This evening, a memo by Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford issued a memorandum on the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, in response to inquiries from US Bishops on two questions of sacramental practice in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, regarding whether it would be acceptable for the Sacrament of Reconciliation to take place over the phone, and whether it would be acceptable for a nurse or other third party to physically anoint a person with a swab that a priest dips in oil.
This memo follows a policy (as reported by Catholic News Agency) that was enacted by the Diocese of Springfield, Mass., that would have allowed another person, such as a nurse, to physically anoint a patient with oil while a priest performed the rest of the rite.
After relaying the questions to the US nunciature, Archbishop Christoph Pierre consulted with Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome. The response was then directed to Archbishop Blair, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, who sent a memo to the US Bishops.
On the question of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Blair wrote:
With regard to Penance, it is clear that the Sacrament is not to be celebrated via cell phone. In addition, in the present circumstances cell phones should not be used even for the amplification of voices between a confessor and penitent who are in visual range of each other. Current threats against the seal of confession also raise questions about information on cell phones.
On the proposal to Anoint the sick by a third party, he relayed:
“With regard to the Anointing of the Sick, it is not possible for the anointing with oil to be delegated to someone else, such as a nurse or a doctor.”
The Archbishop concluded with this reminder:
I might add that when it is not possible to administer the Sacrament, then what the Apostolic Penitentiary said about the Sacrament of Penance might be applied analogously to the Sacrament of the Sick: “Where the individual faithful find themselves in the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution, it should be remembered that perfect contrition, coming from the love of God, beloved above all things, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness (that which the penitent is at present able to express) and accompanied by votum confessionis, that is, by the firm resolution to have recourse, as soon as possible, to sacramental confession, obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones (cf. CCC, no. 1452).”
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.