A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Laypeople's Use of Oil
ROME, 28 JULY 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: There are chaplains who minister at a local Catholic hospital and one of them likes to use "oil" when she prays with the patients (Catholics and non-Catholics). I feel that this causes confusion. One of the chaplains attended a recent convention of chaplains and was told by a presenter that this practice is allowed as long as they tell the patients that they are not receiving the sacrament of the sick. I seem to recall that years ago the Vatican came out with a document on the use of oil by laypersons. Could you please comment? — A.S., Bridgeport, New York
A: The document you refer to is probably the 1997 instruction "On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest." This is an unusual document insofar as it was formally issued by the Congregation for Clergy but was co-signed by no fewer than eight Vatican congregations and councils, including that of the Doctrine of the Faith. This gives the document a certain weight with respect to its authority.
The document first presents the theological principles behind its decisions before giving a series of practical considerations on aspects of lay ministry in the Church. Then, having laid the groundwork, it enunciates in 13 articles practical provisions and norms that outline the possibilities and limits of the collaboration of the lay faithful in priestly ministry.
The first article, on the "Need for an Appropriate Terminology," attempts to clarify the multiple uses of the expression "ministry." This responds to an intuition of Pope John Paul II who, "In his address to participants at the Symposium on 'Collaboration of the Lay Faithful with the Priestly Ministry' …, emphasized the need to clarify and distinguish the various meanings which have accrued to the term 'ministry' in theological and canonical language."
The document accepts that the term "ministry" is applicable to the laity in some cases:
"§3. The non-ordained faithful may be generically designated 'extraordinary ministers' when deputed by competent authority to discharge, solely by way of supply, those offices mentioned in Canon 230, §3 and in Canons 943 and 1112. Naturally, the concrete term may be applied to those to whom functions are canonically entrusted e.g. catechists, acolytes, lectors etc.
"Temporary deputation for liturgical purposes — mentioned in Canon 230, §2 — does not confer any special or permanent title on the non-ordained faithful."
However: "It is unlawful for the non-ordained faithful to assume titles such as 'pastor,' 'chaplain,' 'coordinator,' 'moderator' or other such similar titles which can confuse their role and that of the Pastor, who is always a Bishop or Priest."
Another article, No. 9, is on "The Apostolate to the Sick." Regarding our reader's question on the use of oil in a non-sacramental way, the article is very clear:
"§1. […] The non-ordained faithful particularly assist the sick by being with them in difficult moments, encouraging them to receive the Sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick, by helping them to have the disposition to make a good individual confession as well as to prepare them to receive the Anointing of the Sick. 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.
"§2. With regard to the administration of this sacrament, ecclesiastical legislation reiterates the theologically certain doctrine and the age old usage of the Church which regards the priest as its only valid minister. This norm is completely coherent with the theological mystery signified and realized by means of priestly service.
"It must also be affirmed that the reservation of the ministry of Anointing to the priest is related to the connection of this sacrament to the forgiveness of sin and the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist. No other person may act as ordinary or extraordinary minister of the sacrament since such constitutes simulation of the sacrament."
To many it might appear that this document is excessively restrictive in its dispositions. Yet by providing clear guidelines and demarcations of proper competences based on solid theological reasons, it actually facilitates fruitful collaboration between priests and laity in a true spirit of charity and service to Christ, the Church and to souls.
This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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