Q. Can a non-Catholic receive the anointing of the sick? I witnessed this in my own parish and questioned its validity. The recipient is an Episcopalian and married to a Catholic parishioner at our parish.
Lisa, via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
The short answer is, yes, a non-Catholic can receive the anointing of the sick, in special situations. Let me explain.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died to save all people. He won superabundant grace for us by His death on the Cross. The Church teaches that a person must be in the state of grace when he or she dies in order to get to heaven. One of the most effective means for grace is the sacraments, so we want to do whatever we can to provide the sacraments to all of the baptized, Catholic or not. For that reason, the Church allows baptized non-Catholic Christians to receive not only the anointing of the sick, but also the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist in special circumstances. Chief among those circumstances is when a person is in danger of death.
In these cases, there is only one requirement: the person must ask for the sacrament, and if the attending priest explains things clearly and has some pastoral skill and grace on his side, the gravely ill person usually wants to receive such sacraments.
This case is provided for in the Code of Canon Law: “If there is a danger of death . . . Catholic ministers may lawfully administer these same sacraments [penance, Eucharist, anointing of the sick] to other Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who spontaneously ask for them, provided that they demonstrate the Catholic faith in respect of these sacraments and are properly disposed” (Canon 844.4)