Ministry to the Sick
Part 2 History

Chapter s26 Reformation Period [1500-1699 CE]

Secular History

Church History

Ministry to the Sick and Dying

The Council of Trent and Extreme Unction

Secular History

1516  Ottoman Empire conquers Jerusalem

1571  Battle of Lepanto  The naval battle, fought on October 7, 1571 in which the Christian League created chiefly by the efforts of Pius V between Venice and Spain, with help from the Papal states and Genoa, decisively beat the Turks, who were threatening the Western. In thanksgiving for the victory over the Turks (which was attributed to saying the Rosary), the Pope instituted a special feast of Our Lady on October 7, the Feast of the Rosary

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Church History

Many began to see that the Church had acquired so many practices and customs and rules through the centuries that often the divine message of the Gospel was obscured under layers of human rituals.  Consequently, it was time to "clean house." 

The reformers define sacrament as "An outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace AND FOUND IN SCRIPTURE.  (Therefore:  there are two sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist -- or perhaps also a third, confession.)

Many abuses among the clergy; selling Masses, abuse of stipends, charging money for sacramental grace.

1614 Publication of the Roman Ritual of the Council of Trent to be used in all Churches that did not have a 200 year custom.

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Ministry to the Sick

Luther:  Extreme Unction is not a sacrament (= not found in the New Testament). 

Calvin:  Extreme Unction is a superstitious blessing of oil and anointing of " half-dead carcasses."

Trent responds (25 November 1551) that Extreme Unction
1.  is a sacrament
2.  instituted by Christ
3.  and announced by James.

It confers grace of the Holy Spirit,
5.  remits sins,
6.  and comforts the sick.
7.  The proper minister of the anointing is an ordained priest.
Sacrament for those so "dangerously ill that they seem near to death.
9.  The Oil is blessed by the bishop.

The Council of Trent called for a standardization (the first) of the rites for celebrating the sacraments.  The Pope was directed to do this after the Council had ended; (after about 65 years of work) in 1614 the pope issued the Rituale Romanum  (Ritual of the Council of Trent) which contains the Rite of Extreme Unction which was the ritual formula that was used in the Roman Catholic Church for the next 358 years, until The Second Vatican Council's revised Ordo Unctionis Infirmorum Eorumque Pastoralis Curae, December 7, 1972.   

The Council of Trent and Extreme Unction

Session 14 (25 November 1551) being the fourth under Pope Julius III. On the Most Holy Sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction 

The text given below is that provided by the Hanover Historical Texts Project

[Richstatter Commentary 1:  Note that Extreme Unction follows Penance because it was considered to be the "ultimate" or "last"  sacrament of forgiveness of sins.  Extreme Unction is understood as the "perfection/completion of the last confession."]  The text given here is that provided by the Hanover Historical Texts Project

On the Sacrament of Extreme Unction

It hath also seemed good to the holy Synod, to subjoin, to the preceding doctrine on penance, the following on the sacrament of Extreme Unction, which by the Fathers was regarded as being the completion, not only of penance, but also of the whole Christian life, which ought to be a perpetual penance. [Richstatter Commentary 2:  see commentary #1 above]  First, therefore, as regards its institution, It declares and teaches, that our most gracious Redeemer,--who would have his servants at all times provided with salutary remedies against all the weapons of all their enemies,--as, in the other sacraments, He prepared the greatest aids, whereby, during life, Christians may preserve themselves whole from every more grievous spiritual evil, so did He guard the close of life, by the sacrament of Extreme Unction, as with a most firm defense. [Richstatter Commentary 3: Trent believes the seven sacraments to have been "instituted by Christ" in a temporal, historical sense] For though our adversary seeks and seizes opportunities, all our life long, to be able in any way to devour our souls; yet is there no time wherein he strains more vehemently all the powers of his craft to ruin us utterly, and, if he can possibly, to make us fall even from trust in the mercy of God, than when he perceives the end of our life to be at hand.  [Richstatter Commentary 4:  The Good Angel Uriel has become Satan]

Chapter 1 On the Institution of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction

Now, this sacred unction of the sick [
Richstatter Commentary 5:  Important Note that Trent here uses the ancient name for the the sacrament, the "unction (anointing) of the sick."  The Second Vatican Council in SC #73 restores this name for the sacrament which is more traditional than Extreme Unction"] was instituted by Christ our Lord, as truly and properly a sacrament of the new law, insinuated indeed in Mark, but recommended and promulgated to the faithful by James the Apostle, and brother of the Lord. [Richstatter Commentary 6:  Note the verbs.  They are important.  Note also the designation of James]  Is any man, he saith, sick among you ? Let him bring in the priests [Richstatter Commentary 7: "priests" is interpreted in Trent's understanding of "priest ordained by a bishop"] of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man; and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him. In which words, as the Church has learned from apostolic tradition, received from hand to hand, he [James] teaches the matter, the form, the proper minister, and the effect of this salutary sacrament. For the Church has understood the matter thereof to be oil blessed by a bishop. For the unction very aptly represents the grace of the Holy Ghost with which the soul of the sick person is invisibly anointed; and furthermore that whose words, "By this unction," &c. are the form. [Richstatter Commentary 8:  The "form" they are referring to is:  "May the Lord forgive you by this holy anoint+ing and his most loving mercy whatever sins you have committed by the use of your sight.  Amen. {This formula was repeated six times:  1. by the use of your sight: 2. by the use of your hearing; 3. by the use of your sense of smell; 4. by the use of your sense of taste and the power of speech; 5. by the use of your sense of touch; 6. by the use of your power to walk} Thus anointing all the ways by which we sin -- which was understood to be the purpose of the sacrament.]

Chapter 2 On the Effect of this Sacrament

Moreover the thing signified and the effect of this sacrament are explained in those words; And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he be in sins they shall be forgiven him. For the thing here signified is the grace of the Holy Ghost; whose anointing cleanses away sins, if there be any still to be expiated, as also the remains of sins; and raises up and strengthens the soul of the sick person, by exciting in him a great confidence in the divine mercy; whereby the sick being supported, bears more easily the inconveniences and pains of his sickness; and more readily resists the temptations of the devil who lies in wait for his heel; and at times obtains bodily health, when expedient for the welfare of the soul.

Chapter 3 On the Minister of this Sacrament, and on the time when it ought to be administered

And now as to prescribing who ought to receive, and who to administer this sacrament, this also was not obscurely delivered in the words above cited. For it is there also shown, that the proper ministers of this sacrament are the Presbyters of the Church; by which name are to be understood, in that place, not the elders by age, or the foremost in dignity amongst the people, but, either bishops, or priests by bishops rightly ordained by the imposition of the hands of the priesthood. It is also declared, that this unction is to be applied to the sick, but to those especially who lie in such danger as to seem to be about to depart this life: whence also it is called the sacrament of the departing. And if the sick should, after having received this unction, recover, they may again be aided by the succor of this sacrament, when they fall into another like danger of death. Wherefore, they are on no account to be hearkened to, who, against so manifest and clear a sentence of the apostle James, teach, either that this unction is a human figment or is a rite received from the Fathers which neither has a command from Cod, nor a promise of grace: nor those who assert that it has already ceased, as though it were only to be referred to the grace of healing in the primitive church; nor those who say that the rite and usage which the holy Roman Church observes in the administration of this sacrament is repugnant to the sentiment of the apostle James, and that it is therefore to be changed into some other: nor finally those who affirm that this Extreme Unction may without sin be contemned by the faithful : for all these things are most manifestly at variance with the perspicuous words of so great an apostle. Neither assuredly does the Roman Church, the mother and mistress of all other churches, observe aught in administering this unction,--as regards those things which constitute the substance of this sacrament,--but what blessed James has prescribed. Nor indeed can there be contempt of so great a sacrament without a heinous sin, and an injury to the Holy Ghost himself. These are the things which this holy ecumenical Synod professes and teaches and proposes to all the faithful of Christ, to be believed and held, touching the sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction. And it delivers the following canons to be inviolably preserved; and condemns and anathematizes those who assert what is contrary thereto.

Canons on the Sacrament of Extreme Unction

Canon 1 If any one saith, that Extreme Unction is not truly and properly a sacrament, instituted by Christ our Lord, and promulgated by the blessed apostle James; but is only a rite received from the Fathers, or a human figment; let him be anathema.

Canon 2 If any one saith, that the sacred unction of the sick does not confer grace, nor remit sin, nor comfort the sick; but that it has already ceased, as though it were of old only the grace of working Cures; let him be anathema.

Canon 3 If any one saith, that the rite and usage of Extreme Unction, which the holy Roman Church observes, is repugnant to the sentiment of the blessed apostle James, and that is therefore to be changed, and may, without sin, be contemned by Christians; let him be anathema.

Canon 4 If any one saith, that the Presbyters of the Church, whom blessed James exhorts to be brought to anoint the sick, are not the priests who have been ordained by a bishop, but the elders in each community, and that for this cause a priest alone is not the proper minister of Extreme Unction; let him be anathema. TRR Commentary:  Note that if contemporary scripture scholarship and Church historians find that the "presbyters of the Church" mentioned in James are not ordained priests but elders in each community and that ordained priesthood is a later ecclesiastical development; and if the discipline of the Church changes to allow deacons and/or lay ministers to anoint, this canon will have to be interpreted as "disciplinary" rather than "doctrinal."

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 09/11/12.  Your comments on this site are welcome at