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Anointing of the sick during the coronavirus

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. . . In a circumstance where a physical anointing is impossible, God can read a person's soul.

Father Kenneth

Q. I am a recent (fervent) convert to the Catholic Church. I am also a registered nurse and have held many patients as they passed on to eternity. I am concerned over the issue of priests being "barred" from hospitals during the current coronavirus epidemic; I have heard many Catholics bemoan the fact that, as a result, the sick and dying are being denied the sacrament of the sick.

So, my question is: Can this sacrament be done by intention? It seems to me that we could somehow comfort people -- those who are denied the sacrament through the inaccessibility of priests -- that Jesus can heal simply through his grace and the person's faith. (Tallahassee, Florida)

A. Your perspective is right on target: Jesus can forgive and heal based on a person's intention. In fact, in late March 2020, the chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Divine Worship made that same point.

Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, explained that what the Vatican had said the previous week about the sacrament of penance can be applied analogously to the anointing of the sick. The Vatican's Apostolic Penitentiary had said:

"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."

Interestingly, Archbishop Blair issued his statement to clarify and correct a "solution" that had been proposed earlier that same week by another New England bishop. In an email to priests of his diocese, Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, had said, "I am allowing the assigned Catholic hospital chaplains, standing outside a patient's room or away from their bedside, to dab a cotton swab with holy oil and then allow a nurse to enter the patient's room and administer the oil."

Speaking to the U.S. bishops, after conferring with the Vatican, Archbishop Blair said, "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 doctor." Bishop Rozanski immediately rescinded the permission he had granted earlier.

Which brings us back to the questioner's valuable insight: In a circumstance where a physical anointing is impossible, God can read a person's soul.

Q. I am 80 years old, a "cradle Catholic," a product of Catholic elementary and secondary schools and a Catholic university. I have a question that I think others of my generation might ask: When (apparently) did bowing become acceptable -- versus genuflecting before a tabernacle with a lighted sanctuary lamp? (Wichita, Kansas)

A. The act of genuflecting -- bending the right knee to the ground -- is a sign of adoration and is meant to honor the Blessed Sacrament. Therefore, upon arriving in church, if there is a tabernacle containing the consecrated hosts, one should genuflect toward it. (This assumes that one is able physically to do so.)

If, instead, the Eucharist is reserved in a side chapel, it would be proper simply to bow toward the altar. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal notes that the priest genuflects when he arrives at the altar and departs from it, and three times during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. "Otherwise," says the general instruction, "all who pass before the most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession" (No. 274). (Ministers carrying the processional cross, candles or the Book of the Gospels bow their heads instead of genuflecting.)

- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service

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