Saturday, September 24, 2016

Is Anointing of the Sick Primarily for Spiritual or Physical Healing?

Recently, there was a quick little Q&A posted over on Catholic Answers regarding the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick in regards to a baby being denied the Sacrament. Apologist Michelle Arnold gave the following answer on why the child was refused the Sacrament:
Anointing of the sick primarily is for spiritual healing. Physical healing might occur, but it is not the main purpose of the sacrament. Certainly the sacrament should not be expected to automatically cure the sick person. Such an expectation tends toward superstition (cf. CCC 2111). Baptized children below the age of reason cannot commit personal sin and so do not need anointing of the sick if they are in danger of death. Rather, when in danger of death, such children can be given confirmation, for spiritual strengthening and more fully to initiate them into the Christian religion.
This quick answer led me to read up on this specific sacrament from the Catechism and other sources, and what I already knew about the Sacrament was bolstered even more. A discussion ensued on CA's Facebook page, in a couple of different spots, and ended in a very fruitful conversation where I and the people I talked with both learned a lot about the Sacraments at the same time. Both of the people I talked with claimed that Ms. Arnold's answer "didn't seem right" and that it was not "compassionate" as Christ was. I thought this was ridiculous on its face, and below are the two conversations that ensued. My main interlocutors' words ("Tom" and "Harry") will be in shades of red, mine in blue, and other people joining in represented by other varying colors:
Seven Sacraments: Extreme Unction II- Nicolas Poussin

Tom: It might have been a merciful gesture for the priest to do an anointing to help the parents. This is some of the rigidity of the church that turns people off.

Leah: A more merciful gesture would have been to explain this to the mother and assure her that her child was not in need of this sacrament. He could then have given a priestly blessing instead. Speak the truth in love.

Jim: The Church is to do Christ's will, not ours. We're not the Jesus Fan Club; we're his bride. This isn't a popularity contest. Michelle gave a sound of the explanation of why the sacrament was withheld.

Tom:  Christ was compassionate. Nothing about this post or your comment Chris shows compassion.

Leah: But the pastor could have, and should have, handled that better. He could have explained that to the mom and prayed with her for the child's healing. It's not compassionate or merciful to lie to people.

Tom: Not asking anyone to lie just to be nice.

Mark: Sacraments aren't done to make people feel better. It's for a specific purpose or during a specific situation. It's not there to make other people "feel good" about something.

Tom: I hope you all feel really good up there in your superior castles. A child was ill. A parent needed comfort. You want to give rubrics.

Ben: Tom the sacrament is not about the parent but about the baby, its not for the parents' comfort. And speaking of 'rigidity', its that rigidity that keeps many ppl in the church cos it makes for consistency and constancy, which are the distinguishing qualities of truth. Consider what Christ said about St John de Baptist -'what did u go there to see, a reed? ....... As a christian u shouldn't be a reed or candle in the wind, you should know the truth and stand on it without aiming just to please man or gratiate your ego

Tom: I know exactly what the sacrament is about. What you all seem unable to grasp is the notion of compassion. I would hate to e one of the people to whom you all "minister" to.

Military Chaplin Administering Anointing of the Sick
Nicholas: I think you're being really unfair here, Tom. You accuse some of being in "superior castles". That's not charitable or something nice to say to fellow, faithful Catholics, and quite frankly, it sounds very judgmental of other people's hearts. Ms. Arnold gave an exemplary overview of this wonderful Sacrament, and she is correct; this baby was already in a state of grace, so Anointing was not needed.

Indeed, since we're assuming this baby was a Latin Rite Catholic, this child probably hadn't received the other Sacraments of Initiation. Receiving Confirmation, or even the Holy Eucharist, would've been much more efficacious for this child than Anointing of the Sick. Eastern Catholics do it for infants all the time; this would be an excellent time for Latin Catholics to do so also.
And I don't know why you make rubrics into a dirty or derogatory word. Rubrics and fidelity to liturgical norms are important because they are supposed to protect continuity with what the Church has always done in its Sacred Tradition (big "T" and little "t"). Let's use your argument of Sacraments for comfort elsewhere...

Let's say a man has been injured in a horrific car accident on the highway. He is moments from death as he is dragged from the burning car by passerby. One of these men has a gray clerical shirt on with his Roman collar driving back to the Church rectory after bringing the Eucharist to a sick friend. The dying man sees the cleric helping him. Knowing he needs to make a last confession, he yells "Father! Please hear my confession and give me absolution!"

However, the dying man is mistaken. The man in the Roman collar is actually a deacon. He cannot give absolution, as the rubrics allow only for a priest or bishop to do so. Now the deacon may reply that he cannot, he's only a deacon. But the man doesn't understand; he's been away from the Church for a very long time and does not understand the ontological natures of deacons and priests. So the man persists in asking for absolution. Should the deacon capitulate and meet the dying man's demands since the dying man wants to be "comforted"? If the deacon doesn't attempt to give absolution, isn't he then guilty of rubricism in your book, Tom? Wouldn't this deacon be supposedly as "rigid" as the priest denying Anointing?

When we throw our rubrics given by the Magisterium and traditions out the window for the sake of "comfort", we are lying to ourselves. We can show mercy and kindness in other ways besides breaking from Church teaching and understanding on a given Sacrament, as others have pointed out already.

Jo: Just out of curiosity- is it common for a gravely sick baby or child to be confirmed? I've never heard of this. I just assumed it was given to children who are older and ready to choose catholicism for themselves. I would have assumed the baby would just be blessed and that's it.

Nicholas: I can't speak to how common Confirmation for a very young and sick child is, Jo, but it's something every baptized child (and parent) should have recourse to. As a father of two children under the age of 3, I know I would not hesitate to ask my pastor to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to them in an emergency. So maybe it's not a common thing to see or hear about, but to confirm young children (even infants) in danger of death is certainly the norm of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. See here:
"Can. 891 The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops has determined another age, or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise."
Also, I just wanted to clarify a common misconception about Confirmation. I've had to explain this to my kids preparing for Confirmation in Religious Education. That Sacrament is not given to those who are ready to choose Catholicism for itself. Remember, Confirmation is a Sacrament of initiation. One doesn't even need to be older to receive it; several dioceses in the US have restored the Sacraments of initiation to their proper order, that is, confirming children before they receive their first Holy Communion. There's a good explanation on this website here if you're curious, Jo. I printed this out and had my kids take it home to their parents to look over. It was a great resource for understanding the Sacrament of Confirmation more!
"Myth: Confirmation is 'choosing to be Catholic.'
"The Catholic Church is not a club, hobby, group, or political party. The Church is the Bride of Christ and its members are His very body. Being Catholic is an identity, an indelible (permanent) part of who we are and who God wants us to be. At our baptism, we died and rose with Jesus Christ (cf. Galatians 2:20) and are now forever a part of the Body of Christ, the Church. Confirmation candidates are not “choosing to be Catholic” because they are Catholic already. What they do choose, however, is how they will make use of the gifts given to them in the Church: the sacraments, the Christian community, tools for Christian moral living, and the opportunity for a vibrant and life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ."
Harry: Whoa... That is not right.. The anointing of the sick is primarily for physical healing.. A prayer for healing is not superstitious?? We've already got a sacrament for healing of the soul, confession. If the sacrament was for primarily healing the soul why wouldn't we all be getting it regardless of health?

Christ and the Blind Pauper- Andrey Mironov
Nicholas: Harry, it is indeed right. Anointing of the Sick is primarily for spiritual healing as it prepares our soul for death. This sacrament is usually given when one is near death because we need the spiritual graces from God for final perseverance more at this moment than at an other in our lives. The Catechism says as much, particularly noticed the [bolded] portion:
CCC 1532: The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects:
- the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church;
- the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age;
- the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Penance;
- The restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul;
- the preparation for passing over to eternal life.
These are the reasons why we do not all get this sacrament regardless of our health. The following article [from Fr. Ryan Erlenbush] might be more helpful in understanding the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick in this particular situation and the Sacrament's actual effects:
"Anointing is given to strengthen men against the 'remnants' of sin and the heal the wounds which sin has caused – particularly when an individual begins to be in danger of death, special graces are needed to confirm the soul in the grace of Christ... the physical healing which may be caused by the sacrament is not given for its own sake, but rather as a means to assist in the salvation of the individual."
Harry: Nick, what you have quoted really only proves my point. It is used for physical healing. Notice how it forgives people their sins if they can't participate in the sacrament of penance. Does that mean then, according to your logic, that only people who cannot go to confession receive anointing of the sick? No of course not. You don't need to go through that check list and need all the requirements.. You only need one. Tell me why, why would you withhold the church's most powerful plea for Gods healing on people under 6 years old? Your answer - because they don't need everything the sacrament can do for you. I really don't get how we can decide to baptize children as infants but then decide for ourselves that for a child dying it's no longer conducive to the salvation of its soul. Who are we to judge whether living would be better for the soul?

Joe: Harry, it's primarily for spiritual healing. But I agree with you that the secondary effect is physical healing which we clearly see in the title of the sacrament! No reason to withhold that chance for physical healing.

Nicholas: Harry, you've misrepresented what I've said. How has what I quoted proving your point? The Sacrament doesn't have a "checklist", I agree with you there. To say one needs to do everything listed in CCC 1532 would be ridiculous because it describes what graces are given to us; it's a list of the Sacrament's effects, and it proves your thinking to be a bit mistaken.
The restoration of health is an effect only if it is conducive to the salvation of the soul. That is a spiritual effect. Again, "the physical healing which may be caused by the sacrament is not given for its own sake, but rather as a means to assist in the salvation of the individual."

So while I agree otherwise with Joe, when he says that "there's no reason to withhold for physical healing", I believe the mark has been missed. Physical healing is not the main point or effect of the Sacrament. Look at the other actual effects in CCC 1532; why are we putting the emphasis here on physical healing instead of the strengthening to endure sufferings and uniting those sufferings to Christ's Passion? Those are the principal effects of the Sacrament, and to administer it only for healing is not to do what the Church intends to do with the Sacrament.

Did you happen to read that article, Harry? It gives a really eloquent explanation which piggybacks off of Ms. Arnold's original answer. I don't understand the charge against my logic regarding what you said about Confession; that doesn't follow at all from what I said in my original post. How you got there from what I said is beyond me.
Now I wouldn't withhold the Sacrament to a child under 6... Because I'm not a priest. You make me and the priest in question out to be almost like a monster. My answer is not "because they don't need everything the Sacrament can do for [them]." You're putting words in my mouth.
The priest from the same article I linked to said it best elsewhere:
"The point, which you seem to be missing completely, is that the little children have no need of the sacrament of Anointing! It would actually be offensive to anoint an infant, since this would say that the infant isn't assured of salvation! Let the little children come indeed!"
So by administering the Sacrament, one would in effect be saying (in accordance with how the Church herself describes the Sacrament): "This child has a chance to be denied heaven." How far from the truth! These 2-3 year olds are already in a state of grace due to baptism! The Church knows for sure that these children, with no stain of sin or temporal punishment, are saved!

So let's not talk in terms of "denying" or "withholding" the Sacrament to anyone; there are simply better alternatives for our young children, especially if they're of the Latin Rite. A prayer and simple blessing by the priest would be helpful. Or even better, administering the Sacrament of Confirmation so that the child may be sealed with the Holy Spirit, or even the Holy Eucharist, so as to complete the Sacraments of Initiation. I mentioned this in another thread...

As a father of two children under the age of 3, I know I would not hesitate to ask my pastor to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to them in an emergency. So maybe it's not a common thing to see or hear about, but to confirm young children (even infants) in danger of death is certainly the norm of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. See here:

"Can. 891 The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops has determined another age, or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise."

I do think that the Sacrament of Confirmation would be more efficacious than Anointing for my 2 year old if he had suffered a life threatening ailment, and knowing that he is without a doubt saved (in accordance with Church teaching) I'd think it better to see him sealed with the Holy Spirit before death.

St. Peter Healing the Sick With His Shadow- 
Harry: Nick, and you misrepresent what I have said thank you very much. I have no doubt a baptized 2 year old is not denied heaven but they are denied the sacrament that is offered for physical healing! Jesus healed little children, the apostles certainly healed little children. Where did we get off on this idea that the anointing of the sick can only be beneficial to a sinner? What your logic adds up to is,, if the person is in good grace God doesn't want to heal them because hey they are going to Heaven. Jesus didn't just heal people for their own sake, he did it to strengthen the faith of those who witnessed the miracle too.

Nicholas: Harry, you are still misunderstanding the purpose of this Sacrament and are zeroing in on one aspect of it instead of looking at the big picture, which we can see laid out in the Catechism. It's not that anyone is being denied the Sacrament, it's that the Church has a different interpretation than you do on what the purpose of the Sacrament is.

It's all in the Anointing section in the Catechism. This isn't all coming from my head, this which I've written (and the priest article, and Ms. Arnold's article) comes from our Lord and His Church. It is a law and teaching of the Church that those under the age of reason are not to receive the Sacrament. That's a fact, and something we must attest to as we are both faithful sons of the Church.
I encourage you to read the CCC regarding this Sacrament. It shows that Ms. Arnold's post is simply reaffirming Church teaching. In part:

"But [Jesus] did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. On the cross Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the "sin of the world,".of which illness is only a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion." (CCC 1505)

To me, Church teaching is clear on this. To be fair, Jimmy Akin appears to be of a similar opinion as you. But other canonists and theologians agree with Ms. Arnold and Church teaching and law.

If you're going to accuse me of concluding that God doesn't want to physically heal those in a state of grace... You'll have to accuse Ms. Arnold, Ed Peters, and a host of others of the same thing. I don't want this to be something contentious; we're both brothers in Christ trying to do God's will. But I clearly see Church teaching not jiving with what you've been saying. Jesus does want this sacrament to strengthen the faith of others, but in a different way from the physical miracle of healing you're talking about:

"The sick who receive this sacrament, 'by freely uniting themselves to the passion and death of Christ," "contribute to the good of the People of God.' By celebrating this sacrament the Church, in the communion of saints, intercedes for the benefit of the sick person, and he, for his part, though the grace of this sacrament, contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to God the Father." (CCC 1522)

Harry: Alright Nick, my brother in Christ, thanks for taking the time to try and explain to me something that just didn't seem right with me. Didn't seem to be the way the apostles and early brothers were healing people. Obviously it's not God's will to heal everyone but I thought we could try. And we still can through prayers and blessings I just thought using the sacrament was the way Jesus taught us for healing. Anyway I appreciate your desire to teach and be faithful to Jesus's church. Love you brother, Peace
Christ Healing the Sick- Washington Allston

Joe: Nick, I said not to withhold THE CHANCE of physical healing. Big difference. It's up to God to decide if He heals or the suffering continues. Interesting to note the Spanish translation of the Rite (...te conforte en tu enfermedad) speaks more of physical healing that the English ( you and raise you up).

Let us not be stingy with God's mercy, especially in this year if mercy!

Nick: Joe, you're right, it's up to God to decide if the suffering continues. If the child is 6 or 7 years old, then yea, err on the side of caution as Canon 1005 teaches: "This sacrament is to be administered in a case of doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead."

But for the baby in question in the article who is much younger than 6... I wouldn't say anything is being withheld, as I mentioned above. If we were to administer the sacrament to the infant so as not to withhold the chance of physical healing, then the main effects of the Sacrament would be ignored and the focus put squarely on a physical healing that stems from spiritual healing and spiritual strengthening:
"The first grace of this sacrament... is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God's will." (CCC 1520)
Again, the infant doesn't need spiritual healing. Therefore, I don't believe we are being stingy with God's mercy. Remember, God has bound His grace to the sacraments, but He Himself is not bound by His sacraments. The Sacrament of Anointing is done for a specific purpose, as linked above in the Catechism. But surely, we can pray for God's mercy through other means (i.e. rosary, Divine Mercy, etc.) besides the Sacrament. I totally agree with you, let's not limit God's mercy!

And Harry, thank you. I think this was a fruitful discussion, and I learned a lot as well reading and re-reading various sources on the subject of this beautiful sacrament. God bless you as well.

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