Q: As a deacon, I regularly assist at communal anointings of the sick and wonder where the hands should be anointed by the priest. At ordinations, the Roman Pontifical rubric states on page 96 that the bishop “anoints with holy Chrism the palms of the new Priest . . . ” The Pastoral Care of the Sick rubric only states that the priest “anoints the hands” of the sick person. Thus, I assumed that the sick person’s anointing was only on the back of the hands since the palms of priests are anointed at their ordination. This seemed a logical distinction. So exactly where on the hands should the oil of the sick be applied?
A: The tradition is for the priest to anoint the palms of the sick person’s hands. Prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, a sick priest was to be anointed on the back of his hands to distinguish this anointing from the one he received at ordination.
The revised rite just says to anoint the “hands” without designating what part – or whether the sick person is among the laity or the clergy.
I usually anoint the sick on their palms, unless for some reason I cannot physically reach the palms due to medical treatments or apparatus, or even tightly clenched fists. Then I anoint whatever part of the hands I can reach. Sometimes it’s the base of the thumb.