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Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy

Online Edition - November 2005

Vol. XI, No. 8

CDF confirms “definitively” that only priests — not deacons or laity — may anoint the sick

Only priests may administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, according to a notice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The text, dated February 11, 2005, was published in the October 21 edition of L’Osservatore Romano.

The CDF’s clarification that this is a matter of doctrine to be held “definitively” is significant, especially because there has been considerable pressure, in recent years, to permit lay people -- usually extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion -- to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

The note and an accompanying letter, both signed by then-prefect of the Vatican congregation, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was addressed to dicasteries of the Roman Curia, bishops’ conferences and Eastern synods. Both texts follow:

To the Most Eminent and Excellent Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences:

In these last years the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has received several questions about the ministry of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

In this connection, this Dicastery considers it opportune to send to all pastors of the Catholic Church the attached Note on the Ministry of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick (Cf. Annex 1).

Also transmitted because of its usefulness is a brief note on the history of the doctrine in this regard, prepared by an expert on the subject (Cf. Annex 2).

In communicating the foregoing, I take advantage of the occasion to offer you my best regards and to confirm my devotedness,

+ Joseph Card. Ratzinger, Prefect


In canon 1003, paragraph 1 (Cf. also can. 739 paragraph 1 of the Code of Cannons of the Oriental Churches), the Code of Canon Law includes exactly the doctrine expressed by the Tridentine Council (Session XIV, can. 4: DS 1719; Cf. also the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1516), according to which only priests (bishops and presbyters) are ministers of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

This doctrine is “definitive tenenda”. Neither deacons nor lay persons therefore may exercise such ministry and any action in this connection is a simulation of the sacrament.

Rome, from the headquarters of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, February 11, 2005, in the Memoria of the Virgin of Lourdes.

+ Joseph Card. Ratzinger, Prefect
+ Angelo Amato, S.D.B.
Titular Archbishop of Sila, Secretary

--Translation: Zenit


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