehead are among many ways of petitioning God’s healing that can be used any time by anyone.

They all acknowledge our Lord’s presence in the midst of suffering, his saving power over all evil and hurt, and his desire to free us in every way possible from the effects of our human limitations and weaknesses. Everyone is encouraged to employ them whenever possible, either one on one or with others who share this faith.

The church has, in fact, specific rituals and prayers that may be utilized by lay people as well as clergy in their effort to assist the sick. These are found primarily in the official ritual for Pastoral Care of the Sick (Chapter 1) and in the Book of Blessings, approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (Chapter 2).

Nothing is said in either of these rituals to exclude using appropriate symbols (for example, a candle, a crucifix or even oil) during such nonsacramental ceremonies for the sick. From my experience, however, and apparently from yours, using oil in these kinds of blessings may cause confusion in distinguishing them from the sacrament of anointing.

Sacramental anointing of the sick, as one of the seven sacraments, of course holds a place of special reverence in the church’s care for the ill. Particular formulas and ministers (only priests and bishops) are designated for this prayer of faith, laying on of hands and anointing with oil.

The oil of the sick is one of three holy oils the bishop consecrates during Holy Week explicitly for use in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, holy orders and anointing of the sick. They should normally be used only by those administering these sacraments.

If necessary, any priest may bless the oil of the sick during the anointing liturgy (Pastoral Care of the Sick, Nos. 21 and 140).

One final note. It seems you are unaware that holy oils no longer need to come from olives. Because olive oil is sometimes difficult to obtain, oil from any plant (corn, soybean and others) may be used for the sacraments (Pastoral Care of the Sick, No. 20; Blessing of Oils, Introduction).


A longtime columnist with Catholic News Service, Father Dietzen died March 27, 2011.

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