Lay anointing of the sick – updated

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: I enjoy your blog, and thank you for all that you do for the Church.  At my parish, we have a very pro-active healing ministry.  Some have asked me, if they could use oil for healing as they pray over people (not the Oil for anointing). My concern is that it should not be confused with the sacrament of the Anointing of the sick.  If they are using it (another type of oil) as a sacramental only – is that OK?  If oil is permitted for the laity to use for prayer/healing, what type of oil would they use?  Is there an official church source that could guide me in the right direction?  I didn’t see a prayer for oils in the book of blessings, outside of the oils we use for sacraments.  Again, I’m  a little hesitant of them using any oil at all.  Your direction or insights would be most appreciated.  


A: Thanks for your comments on my work.

I share the same concerns you have. I don’t know of any universal reproof, but some dioceses have made public statements. I understand that the practice of anointing outside the sacrament has grown especially in Africa, and some Catholic bishops there have expressed concern.

I would stay with rituals for the sick as they are outlined in Pastoral Care of the Sick, the Book of Blessings and Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers. None of them uses a quasi-sacramental oil in order to avoid confusion with the sacrament. All of them promote prayers in order to plead for healing.


Q: In regard to the use of oil by the laity in visiting the sick, you can find the answer prohibiting this practice by consulting “Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests”  otherwise known as Ecclesiae de mysterio approved by St. John Paul II on August 15, 1997.  It was co-signed by eight Roman dicasteries including the Congregation for the Clergy, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (then Cardinal Ratzinger), the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, et al.

Article 9 of Ecclesia de mysterio entitled “The Apostolate to the Sick” states in part:  “In using sacramentals, the non-ordained faithful should ensure that these are in no way regarded as sacraments whose administration is proper and exclusive to the bishop and to the priest.  Since they are not priests, in no instance may the non-ordained perform anointings either with the oil of the sick or any other oil.”  (Emphasis added.)  Further, Canon 1379 states in part, “ a person who simulates the administration of a sacrament is to be punished with a just penalty.”

I trust you will find this information helpful in clarifying your previous comments on this topic.  Again, thank you for your outstanding ministry in liturgical education.  You are a real treasure to us.


A: Thanks for helping me keep the record straight.