Anointing of the Sick
 Part 5 Pastoral and Canonical Issues

Chapter 51 Anointing of the Sick and Canon Law

Preliminary Questions


Title V. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick

Chapter I. The Celebration of the Sacrament

Chapter II. The Minister of the Anointing of the Sick

Chapter III.  Those on Whom the Anointing of the Sick is to be Conferred

To Think About

Note regarding copyright:  The text of the Codex juris canonici 1983  quoted here in English is the new, 1999, translation of the Canon Law Society of America approved by the USCCB.  It is reprinted here under the "fair use" laws, presuming that those students who read this chapter of the notes have each purchased their own copy of the text from the Canon Law Society of America and have the text before them as they use these notes.

Preliminary Questions

How has the legislation regarding the Anointing of the Sick changed in recent years?

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Code of Canon Law Title 5. The Sacrament of Anointing the Sick. Canons 998 through 1007. CLSA Commentary, pp 1179 - 1192.

See the Bibliography given in the CLSA Commentary, p 1192.

John Huels. Pastoral Companion, Second Edition Revised, 1997, pp 153-156.

John M. Huels, "Who May Be Anointed," Disputed Questions in the Liturgy Today,  pp 91-99

John M Huels,  "Ministry to the Sick and Dying in view of the Shortage of Priests."  Proceedings of the Sixty-Third Annual Convention 2001, pp. 127-146.

Susan K. Woods, S.C.L.  "Anointing of the Sick: Theological Issues."  Proceedings of the Sixty-Third Annual Convention 2001, pp. 233-254

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Title V. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick

Book 4.  The Office of Sanctifying in the Church 834-1253
    Part 1.  The Sacraments  850-1165
        Title 1.  Baptism -- Canons 849-878 [30 canons]
        Title 2.  Confirmation -- Canons 879-896 [18 canons]
        Title 3.  Eucharist -- Canons 897-958 [62 canons]
        Title 4.  Penance -- Canons 959-997 [38 canons]
Title 5. Anointing the Sick
I. The Celebration of the Sacrament
             CHAPTER II. The Minister of the Anointing of the Sick

                CHAPTER III.  Those on Whom the Anointing of the Sick is to be Conferred
        Title 6. Orders
        Title 7. Marriage

Canon 998 The anointing of the sick, by which the Church commends the faithful who are dangerously ill to the suffering and glorified Lord in order that he relieve and save them, is conferred by anointing them with oil and pronouncing the words prescribed in the liturgical books.

Title V begins with one theological canon which describes the sacrament.  I do not know why the CLSA translated  "periculose aegrotantes" as "dangerously ill."  The official English text, approved by Rome, states: 

The word periculose has been carefully studied and rendered as "seriously," rather than as "gravely," "dangerously," or "perilously."  Such a rendering will serve to avoid restrictions upon the celebration of the sacrament.  On the one hand, the sacrament may and should be given to anyone whose health is seriously impaired; on the other hand, it may not be given indiscriminately or to any person whose health is not seriously impaired.[footnote to number 8 of the "General Introduction"]

The new CLSA translation of the Code of Canon Law is not as careful/precise in this regard as is the Ritual.

How sick does one need to be?  [Answer based on Lex Orandi]  Sick enough so that the prayers of the Rite make sense.

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CHAPTER I. The Celebration of the Sacrament

Canon 999  In addition to a bishop, the following can bless the oil to be used in the anointing of the sick

1.  those equivalent to a diocesan bishop by law;

2.  any presbyter in a case of necessity, but only in the actual celebration of the sacrament.

"Physical necessity" [e.g. you ran out of oil blessed by the bishop] is not the only kind of "necessity" for a presbyter to bless the oil.  There is also "liturgical necessity."  Using the premise that the Eucharist is the type and model of all of the sacraments, and as the Berakah over the bread and wine [the Eucharistic Prayer] is the very heart of the Eucharist, so the Berakah over the oil is the very heart of the Sacrament of Anointing.   For the full experience of the rite, it is necessary for the celebrants to hear this Berakah which 1) calls upon God to 2) gratefully remember all that God has done through the use of oil and to 3) send the Holy Spirit to heal all those anointed with this oil -- heal them in body, soul, and spirit.

The text of the Berakah reads: [Pastoral Care of the Sick, #123]

God of all consolation
you chose and sent your Son to heal the world.
Graciously listen to our prayer of faith;
send the power of your Holy Spirit, the Consoler,
into this precious oil, this soothing ointment,
this rich gift, this fruit of the earth.
Bless this oil + and sanctify it for our use.
Make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it;
heal them in body, in soul, and in spirit,
and deliver them from every affliction.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.  R. Amen.

This prayer is at the heart of the Sacramental Celebration.  Thoughtful meditation on this blessing is one of the best ways to prepare to celebrate the sacrament.  It is important also for catechesis and theological understanding of the sacrament.  What does this prayer say about God? About the oil? What does the prayer ask for the sick?

The Berakah form has three parts:  1)  we invoke the divinity; 2) we praise God and gratefully, eucharistically remember (anamnesis) all God has done through the use of oil and 3) we petition God to send the Holy Spirit (epiclesis)

1.  Invocation:  "God of all consolation..."

2.  Anamnesis:  We then remember the creation of oil, the healing ministry of Jesus...

3.  Epiclesis:   The prayer asks for healing in body, in soul, and in spirit.  This three-fold division embraces the total human person.  The body is our contact with the here and now, with space and time;  the soul (also referred to as "mind") is our contact with the past and the future;  the spirit is our contact with the transcendent. 

The principle of lex orandi indicates that the sacrament may be celebrated by those who are seriously ill in any one of these three:  in body (physical illness); in soul or mind (mental illness, grave fear, serious anxiety, etc.);  in soul (sin).

When I was submitting the text of my book The Sacraments: A Look at How Catholics Pray to the Theological Censor for Ecclesiastical approval, the censor wrote: "On page 135, bottom line, the author suggests that the oil for anointing the sick is better blessed during the rite itself so that the congregation can hear the words of the blessing. However, the Code of Canon Law (c. 999) states that the oil is blessed in the celebration of the sacrament only in case of necessity." Father Gratsch asked me to respond to this observation and my response was as follows:

I am aware of Canon 999 and rubrics given in the Ritual which form the source of canon 999. The "necessity" of canon 999 can be interpreted to mean not only physical necessity but also pastoral or liturgical necessity. It is my judgment as a canonist that "a priest who felt that it was pastorally and spiritually necessary for the people to experience the blessing of the oil in order for the congregation to enter more fruitfully into the rite" would be acting in accord with canon 999.

I have always interpreted the canon in this way because this is the way I was taught. Father Pierre-Marie Gy, O.P. who was the director of the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie and who is the principal author of the Ordo Unctionis Infirmorum eorumque Pastoralis Curae and its rubrics told me that this is how he intended the rubric to be interpreted. And one of the principles for the interpretation of law is to look to the mind of the lawgiver. In this case, the one who formulated the law told me how he intended for it to be interpreted; consequently I never questioned that what I said in my book was anything but a legitimate interpretation of the law.

As will be more clear when the "fontes" of the Code are more available, the issue behind the legislation in Canon 999 is not so much whether the bishop or the priest is the one to bless the oil; at issue is the decision whether to use oil previously blessed at the Chrism Mass or to bless the oil each time. There are liturgical and spiritual reasons which are proportionate to the degree of necessity mentioned in canon 999 and which suggest blessing the oil each time.

Not long ago I was giving a workshop to priests in Oklahoma on the Pastoral Care of the Sick and at the conclusion of the workshop I concelebrated with Archbishop Eusebius Beltran who presided at a Eucharist during which he celebrated the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. At this liturgy he blessed the oil so that those to be anointed could hear the prayer of blessing. He could easily have used oil which he himself had blessed only a few months earlier at the Chrism Mass but he (together with his liturgical and canonical advisors) felt that "experiencing the blessing of the oil" was sufficient reason to bless the oil during the rite. And he knew that in so doing, he would be giving an official "example" to his priests who were observing this pastoral decision.

In my manuscript I make no pastoral interpretation of the canon, I simply state what people will ordinarily experience. And I think that this experience is in harmony with the law. The Commentary on the Code published by the Canon Law Society of America (page 705) interprets the canon in line with what I have said here.


Canon 1000 1. The anointings with the words, order, and manner prescribed in the liturgical books are to be performed carefully.  In a case of necessity, however, a single anointing on the forehead or even on some other part of the body is sufficient, while the entire formula is said.

2. The minister is to perform the anointings with his own hand, unless a grave reason warrants the use of an instrument.

One would hope that the actions "with the words, order, and manner prescribed in the liturgical books" would always "be performed carefully." This is a canon expressing a wish or desire.  The next phrase "In case of necessity..." is not an exception to the first part of the canon; the ritual itself gives this rubric. 

Canon 1001 Pastors of souls and those close to the sick are to take care that the sick are consoled by this sacrament at the appropriate time.

This canon exhorts us to celebrate the sacrament more frequently and to make it more available.

Canon 1002 The communal celebration of the anointing of the sick for many of the sick at once, who have been suitably prepared and are properly disposed, can be performed according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop.

Recall the directives of the Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy:

26. Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations belonging to the Church, which is the "sacrament of unity," namely, the holy people united and ordered under their bishops.

Therefore liturgical services involve the whole Body of the Church; they manifest it and have effects upon it; but they also concern the individual members of the Church in different ways, according to their different orders, offices, and actual participation.

27. Whenever rites, according to their specific nature, make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and active participation of the faithful, it is to be stressed that this way of celebrating them is to be preferred, as far as possible, to a celebration that is individual and, so to speak, private.

This applies with special force to the celebration of Mass and the administration of the sacraments, even though every Mass has of itself a public and social character.

Communal anointing is normative, even in parishes where it is not the most frequently celebrated form of the sacrament.  When celebrated correctly, such a celebration:


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CHAPTER II. The Minister of the Anointing of the Sick

Canon 1003 1. Every priest and a priest alone validly administers the anointing of the sick.

2. All priests to whom the care of souls has been entrusted 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.

3. Any priest is permitted to carry blessed oil with him so that he is able to administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick in a case of necessity.

Regarding questions concerning the "minister" of the sacrament and for the commentary on Canon 1003, see the discussion in Chapter s33 The Minister of Anointing

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Chapter III.  Those on Whom the Anointing of the Sick is to be Conferred

Canon 1004  1.  The anointing of the sick can be administered to a member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age.

The language of the canon is that of Trent: "administering" sacraments (by the priest) and the "receiving" of the sacraments (by the laity). 

If the sacrament is to heal and comfort the ill, one too young to benefit from the sacrament should not celebrate it. 

Regarding the words "begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age."  Note that the Second Vatican Council, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #73,  teaches that:  "Extreme unction, which may also and more properly be called anointing of the sick, is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as any one of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for that person to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived."   Hence, when one "begins to be in danger" (canon 1004) the time for anointing "has certainly already arrived."  See the note above on the translation of the word "periculose"

SC 73. "Extrema Unctio", quae etiam et melius "Unctio infirmorum" vocari potest, non est Sacramentum eorum tantum qui in extremo vitae discrimine versantur. Proinde tempus opportunum eam recipiendi iam certe habetur cum fidelis incipit esse in periculo mortis propter infirmitatem vel senium.

Evidently there is a "range" of illness:  I feel bad; I am really sick; I am seriously ill; I am not going to recover; I am dying.  [Remember:  Viaticum is the sacrament for the dying.]  There are various kinds of illnesses:  physical illness; stress; mid-life crisis; anxiety before a serious operation; mental illness; addictions; etc.  Note that "old age" is not an illness but a natural part of growing up. [Note the implications of this for pastoral care.  To imply one is "seriously ill" simply "because you're old!" can be insensitive.]  

Mechanistic models of healing are being replaced by holistic models.  We are not like machines so that when one part wears out it needs to be replaced or repaired.  Healing is more than curing illness.  Many contemporary thinkers are helping us minister to the sick:

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross - stages of death and dying
Lawrence Kohlbert - moral development
James Fowler - faith development
Gordon W. Allport
Adrian van Kaam's
Family systems theory

Cosmology and our understanding of the universe is changing:  [...a new understanding of the universe; it is no longer seen as a collection of physical objects but as an interconnected system within a unified whole, Implicit or enfolded order...  (see:  Peter Fink, editor, Anointing of the Sick. Volume 7 of Alternative Futures for Worship. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1987, p.29.)]

The by now famous framework identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance -- in regard to the dying person can be helpful in appreciating the many feelings involved in the terminally ill person, particularly if they are seen not as sequential phases but as feelings which come and go, rise and fall, merge and emerge. For the fact is that each person's dying, like each person's illness, is as unique as each person's living. (Ibid., p 23.)

The rite needs to be different for each of these stages.  The rite requires both ambiguity and ritual accessibility (like a basketball game, the players can be too good to invite us into the game).  [Note that Ross's stages happen not only to sick but all loss:  e.g. when parish no longer has a full time priest in residence.]

§2.  This sacrament can be repeated if the sick person, having recovered, again becomes gravely ill or if the condition becomes more grave during the same illness.

Canon 1005  This sacrament is to be administered in a case of doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead.

Canon 1006  This sacrament is to be conferred on the sick who at least implicitly requested it when they were in control of their faculties.

Canon 1007  The anointing of the sick is not to be conferred upon those who persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin.

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To Think About

1.  What is the petition (in your own words) of the BRK over the oil?

2.  How sick does a person have to be to be anointed?

3.  What is the Latin name of the "Sacrament for the Dying"?

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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. 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 04/29/17 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at