Can laity anoint sick?

Question: There is a long-standing practice in our diocese where the members of the charismatic movement anoint one another — and especially the sick — with something called “St. Joseph’s Oil.” Some others call this the “Oil of Gladness.” Does the Church permit this practice of laypeople anointing the sick with oil?  

Name and city withheld

Answer: It is not permitted. In a letter dated Sept. 1, 2008, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments issued the following directive: “This Dicastery observes that Canon 1003.1 expressly forbids anyone, other than a priest, to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Furthermore … , no other person than a priest may act as ordinary or extraordinary minister of the Sacrament of Anointing since such constitutes simulation of the sacrament. This congregation also observes that there are only three blessed oils used in the Roman Ritual namely, the Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick and the Sacred Chrism. The use of any other oil or any other ‘anointing’ than those found in the approved liturgical books must be considered proscribed and subject to ecclesiastical penalties (cf. canons 1379 and 1384).” 

The letter goes on to direct South Africa’s bishops, who requested the ruling, to restore proper sacramental discipline and give catechesis. 

Hence, it would seem that the anointings you describe in charismatic prayer services should cease. Even if well-intentioned, such anointings cause confusion and are difficult to distinguish between the very similar looking Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. 

One might certainly pray for the sick, and even lay hands on them. But anointing them with oil is going too far. 

It would therefore be proper for pastors to end such practices that might be occurring in their parish. Clearly, such a move would be accompanied by a charitable catechesis and the presumption of good will. 


Question: I was taught that once mankind was put out of Paradise due to original sin, two distinct impediments to his return existed. First, he needed redemption, and this was supplied by Jesus on the cross. Secondly, he needed sanctification, and this is supplied by man in this life. A priest recently told me I was wrong. Am I? How?  

David Bearss, Harrison, Mich.

Answer: Your terminology and theology need a bit of refinement. You are correct in asserting that we were put out of paradise due to original sin. You are also correct in saying that Jesus has redeemed us, that is, he has purchased our salvation by his once and for all perfect sacrifice on the cross. 

However, man does not supply sanctification. Only God can sanctify so as to save us. It is true that works do accompany the gift of our faith. But these works are not so much the source of our sanctification, as the result of it. Our works are God’s gift to us. Scripture says, “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance ...” (Eph 2:10). So, for us, all is gift, all is grace. 

Finally, it is not God’s will that we merely return to some earthly paradise. Rather, in his immense love, God has now willed to open heaven itself to us. Thus our redeemed state is greater than even our original state, before the Fall. 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.