The Pastoral Companion
ch 5-6:
John Huels

 Penance, Weyden

Anointing, Weyden

The Pastoral Companion: A Canon Law Handbook for Catholic Ministry 2nd ed. by John M. Huels, O.S.M., J.C.D. 1995 Franciscan Press All rights reserved












 THE Roman Ritual provides three sacramental rites of penance and a non-sacramental penitential service. Among the sacramental rites are two rites for individual confession of sins—the Rite of Reconciliation of Individual Penitents and the Rite of Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution—and a rite using general absolution—the Rite for Reconciliation of Several Penitents with General Confession and Absolution.






   Individual and integral confession and absolution constitute the only ordinary way by which the faithful who are conscious of serious sin are reconciled with God and the Church. Only physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession, in which case there also may be reconciliation in other ways. (Can 960)

   To obtain the saving remedy of the sacrament of penance, according to the plan of our merciful God, the faithful must confess to a priest each and every grave sin that they remember after an examination of conscience. (RPen, 7a)

   The Council of Trent solemnly taught that for complete and perfect remission of sins three acts are required on the part of the penitent as the matter of the sacrament, namely, contrition, confession, and satisfaction. It also taught that absolution by a priest is a judicial act and that by divine law it is necessary to confess to a priest each and every mortal sin and the circumstances which change the species of the sin insofar as the memory can recall them after a diligent examination of conscience. (See CDF,Pastoral Norms, Sacramentum Paenitentiae, AAS 64 (1972) 510; June 16, 1972, CLD 7:668.)

   The ordinary way that sacramental reconciliation occurs is by individual and integral confession and absolution. The extra-ordinary ways are by general absolution and by an act of perfect contrition. An act of perfect contrition includes the intention to confess as soon as possible. (See can. 916)

   Reconciliation with God and the Church for those in venial sin can also take place through other means, especially through the Eucharist as well as non-sacramental penance and contrition.

   Shorter rite of individual confession. When pastoral need dictates, the priest may omit or shorten some parts of the rite but must always retain in their entirety the penitent’s confession of sins and acceptance of the act of penance, the invitation to contrition (RPen, 44), and the formularies of absolution and dismissal. In imminent danger of death, it is sufficient for the priest to say the essential words of the form of absolution, namely: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (RPen, 21)

   Individual penance should be scheduled so that the complete rite may be used properly with all penitents without haste or delay. However, pastoral need, such as the great number of penitents, may sometimes suggest that the complete rite be shortened as indicated in the ritual.





   Absolution may not be imparted in a general fashion to many penitents at the same time without previous individual confession, unless: (1) danger of death is imminent and there is not time for the priest or priests to hear the confessions of each penitent; (2) there is a serious need such as when, due to the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors to hear properly the confessions of individuals within a suitable time such that the penitents, through no fault of their own, would be forced to go for a long time without sacramental grace or holy Communion. However, the need is not considered sufficient if confessors cannot be present for the sole reason of the great number of penitents such as may happen on some great feast or pilgrimage. (Can. 961, §1)

   The availability of a sufficient number of confessors is a relative matter depending on various circumstances, especially the period of time necessary for properly celebrating the individual rite. It could even involve a relatively small number of penitents in a remote area which might deny freedom of choice of confessors or desired anonymity to penitents. (See CLSA Comm, 679.)

   Another condition for the use of general absolution is that the faithful, through no fault of their own, would be forced to go without sacramental grace or holy Communion for a long time. The sacramental grace refers to the grace of the sacrament of penance. This applies to those in venial sin as well as mortal sin who may wish to have the sacramental grace, even though it is not required to have venial sins absolved by the sacrament.

   In the United States the NCCB has interpreted the “long time” (diu) to go without sacramental grace or holy Communion as “one month.” This decision was not given the approval of the Apostolic See since it was not considered a decree. (See The Jurist 53 (1993) 404.) Therefore, it has a persuasive rather than properly juridic force, akin to a guideline or recommendation for the policies of each diocese.

   It pertains to the diocesan bishop to make the judgment whether the conditions are fulfilled for the use of general absolution. He may establish such cases of need in view of criteria agreed upon with other members of the episcopal conference. (See can. 961, §2.)

In the absence of such criteria, the diocesan bishop can act on his own authority. (See can. 838, §4.)

   That the faithful may receive a valid absolution given to many at the same time it is required not only that they be properly disposed but likewise have the intention in due time to confess individually their serious sins which at present they are unable to confess. The faithful are to be taught this requirement insofar as possible, even on the occasion of the reception of general absolution. There is to be an exhortation preceding general absolution that each person is to make an act of contrition, even in the case of danger of death if there is time. (Can. 962)

   The law requires, for validity of the general absolution, that anyone in serious sin must not only be suitably disposed but also intend to confess individually those serious sins in due time. This due time is explained in canon 963 as meaning “as soon as possible when there is the opportunity.” Minimally, this must be before another general absolution, unless there is a just reason, or within a year from one’s last confession. (See can. 989.)

   Unless a just cause prevents it, one whose serious sins are remitted by a general absolution should go to individual confession as soon as possible when there is the opportunity before receiving another general absolution. The obligation of canon 989 remains in force. (Can. 963)

   Canon 989 is the precept to confess serious sins annually. Thus, since those who receive a general absolution are bound to confess their serious sins individually as soon as there is opportunity before they receive a second general absolution, this could well be even before they would be required to confess their mortal sins annually. They are excused from this requirement if they are impeded by a just cause. An example of a just cause would be serious inconvenience to the penitent or the confessor. Hence, if the penitent is unable to approach individual confession at a regularly scheduled time at a church in the area, this would be sufficient cause to excuse from this requirement. Another example is the case of a remote area where sufficient confessors are not avail-able to guarantee desired anonymity or freedom of choice of confessors.

   On the other hand, only physical or moral impossibility would excuse from the requirement to confess mortal sins annually. (See RPen, 34.) Examples would include physical illness; lack of a confessor; a psychological reason, such as a deep fear of confessing individually.






   The reconciliation of penitents may be celebrated in all liturgical seasons and on any day. But it is right that the faithful be informed of the day and hours at which the priest is available for this ministry. They should be encouraged to approach the sacrament of penance at times when Mass is not being celebrated and preferably at the scheduled hours. Lent is the season most appropriate for celebrating the sacrament of penance. (See RPen, 13.)

   All to whom the care of souls is committed by virtue of office are obliged to provide for the hearing of the confessions of the faithful entrusted to them when the faithful reasonably request it. They are to provide for the faithful the opportunity for individual confession at days and hours established for the faithful’s convenience. In urgent necessity any confessor is obliged to hear the confessions of the faithful, and in danger of death any priest. (Can. 986)

There must be regularly scheduled times for the celebration of the sacrament in each parish. It is not sufficient simply to allow penitents to come whenever they wish, or by appointment.

   The proper place for hearing sacramental confession is a church or oratory. Confessions should not be heard outside the confessional except for a just cause. (Can. 964, §§ 1, 3)

The episcopal conference should establish norms governing the confessional, but ensuring that the confessionals, which the faithful who so desire may freely use, are always located in an accessible place and have a fixed grille between the penitent and the confessor. (Can.964, §2)

   In the United States a reconciliation chapel or room is permitted, which must allow the option for the penitent’s kneeling at a fixed grille. (See NCCB, decree, BCL Newsletter 10 (1974) 450. See also Environment and Art in Catholic Worship (Washington: NCCB, 1978), n. 8L)







THE whole Church, as a priestly people, acts in different ways in the work of reconciliation that has been entrusted to it by the Lord. Not only does the Church call sinners to repentance by preaching the word of God, but it also intercedes for them and helps penitents with a maternal care and solicitude to acknowledge and confess their sins and to obtain the mercy of God, who alone can forgive sins. (See RPen, 8.)

   Only a priest is the minister of the sacrament of penance. (Can. 965) For the valid absolution of sin it is required that the minister, besides having the power of order, also have the faculty to exercise the power on behalf of the faithful to whom he gives absolution (Can. 966, §1)

   Those who attempt to impart sacramental absolution or hear a sacramental confession when they are unable validly to do so automatically incur an interdict if a lay person or a suspension if a cleric. (Can. 1378, §2, 2’)





The following possess the faculty to hear confessions in virtue of the law itself:

1) The pope and cardinals for anywhere in the world (See can. 967, §1.)

2) All bishops anywhere in the world, unless a local Ordinary has denied this in a particular case. (See can. 967, §2.)

3) In virtue of their office, within the limits of their jurisdiction, local Ordinaries, canons penitentiary, pastors, and those who take the place of pastors unless a local Ordinary denies it in a particular case. (See cans. 968, 51 and 967, §2.)

   The one who takes the place of the pastor is the administrator or the parochial vicar when the parish is vacant or the pastor is impeded. (See cans. 540-41.)

If a local Ordinary denies an outside priest the faculty in a particular case, that priest may not validly absolve in that territory except in danger of death.

4) In virtue of their office, superiors of religious institutes or societies of apostolic life—if they are clerical and of pontifical right, and if the superiors have executive power of governance according to the Constitutions—for their own subjects and others who live in the house day and night; they use this faculty licitly unless a major superior denies this in a particular case for his own subjects. (See cans. 968, §2 and 967, §3.)

   Superiors include local superiors, provided they have executive power of governance according to the Constitutions. Ordinarily the Constitutions will not explicitly state this power is possessed by the local superior, but it is implicit in virtue of the kinds of acts that the local superior can perform, e.g., dispensing members in certain cases. If even implicit indications are lacking, but there are no contrary indications that the local superior does not possess this power, the superior may safely hear the confessions of his subjects and others who live in the house in virtue of the faculty supplied in the case of a doubt of law. (See can.144.)

   A major superior can deny a local superior, or another major superior subject to him, permission to hear the confessions of his subjects and those who live in the house, but this affects liceity only.

5) All priests, even if they lack the faculty, for those in danger of death, absolving from all sins and censures, even if an approved priest may be present. (See cans. 976,1357, §1.)






   The faculty to hear confessions should not be granted except to presbyters whose suitability has been demonstrated by examination or by some other means. (Can. 970)

   The faculty may be granted for a determinate or indeterminate period. (See can. 972.) The faculty for hearing confessions habitually should be granted in writing. (Can. 973)

A habitual faculty granted verbally would be valid but illicit. (Cf. can. 10.)

   From the local Ordinary. Only the local Ordinary is competent to grant to any presbyter at all the faculty for hearing confessions of any of the faithful. Presbyters who are members of religious institutes are not to use the faculty without at least the presumed permission of their superior. (Can. 969, Si) The local Ordinary should not grant the faculty for hearing confessions habitually to a presbyter, even one having domicile or quasi-domicile in his jurisdiction, unless he has first consulted that presbyter’s Ordinary insofar as possible. (Can. 971)

   The presumed permission of the superior means that a religious priest may hear confessions with a faculty granted by a local Ordinary unless the superior forbids it. If the superior forbids it, the priest hears confessions validly but illicitly.

   From the superior. The superior of a religious institute or society of apostolic life who enjoys executive power of governance according to the Constitutions is competent to grant to any presbyter at all the faculty for hearing confessions of the superior’s subjects or others who reside day and night in the house. (Can. 969, 52)

   Even a local superior who has executive power of governance is competent to grant any priest—even one not of the institute—the faculty for hearing the confessions of his subjects and those who live in the house. However, the local superior must be a priest because the concession of the faculty rests on the principle that the faculty depends upon a power residing in the grantor over those to whom or for whom the priest ministers the sacrament. (See CLSA Comm, 685.) One cannot delegate power that one does not have.

Presbyters who have this faculty use it licitly unless some major superior denies it in a particular case for his own subjects. (See can. 967, §3.)

For example, the provincial of province X grants the faculty to a member, but the provincial of province Y refuses to allow that priest to hear the confessions of the members of province Y. Such a prohibition affects liceity only. Only one’s own major superior (general or provincial) can revoke the faculty. (See can. 974, §4.)

Outside the diocese. The faculty of hearing confessions habitually, whether in virtue or office or by delegation, can be exercised wherever the priest travels, unless a local Ordinary denies it in a particular case. (See can. 967, §2.)





   Inadvertence. An act of delegated power, which is exercised only in the internal forum and which is placed through inadvertence after the elapse of the time for it, is valid. (Can. 142,52)

   For example, a priest is given the faculty for confession during the time of the parish mission he is giving. On the morning after the mission has closed and his faculty has expired because the time for which it was granted has run out, a woman approaches him for the sacrament of penance. Inadvertently, he hears her confession and absolves her, not recalling that his faculty has expired. The absolution is valid, even if during the course of the celebration of the sacrament he should remember that the faculty had ceased.

Common error. In common error of fact or law, the Church sup-plies executive power of governance for both the external and the internal forum. This norm also applies to the faculty for confessions. (See can. 144.)

  The error here envisioned concerns the existence of the faculty; it is based upon a factual situation which gives rise to the belief that a priest has the faculty to hear confessions, whereas he does not. Common error, as opposed to merely private error, affects some sort of community and is, in some manner, common to the people of a diocese, parish, religious community, etc. However, in order for common error to exist, it is not at all required that the majority of the persons in a place actually elicit a false judgment concerning the existence of a public fact which normally is capable of leading people into error. Rather, there exists a public circumstance from which all reasonable persons, without any error of law, would naturally conclude that the faculty exists. It is not necessary that a number of persons actually err concerning the existence of the faculty, provided that the circumstances are such that they would err.

   Furthermore, the Church only supplies the faculty when the common good is at stake, not when merely the private good of one or several persons is in question. For example, a priest without the faculty is sitting in the confessional, or other place where the sacrament of penance is ordinarily celebrated. By this very set of circumstances, the community would erroneously conclude that the priest has the faculty, or else he would not be there. The Church supplies the faculty because the common good is at stake, namely, the potential invalidity of many absolutions. Even if only one person approaches that priest, the Church still supplies the faculty because the potential is there for harm to the common good.

   In practice, the mere fact that a priest is actually in the confessional, or other place where penance is ordinarily celebrated, is sufficient to constitute the foundation for common error; people would commonly judge that any priest hearing confessions there has the faculty.

   On the other hand, if a priest is hearing confession outside a place where penance is ordinarily celebrated, the Church would not supply the faculty because there would be no basis for the community to believe that such a priest should have the faculty. For example, a priest is approached by a passenger at the airport who asks to confess before boarding the plane. The Church would not supply the faculty on the basis of common error in such a case.

   In positive and probable doubt of law or of fact the Church supplies the executive power of governance both for the internal and the external forum. (See can. 144.)

   A doubt is positive and probable when there is a good and serious reason to conclude that one has the power of governance, although there is also good reason to say that one has not. The mind, therefore, is unable to reach a certain judgment concerning the fact of possessing the power. A doubt of law regards the existence, the extent, or the meaning of the law. It must be an objective doubt, i.e., the law is interpreted variously even by the experts; the law itself is not clear. On the other hand, the Church does not supply power of governance for merely subjective doubt, which is ignorance. An example of a doubt of law would be a doubt whether the Constitutions of a religious institute grant local superiors executive power of governance.

   A doubt of fact regards the existence of some circumstances which the law certainly requires in order that an act be included within its ambit; e.g., I doubt whether this particular person is really in danger of death, whether a given case meets all the requirements for an automatic censure, whether my one year faculty has elapsed, whether the faculties from my new diocese have been granted while I am in transit, etc. Again, the doubt must be positive and probable; there must be some objective basis for the doubt, not just ignorance of the facts. Note that in the last analysis, the doubt always comes back to this question: Do I have the power in this case? Once the situation of positive and probable doubt is verified, the Church supplies the power of governance to cover the case in question.





   In addition to revocation, the faculty for hearing confessions habitually in virtue of one’s office ceases by the loss of that office, the faculty for hearing confessions habitually in virtue of delegation by the local Ordinary or the Ordinary of incardination ceases by excardination or by loss of domicile. (See can. 975.)

   Once one loses the habitual faculty by loss of office, excardination, or loss of domicile, it is lost everywhere until a new one is granted. The only exception is when a local Ordinary prohibits a priest in a particular case from hearing confessions only in his territory.

   Revocation. The local Ordinary, and also the competent superior, should not revoke a faculty for hearing confessions habitually except for a serious reason. If the faculty is revoked by the local Ordinary of incardination or domicile who granted it, the presbyter loses the faculty everywhere; but if it is revoked by some other local Ordinary, he loses it only in the territory of the one who revoked it. (See can. 974, §I, 2.)

   Serious reasons for revoking the faculty would include evidence of incompetence as a confessor, violation of the seal or related indiscretions which jeopardize the seal, and other abuses mentioned in the canons.

   Any local Ordinary who has revoked the faculty of some presbyter shall notify the Ordinary proper to him by reason of incardination or, if it is a question of a member of a religious institute, of his competent superior. If the faculty is revoked by one’s own major superior, the presbyter loses it for members of the institute everywhere; but if the faculty is revoked by some other competent superior he loses it only for those subjects under that superior’s jurisdiction. (Can. 974,55 3, 4)

   The principle behind the law is this: the one who grants the faculty is able to revoke it. Hence, if one’s own Ordinary grants the faculty and then revokes it, it is lost everywhere. If another Ordinary grants it for his own jurisdiction and then revokes it, it is lost only in that jurisdiction. For example, the bishop of a diocese grants the habitual faculty to a religious priest. The faculty is good everywhere in the world as long as the priest retains domicile in that diocese. The priest also has the faculty from his major superior to hear confessions of members of the institute. The bishop revokes the faculty, but the major superior does not. The priest may continue hearing the confessions of members of the institute and those who live in its houses, but not of any others.

   The faculty is also revoked by the censure of excommunication or interdict or another penalty which specifies the loss of the faculty. This applies both to the faculty obtained by law and that obtained by delegation. (See cans. 1331-33.)

   Any priest, even one who has been excommunicated, interdicted, suspended, laicized, or in any other way has lost the faculty, may hear confessions in danger of death. If a priest has incurred an automatic censure but it has not been declared, he may hear the confession of any of the faithful who requests it for any just cause. (See can. 1335.)





   The sacramental seal is inviolable. Therefore it is absolutely forbidden for the confessor to betray the penitent either by words or by any other means for any reason whatsoever. Also bound to the observance of secrecy are the interpreter, if there is one, and all others who have gained knowledge in any way of a sinner’s confession. (Can. 983)

   The confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs the penalty of automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See. If he violates it only indirectly, he is to be punished in accordance with the gravity of the offense. An interpreter or any others who violate the secret are to be punished with a just penalty, not excluding excommunication. (See can. 1388.)

   The sacramental seal is the obligation to keep secret all those things known through sacramental confession, the revelation of which would betray both the sin and the sinner.

   A direct violation of the seal consists in revealing both the person of the penitent and the sin of the penitent. A direct violation can occur not only by stating the penitent’s name and the sin, but also by revealing circumstances by which this could be known.

   An indirect violation occurs when, from the things the confessor says or does, there arises a danger that others will come to know a sin confessed and the identity of the penitent. (See Mathis/Bonner,130.)

   Both direct and indirect violations of the seal are forbidden by canon 983, but only the direct violation by a confessor results in the automatic penalty of excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

   The confessor is totally prohibited from using knowledge acquired in confession to the detriment of the penitent, even when there is no danger of revelation. Anyone who has a position of authority may not in any way use for external governance knowledge of sins which he has gained at any time in confession. (Can. 984)

   Any knowledge gained in the sacrament of penance, even if not of sins, may not be used by the confessor to the detriment of the penitent. For example, a confessor has reason to believe that a certain penitent, who is going to be ordained to the permanent diaconate, is psychologically unstable. He may not use this knowledge against the penitent if it was gained primarily from what the penitent said in confession.

   Also, any knowledge of sins cannot be used by anyone in a position of authority for external governance, even if it could benefit the penitent, or even if there is no danger that the sin will be revealed. For example, a confessor knows that a certain person is a compulsive thief. The confessor is later appointed pastor of a parish where that person is on the parish finance council. The pas-tor may not remove the person solely on the basis of the knowledge gained from the confession.

   The master of novices and his assistant and the rector of the semi-nary or other educational institution should not hear the sacramental confessions of their students who are living in the same house unless the students in particular cases spontaneously request it. (Can. 985)





   The priest should remember in hearing confessions that he acts as judge as well as healer, and that he has been constituted by God as a minister of divine justice as well as mercy, so that he may have regard for divine honor and the salvation of souls. As a minister of the Church, the confessor, in administering the sacrament, should faithfully observe the teachings of the magisterium and the norms of competent authority. (Can. 978)

   The priest, in asking questions, should proceed with prudence and discretion, attentive to the condition and age of the penitent, and he should refrain from inquiring about the name of an accomplice. (Can. 979)

   In order that the faithful might receive the healing remedy of the sacrament of penance, they must be so disposed that they are converted to God by repudiating the sins which they committed and having the intention of reforming their lives. (Can. 987) If the confessor does not doubt the disposition of the penitent who seeks absolution, he should not deny or defer the absolution. (Can. 980)

   The confessor should impose salutary and appropriate penances according to the kind and number of sins, keeping in mind the penitent’s condition. The penitent is obliged personally to perform the penance. (Can. 981)

   The refusal of the penitent to perform the penance would be sufficient reason for the confessor not to absolve in the case of serious sin. The penance may be in the form of prayer, self-denial, and especially service to neighbor and works of mercy, and it should correspond to the gravity and nature of the sins. (See RPen 18.)

   Except in danger of death, the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment is invalid. (Can. 977) A priest who acts contrary to this prescription incurs automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See. (See can. 1378, §1.)

   An accomplice is one who participates immediately with the priest in the same act of impurity which is a grave sin. It does not suffice that one cooperate, even proximately, in the sin of another, e.g, by advising one to commit sin, procuring the occasion, etc. Both must take part in the same action. It is required that the sin, on the part of both persons, be certain, external, and grave. If there is a doubt whether the sin was committed, or whether it was external and grave, the censure is not incurred. (See Mathis/Bonner,131-35.)

   A priest who in the act or on the occasion or under the pretext of confession solicits a penitent to commit a sin against the sixth commandment is to be punished, in accord with the gravity of the offense, by suspension, prohibitions, privations and, in more serious cases, is to be dismissed from the clerical state. (Can. 1387)

   If anyone confesses that he or she had falsely denounced to ecclesiastical authority a confessor innocent of the crime of solicitation to a sin against the sixth commandment, that person should not be absolved unless he or she first formally retracts the false denunciation and is prepared to make amends for damages, if there are any. (Can. 982) Anyone who before an ecclesiastical superior falsely denounces a confessor of committing the crime of solicitation incurs automatically the penalty of interdict and, if he is a cleric, also suspension. (Can. 1390)






   Superiors should recognize the proper freedom of members concerning the sacrament of penance and the direction of conscience, without prejudice to the discipline of the institute. In accordance with their proper law, superiors should be solicitous to have available worthy confessors for their members so that they may confess frequently. In monasteries of nuns, in houses of formation, and in the larger houses of lay religious there should be ordinary confessors approved by the local Ordinary, chosen in consultation with the community, but with no obligation on anyone’s part of approaching them. Superiors should not hear the confessions of their subjects unless the members them-selves spontaneously request it. (Can. 630, §§ 1-4)

   The master of novices likewise may not hear the confessions of the novices or others living in the novitiate unless they ask him on their own initiative. (See can. 985.)

   Members of religious institutes should approach their superiors with trust, and they may freely and spontaneously be open with them. However, superiors are forbidden from inducing them in any way to make a manifestation of their conscience to them. (Can. 630, §5)

   Under a manifestation of conscience comes all matters of the internal forum, matters such as sins, thoughts, feelings, etc., namely, matters treated in the sacrament of penance, in spiritual direction, and in counselling. These are privileged matters that the member is free to reveal or not reveal to superiors, but superiors are prohibited from using their authority to exact such matters from a subject. Can. 630 also applies to societies of apostolic life. (See can. 734.)





   The faithful are bound by obligation to confess in kind and number all serious sins committed after baptism which have not yet been directly remitted by the keys of the Church and admitted in individual confession. They are to confess those serious sins of which they are conscious after a diligent examination of conscience. It is recommended that the faithful also confess their venial sins. (Can. 988) All the faithful, after they have reached the age of discretion, are obliged to confess faithfully their serious sins at least once a year. (Can. 989)

   Seminarians are to be accustomed to approach the sacrament of penance frequently. (See can. 246, §4.) Clerics are to be solicitous in going to the sacrament of penance frequently. (See can. 276, §2, 5°.) Members of religious and secular institutes are to frequently approach the sacrament of penance. (See cans. 664 and 719, §3.)

   One who is conscious of a serious sin may not celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity for confessing. In such a case the person should be mindful of the obligation to elicit an act of perfect contrition, which includes the intention of confessing as soon as possible. (Can. 916)





   All the faithful are free to confess their sins to a lawfully approved confessor of their own choice, even to one of another rite. (Can. 991)

   In seminaries, besides the ordinary confessors, other confessors should regularly come to the seminary. Without prejudice to the discipline of the seminary, it is always the right of a student to go to any confessor either in or outside the seminary. (See can. 240, §1.)






   If the profession of faith and reception take place within Mass, the candidates, according to their own conscience, should confess their sins beforehand. They should first inform the confessor that they are about to be received into full communion. Any confessor who is law-fully approved may hear such a confession. (Rite of Receiving Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church, 9; RCIA, US, 482)

   U.S law. The celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation with candidates for confirmation and Eucharist is to be carried out at a time prior to and distinct from the celebration of confirmation and the Eucharist. As part of the formation of such candi-dates, they should be encouraged in the frequent celebration of this sacrament. (NSC, 27)








IT is rare that a confessor encounters a penitent with an inflicted or declared penalty, neither of which may be remitted in the sacrament of penance by the typical confessor, except in danger of death. Thus, the treatment of penal law here will focus mainly on automatic (latae sententiae) penalties. There are three kinds of censures: excommunication, interdict, and suspension. A suspension affects clerics only.





   The penalty of excommunication is incurred automatically upon commission of any of the following crimes:

1) apostasy, heresy, schism (can. 1364, §1},

2) violation of the consecrated species (can. 1367)

3) physical attack on the pope (can. 1370, §1

4) absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment (can. 1378, 51)

5) unauthorized ordination of a bishop, incurred by the ordaining bishop and the bishop who is ordained (can. 138A

6) direct violation by a confessor of the seal of confession (can.1388)

7) procuring an abortion (can.1398}

8) by means of a technical instrument recording or divulging in the communications media what was said by a confessor or a penitent in a sacramental confession, whether performed by oneself or another. (CDF, decree Urbis et Orbis, Sept. 23,1988, AAS 80 (1988) 1367)

Concerning the excommunication for abortion, the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law decreed that an abortion is to be understood not only as the ejection of an immature fetus but also as the killing of a fetus procured in any manner and at any time from the moment of conception. (See interpretation, May 23, 1988, AAS 80 (1988) 1818-19.)

The eighth penalty was promulgated in 1988. It refers to the use of a tape recorder in the confessional or similar device that can record the voice of penitent or confessor and then be divulged to the media.

N.B. The remission of the crimes in nn. 2-6 is reserved to the Apostolic See.

   The excommunicate is prohibited from: (1) having any ministerial participation in the celebration of the Eucharist or any other ceremonies of worship; (2) celebrating the sacraments or sacramentals and receiving the sacraments; (3) exercising any ecclesiastical offices, ministries, or functions, or placing acts of governance. (Can. 1331, §1)






   Commission of any of the following crimes results in the penalty of automatic interdict:

1) physical attack on a bishop (can. 1370, §2)

2) pretended celebration of the Eucharist by a non-priest (can. 1378, §2, 1°)

3) attempt to impart sacramental absolution or hear confession by one who cannot do so validly (can. 1378, §2, 2)

4) false accusation of the crime of solicitation in the confession-al (can. 1390, §1)

5) attempted marriage, even civil, by a lay religious in perpetual vows (can. 1394, §2).

   The crimes mentioned in nn. 2 and 3 result in automatic suspension, rather than interdict, if the offender is a cleric. The crimes in nn. 1 and 4 result in both automatic interdict and suspension if the offender is a cleric.

   The interdicted is prohibited from: (1) having any ministerial participation in the celebration of the Eucharist or any other ceremonies of worship; and (2) celebrating the sacraments or sacramentals and receiving the sacraments (See can. 1332.)





   In addition to those who commit the crimes mentioned in nn. 1-4 above under interdict, the following also incur automatic suspension:

 (1) a cleric who attempts marriage, even civil (can. 1394, §1), (2) a cleric who is ordained by a bishop who does not have legitimate dimissorial letters. The suspension affects only the order received illicitly, not a prior order received lawfully. (See can. 1383.)

   Suspension, which affects only clerics, prohibits: (1) all acts of the power of order; (2) all acts of the power of governance; (3) the exercise of all rights or functions connected with an office. (See can. 1334, §2; 1333,50

   A cleric who is automatically suspended as a result of illicit ordination by a bishop lacking legitimate dimissorial letters is prohibited only from exercising that order, not a lower order licitly received. (See can.1383.)






   If a censure prohibits the celebration of sacraments or sacramentals or placing an act of governance, the prohibition is suspended whenever it is necessary to provide for the faithful who are in danger of death. If it is an automatic censure which has not been declared, the prohibition is moreover suspended whenever the faithful request a sacrament or sacramental or an act of governance. They may make this request for any just reason at all. (Can. 1335)

   If the penalty forbids the reception of the sacraments or sacramentals, the prohibition is suspended as long as the person in question is in danger of death. The obligation of observing an automatic penalty, which has not been declared and is not notorious in the place where the offender is living, is suspended totally or partially insofar as the offender is unable to observe it without the danger of grave scandal or infamy. (Can. 1352)






   In general, those subject to the law are subject to a penalty if they break the law, with the exceptions noted below. A penalty binds personally, not territorially, and therefore remains in effect wherever one goes until it is remitted. (See cans. 11-13.)

   A penalty cannot be incurred or inflicted unless the delict be perfectly executed according to the strict letter of the law. Laws which establish a penalty are subject to strict interpretation. (See can. 18.)

   Whoever does or omits anything in attempting to commit a crime but, contrary to his or her desire, has not completed the crime, is not bound to the penalty attached by law to the completed crime, unless a law or precept should state otherwise. (Can. 1328, §1; see also can. 1328, §2.) No one is punished unless the external violation of the law or precept committed by that person is gravely imputable to him or her by reason of malice or culpability. One is bound to the penalty established by a law or precept if that person deliberately violates the law or precept. If the violation occurs as a result of a lack of due diligence the person is not punished, unless the law or precept states otherwise. If the violation is external, imputability is presumed, unless it should appear otherwise. (Can. 1321)

   Those who habitually lack the use of reason, even if they seem to have been of sound mind when they violated a law or precept, are considered incapable of committing a crime. (Can. 1322)

If a law has changed after a crime is committed, that law is to be applied, whether the earlier or later, which is the more favorable to the offender. If the later law abolishes the earlier one, or at least the penalty connected with it, the penalty ceases immediately. (Can. 1313)

   Accomplices who are not named in a law or precept incur an automatic penalty connected with an offense if the offense would not have been committed without their efforts and the penalty is of such a nature that it is able to affect them. Otherwise they can be punished by inflicted penalties. (Can. 1329, §2)






1) Anyone under 16.

2) Anyone inculpably ignorant of the law; also inadvertence to or error of the law.

3) One who acts under physical force or in virtue of a mere accident which either could not be foreseen or could not be prevented.

4) One who violates the law out of grave fear, even if only relatively grave, or out of necessity or serious inconvenience, unless the offense is intrinsically evil or brings harm to souls.

5) One who acts with due moderation in legitimate self-defense or defense of another against an unjust aggressor.

6) One lacking the use of reason.

7) A person who without fault thought that any of the circumstances in nn. 4 or 5 were present. (Can. 1323)





1) A person having only the imperfect use of reason.

2) One lacking the use of reason due to drunkenness or another similar mental disturbance which was culpable.

3) Someone in the serious heat of passion, which nevertheless did not precede or impede all deliberation of the mind and consent of the will, provided the passion was not voluntarily excited or fostered.

4) Minors (under 18).Remission of Censures by the Confessor 145

5) Anyone who was forced, out of serious fear, even though only relatively serious, or out of necessity or serious inconvenience, if the offense was intrinsically evil or tends to be harmful to souls.

6) One who for the sake of the legitimate protection of oneself or another acted against an unjust aggressor but did not observe due moderation.

7) One who acted against another who gravely or unjustly provoked it.

8) One who through error or culpability thought that any of the circumstances in can. 1323, nn. 4 or 5 were present.

9) One who without fault did not know that there was a penalty attached to the law or precept.

10) One who acted without full imputability, provided it remained serious. (Can. 1324, §1)

   Crass, supine, or affected ignorance can never be considered in applying the prescriptions of canons 1323 and 1324. Likewise not exempting are drunkenness or other disturbances of the mind, if they are deliberately induced to perpetrate the crime or excuse it, or passion which is willfully excited or fostered. (Can. 1325)





   Automatic penalties not reserved to the Apostolic See, including abortion, can be remitted by any of the following persons, provided the penalties have not been declared, i.e., the competent ecclesiastical authority has not made any public declaration that the offender has incurred a penalty automatically upon the commission of some delict:

1) All Ordinaries for their subjects; and all local Ordinaries for their subjects and those in their territory or those who committed an offense there. (See can. 1355, §2.)

2) All bishops in the act of sacramental confession. (See can. 1355, §2.)

3) Canons penitentiary (or their equivalent) in the sacramental forum. (See can. 508.)

4) Chaplains in hospitals, prisons, and on ships on voyages. (See can. 566, §2.)

5) Any confessor in the internal sacramental forum if it would be hard on the penitent to remain in a state of serious sin for the duration necessary for the competent superior to provide the remission. This applies only to automatic excommunications and interdicts, but not suspensions. In granting the remission the confessor should enjoin the penitent with the burden of having recourse within one month to, and obeying the mandates of, any of the authorities in nn. 1-3 above, under pain of reincidence of the penalty. Meanwhile he should impose an appropriate penance and, to the extent indicated, should impose the repair of scandal and harm. However, recourse can also be taken by the confessor without mentioning any names. (Can. 1357, §§ 1, 2)

The confessor may presume that anyone who comes to confession is finding it hard to remain in serious sin. According to the traditional commentators, even if the penitent finds it hard to remain in serious sin for one day, the above provisions may be used by the confessor. (See CLSA Comm., 917.)

6) Any priest, even one without the faculty to hear confessions, may absolve from all penalties if the penitent is in danger of death, even if an approved priest is present. (Can. 976) Should the penitent recover, recourse is not necessary unless the censure is reserved to the Apostolic See. (See can. 1357, §3.)

   In the case of the automatic censure of excommunication for the crime of abortion, confessors of the mendicant religious orders and certain other institutes enjoy the privilege of absolving the censure if it has not been declared. (See Apostolic Penitentiary, instruction Legislator canonicus, private, June 29, 1990.)






The following can remit automatic penalties reserved to the Apostolic See:

1) The Apostolic See. Recourse is had by the penitent or the confessor, without mentioning any names, to the Apostolic Penitentiary.

2) Any confessor in the internal sacramental forum if it would be hard on the penitent to remain in a state of serious sin during the time necessary to receive a remission from the Apostolic See. The conditions of canon 1357 are to be observed as described above at H, 5 with the Apostolic See being the competent authority to which recourse is made. (See can. 1357, §§ 1, 2)

3) Any priest, even one without the faculty to hear confessions, may absolve from all penalties if the person is in danger of death. If the person recovers, recourse must be made to the Apostolic See. (See cans. 976,1357, §3.)






   When a priest, in accord with the norm of law, remits an automatic censure in the sacramental forum, the formula of absolution is not to be changed. It suffices that he intend to remit the censure as well as absolve the sins. Nevertheless, the confessor can remit the censure before he absolves the sins by using the formula given below for use outside the sacrament of penance. (See RPen, Appendix I, n. l.)

   When a priest, according to the norm of law, remits a censure out-side the sacrament of penance, the following formula is used: “By the power granted to me, I absolve you from the bond of excommunication (suspension, interdict). In the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.” (See ibid., n. 2.)

   The remission of a penalty is a separate act from the absolution of sin. However, it suffices that a confessor who has the power to remit the penalty intend to do so at the same time he absolves from sin. With this intention, by reciting the formula of absolution the confessor simultaneously remits the penalty and absolves from the sins. A second option would be to remit the censure using the special formula above before giving absolution.






   It is reserved to the Apostolic See to absolve from the following sins: (1) a direct violation of the sacramental seal; and (2) absolution of an accomplice in a sin against chastity. It is reserved to the eparchial bishop to absolve from the sin of procuring a completed abortion. (CCEC, can. 728)

   Any reservation of the absolution from the sin lacks all force (1) if a sick person cannot leave the house or if a spouse made the confession for the purpose of celebrating marriage; (2) if in the prudent judgment of the confessor the faculty of absolving cannot be sought from the competent authority without serious inconvenience to the penitent or without danger of violating the sacramental seal; (3) outside the boundaries of the territory in which the authority who has reserved the sin exercises his power. (CCEC, can. 792)

   The Eastern canon law is considerably different from and simpler than the Latin law on the issue of reserved penalties. There are no automatic penalties in the Eastern code, so the above reserved sins (two reserved to the Apostolic See and one to the eparchial bishop) would concern the confessor more than the various penalties which must be imposed and remitted by a competent ecclesiastical authority. Among the crimes in the Eastern code, only one is reserved to the Apostolic See. The crime of using physical force against the pope or causing him some other grave injury is to be punished with a major excommunication whose remission is reserved to the pope himself. (See CCEC, can. 1445, §L)








   Abortion, which results in automatic excommunication, is likely the crime most often encountered in the sacrament of penance, and so it is a practical example to demonstrate how a confessor should handle automatic censures. In this discussion the typical case will be assumed, i.e., not the danger of death situation and not a priest who has power to remit censures as discussed above (bishops, Ordinaries, canons penitentiary, mendicant religious, chaplains in hospitals, prisons, and on sea journeys). When the priest hears the sin of abortion confessed, he must determine whether a crime was truly committed by ascertaining certain facts from the penitent. If the answer is yes to any of the following questions, then the crime was not committed and the sin can be handled as usual.

1) Was it only an attempted abortion that did not succeed, or was it indirect?

An example of an indirect abortion would be a hysterectomy when the intention was not to abort the fetus but only to remove a diseased uterus.

2) If the penitent was an accomplice to the abortion, would the crime have been committed without the accomplice’s action or advice?

For example, the doctor who directly procures the abortion might well incur the penalty; on the other hand, the assistance rendered by a nurse may not be so direct and decisive as to incur the penalty. Or a parent who advises the abortion may have incurred the penalty if the daughter would not have acted with-out such advice.

3) Was the penitent ignorant, through no fault of his or her own, that a penalty was attached to the law forbidding abortion?

It is not enough to know that abortion is a mortal sin. One must also know that a penalty is incurred, although precise knowledge about the nature of the penalty is not required to incur it.

4) Was the penitent under 18 at the time the crime was committed?

5) Was there inadvertence to or error of the law?

Had the penitent acted without recalling that this was an offense which resulted in a penalty? Did the penitent make a mis-take about the law, e.g., thinking it applied only to the person having the abortion and not accomplices?

6) Was it accidental and not intentional?

If the mother, e.g, intended to get an abortion, but accidentally had a fall which resulted in an abortion, she would not have incurred the penalty. It must be intentional with the result that an inviable fetus is aborted.

7) Did the penitent have an imperfect use of reason?

For example, borderline mentally retarded, psychological disturbance, etc.

8) Had the penitent acted out of serious fear, even if only relatively serious, or through necessity or serious inconvenience?

Was there, e.g., a serious fear about parental or societal reaction to a pregnancy? Was it a necessity, e.g, a doctor who performs an abortion to save the life of the mother?

9) Did the penitent erroneously believe that one of the circumstances in n. 8 above was verified?

For example, did she think that having a child was a serious enough inconvenience in her circumstances to warrant an abortion when objectively it is not?

10) Did the penitent erroneously believe that the abortion was done in self-defense and therefore was justifiable?

For example, if her life was in danger, did she think an abortion was an acceptable alternative?

11) Did the person procure the abortion while lacking the use of reason due to drunkenness or another mental disturbance which was culpable but not deliberately induced to commit or excuse the offense?

12) Was the abortion induced by a person in the serious heat of passion which was not voluntarily excited or fostered?

   If the answer is yes to any one of these questions, the automatic censure of excommunication was not incurred. If the answer is no to ALL of the above questions, then the person has likely incurred an automatic excommunication. If that is the case, a bishop, an Ordinary, or a canon penitentiary (or his equivalent) can absolve the censure. However, if it would be hard on the penitent to remain in a state of serious sin during the time necessary for the competent superior to provide a remission, any confessor can remit the censure.

   A good way to proceed is for the confessor to arrange for the penitent to return to him at an agreed upon time within the next month, notifying the penitent of the reason for this, namely, that he has the power only to absolve the censure temporarily but he must have recourse to someone who has the power for definitive remission. (The penitent can return either in confession or outside of it, although if he or she confesses behind the grille it should be presumed that anonymity is desired.) Before the penitent returns the confessor should request a remission from the local Ordinary, and if the confessor knows the penitent’s identity, it should not be mentioned. When the penitent returns, the confessor informs the penitent of the remission.

   In some dioceses all confessors have the delegated faculty to remit the censure of abortion without recourse.















THE anointing of the sick is conferred on seriously ill persons by anointing them with oil using the words prescribed in the liturgical books. (See can. 998.)

   The liturgy for the sacrament is the 1972 Rite of Anointing of the Sick. In the dioceses of the United States, the approved rites are found in Pastoral Care of the Sick; Rites of Anointing and Viaticum of 1983 (PSC).






   The celebration of this sacrament consists especially in the laying on of hands by the priests of the Church, the offering of the prayer of faith, and the anointing of the sick with oil made holy by God’s blessing. (See RA, 5)

   The sacramental form for the anointing of the sick in the Latin church is: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” (See RA, 25.)

   The sick person is anointed on the forehead and on the hands. It is appropriate to divide the sacramental form so that the first part is said while the forehead is anointed, the latter part while the hands are anointed. (See RA, 23.)

   The matter. The minister must use olive oil or some other plant oil which has been recently blessed by the bishop; he may not use old oil except in necessity. The pastor should obtain the sacred oils from his own bishop and keep them in a suitable place. (See can. 847.) Priests should make sure that the oil remains fit for use and should replenish it from time to time, either yearly when the bishop blesses the oil on Holy Thursday or more frequently if necessary. (See RA, 22.) Every priest may carry blessed oil with him so that, in case of necessity, he may administer the sacrament of anointing. (Can. 1003, §3)

   The remote matter is the blessed oil; the proximate matter is the anointing with the oil. According to the more common opinion, the blessing of the oil is necessary for the validity of the sacra-ment. (See Chiappetta, n. 3404.) The oil used for the anointing is the oil of the sick (oleum infirmorum) For the lawful administration of the sacrament it is required that it be recently blessed, i.e, at the Chrism Mass most recently celebrated. However, if the new oils are not at hand, it is licit to use the old oils. After obtaining the new oils each year, the old oils are to be absorbed in cotton and burned. In necessity, the volume of blessed oil may be increased by adding new oil in lesser quantity, but this may not be done routinely for the sake of convenience. (See Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, reply, Apr. 18,1994; BCL Newsletter 30 (1994) 32.)






   The oil of the sick ordinarily is blessed by the bishop at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday. Besides a bishop, those who can bless the oil to be used in the anointing of the sick are. (1) those who are equated in law with the diocesan bishop; and (2) any presbyter in case of necessity provided it is blessed during the celebration of the sacrament itself. (See can. 999; RA, 21.)

   A case of necessity for a presbyter to bless the oil would be, e.g., whenever a presbyter is celebrating the sacrament and oil blessed by the bishop is not at hand.






   The anointings are to be carefully administered in accord with the words, order, and manner prescribed in the liturgical books. The sick person is anointed on the forehead and on the hands. It is appropriate to divide the sacramental form so that the first part is said while the forehead is anointed, the latter part while the hands are anointed. In case of necessity, it suffices that there be one anointing on the fore-head or even on some other part of the body, while the entire sacra-mental form is said. (See can. 1000, §1; RA, 23.)

   A case of necessity would mainly involve the fear of contagion from the hands or forehead; or it may be lack of time due to the large number of persons to be anointed, in which case a single anointing on the forehead would suffice.

   Depending upon the culture and traditions of the place, as well as the condition of different peoples, the number of anointings and the place of anointing may be changed or increased. Provision for this should be made in the preparation of particular rituals. (RA, 24)

   In the United States, the priest may also anoint additional parts of the body, for example, the area of pain or injury. He does not repeat the sacramental form. (See PCS, 124.) If the anointing is to be an effective sacramental symbol, there should be a generous use of oil so that it will be seen and felt by the sick person as a sign of the Spirit’s healing and strengthening presence. For the same reason, it is not desirable to wipe off the oil after the anointing. (See PCS,107)

   The minister performs the anointings with his own hand, but for a serious reason he may use an instrument. (Can. 1000, §2)

   The anointings are made with the thumb in the form of a cross. In case of danger of contagion, extreme repugnance, or some other serious reason, the minister may use some instrument such as a ball of cotton attached to a small stick.

   When two or more priests are present for the anointing of a sick person, one of them may say the prayers and carry out the anointings, saying the sacramental form. The others may take the remaining parts, such as the introductory rites, readings, invocations, or instructions. Each priest may lay hands on the sick person. (RA, 19; see also PCS, 108)






   The communal celebration of anointing for a number of the sick at the same time may be held in accord with the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop. Those to be anointed must be suitably prepared and rightly disposed. (Can. 1002)

   The practice of indiscriminately anointing numbers of people on these occasions simply because they are ill or have reached an advanced age is to be avoided. Only those whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age are proper subjects for the sacrament. (See PCS, 108.)





   When the state of the sick person permits it, and especially when he or she is going to receive holy Communion, the anointing may be conferred within Mass, either in church or even, with the consent of the Ordinary, in some suitable place in the home of the sick person or in the hospital. (RA, 80)

   In light of can. 932, §1 which states that in necessity the Eucharist may be celebrated outside a sacred place, the permission of the Ordinary usually would not be necessary in this case. If the seriously sick person is unable to come to church for Mass, this in itself constitutes a case of necessity which would allow Mass to be celebrated outside a sacred place without further permission.

   Ordinarily the anointing of the sick is celebrated in church, at home, or in a hospital or other institution. In necessity it can be celebrated in any fitting place. The Rite of Anointing has three rites: the ordinary rite, the rite of anointing during Mass, and the celebration of anointing in a large crowd. In the United States the three rites have been adapted and are called anointing outside Mass, anointing within Mass, and anointing in a hospital or institution.










IT is especially fitting that all baptized Christians share in this ministry of mutual charity within the Body of Christ by doing all that they can to help the sick return to health, by showing love for the sick, and by celebrating the sacraments with them. Like the other sacraments, these too have a community aspect, which should be brought out as much as possible when they are celebrated. (RA, 33)

Because of its very nature as a sign, the sacrament of the anointing of the sick should be celebrated with members of the family and other representatives of the Christian community whenever this is possible. (See PCS, 99.)






     The family and friends of the sick and those who take care of them in any way have a special share in this ministry of comfort. If the sickness grows worse, the family and friends of the sick and those who take care of them have the responsibility of informing the pastor and by their kind words of prudently disposing the sick for the reception of the sacraments at the proper time. (See RA, 34; can. 1001.)






   Any priest, and only a priest, validly administers the anointing of the sick. All priests who are entrusted with the care of souls have the duty and right to administer the anointing of the sick to the faithful committed to their pastoral office. This duty is ordinarily exercised by bishops, pastors and parochial vicars, chaplains, seminary rectors, and superiors in clerical institutes. For a reasonable cause, any other priest can administer this sacrament with at least the presumed consent of the proper priest mentioned above. Every priest may carry blessed oil with him so that, in case of necessity, he may administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. (See cans. 1003; 262; 530, 3.; 566; RA 16.)

   The priest should ensure that the abuse of delaying the reception of the sacrament does not occur, and that the celebration takes place while the sick person is capable of active participation. (See PCS, 99.)

   Eastern law. In churches in which it is the custom to administer the sacrament of anointing of the sick by several priests at the same time, care should be taken, as far as possible, to preserve this custom. (CCEC, can. 737, §2)

   In some Eastern churches the sacrament, from ancient tradition, can be administered by more than one priest simultaneously as, for instance, in the Byzantine rite, by three, five, or seven priests. (See Pospishil, 315.)











THE anointing of the sick may be administered to the faithful who have the use of reason and begin to fall into danger as a result of illness or old age. Great care and concern should be taken to see that those of the faithful whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age receive this sacrament. (See can. 1004, §1; RA, 8.)

   Among those who may be anointed, the ritual mentions in particular: those undergoing surgery whenever a serious illness is the reason for the surgery; elderly people if they have become notably weakened even though no serious illness is present; sick children if they have sufficient use of reason to be strengthened by this sacrament. (See RA, 10-12.)

   A prudent or reasonably sure judgment, without scruple, is sufficient for deciding on the seriousness of an illness; if necessary a doctor may be consulted. (See RA, 8.)

   The serious condition for the anointing could be due to a disease, wound, accident, notable weakness of old age, etc. One who is in danger of death due to some external cause cannot be anointed, e.g., a soldier before battle, a criminal awaiting execution. (See Mathis/Bonner,174.)

   In public and private catechesis, the faithful should be educated to ask for the sacrament of anointing and, as soon as the right time comes, to receive it with full faith and devotion. They should not follow the wrongful practice of delaying the reception of the sacrament. All who care for the sick should be taught the meaning and purpose of the sacrament. (RA, 13)

   It is a serious mistake to wait too long, perhaps until the advanced stages of a disease, to anoint a sick person. As soon as the sick person begins to be in danger is the fitting time for the anointing.

   The anointing may be administered to sick persons who at least implicitly asked for it when they were in control of their faculties. (Can. 1006)

   Implicit requests for anointing include the cases of those who ask that a priest be summoned, or declare that they wish to die as a Christian, or give some other sign of repentance. They very likely would have asked for the sacrament, if in life they had faithfully fulfilled the duties of a Christian, or even if they had not always been faithful in these duties, they did not altogether neglect them. In practice, the intention of receiving the sacrament of anointing of the sick is presupposed in all Catholics until the contrary is proven. (See Genicot 2, n. 427.)

   On the other hand, those who have neglected their religion entirely and have refused the ministration of the priest, if they gave no sign of repentance before becoming unconscious, cannot be anointed because they lack the intention which is requisite for the validity of the sacrament.

   The anointing of the sick should not be administered to those who obstinately persist in manifest serious sin. (Can. 1007)

   A manifest sin is one that is publicly known, even if only by a few. Obstinate persistence implies that the person neglects to heed the teachings of the Church or the warnings of ecclesiastical authority. The clearest case of such obstinate persistence in manifest serious sin is the person with an imposed or declared censure who refuses reconciliation by having the censure remitted. If such persons are unconscious and have given no previous sign of repentance, they may not be anointed If they are conscious and ask for the sacrament, they may not be anointed unless the censure is remitted. In danger of death, all censures may be remitted by means of the sacrament of penance. (See can. 976.)

   Another case is a notorious criminal or other public sinner who refuses reconciliation and gives no sign of repentance. Such persons may not be anointed.

   One reason for the requirement of this law is the necessity of the recipient having the proper disposition for the sacrament. Ordinarily one should not presume that a person who is divorced and remarried does not have the proper disposition or had given no sign of repentance. Often the divorced and remarried may have repented of past sins but are unable to quit the second invalid union due to moral obligations to spouse and children. Perhaps they are making use of the approved form of the internal forum solution. Thus, in doubt about their disposition, they may and should be anointed







   If there is doubt whether the sick person has the use of reason, is seriously ill, or is dead, the sacrament may be administered. (Can. 1005)

   There is no longer a provision for conditional anointing; the sacrament is to be administered with the usual form. The 1972 Rite of Anointing, n. 15 spoke of conditional anointing (also in the 1983 U.S. version). However, this was changed after the code was promulgated (See Notitiae 20 (1983) 552.)

   A person who once had the use of reason but lost it due to sickness, old age, or other reason may always be anointed, even if there is no doubt that they lack the use of reason. The requirement of the use of reason applies only to infants and others who have never had the use of reason. (See CLSA Comm., 710.)

   When a priest has been called to attend a person who is already dead, he should pray for the dead person, asking that God forgive his or her sins and graciously receive him/her into his kingdom. The priest is not to administer the sacrament of anointing. (See RA, 15.)

   Conditional anointing of certainly dead persons is forbidden. Instead the priest or other minister should say the prayers for the dead found in the ritual.







   The anointing of the sick may be repeated if the sick person has become better and again falls into a serious illness or, if during the same illness, a more serious crisis develops. (Can. 1004, §2)

   A person may be anointed again whenever there is a new serious illness after recovery from a previous serious illness, or if during a protracted illness the patient’s condition appreciably worsens. If there is any doubt whether this worsening of condition constitutes a more serious crisis, the sacrament may be celebrated. The law excludes frequent anointings during the same illness even if the patient’s condition is gradually deteriorating. Traditional canonical opinion holds that in such cases the person should not be anointed again unless a notable time has elapsed.(See Noldin 3, n. 448.) In view of this canon, however, this does not mean that the sacrament should be administered on some regular basis, such as monthly, to the ill person, without any reference to the progress of the illness. (See CLSA Comm, 710.)




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