The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Who will anoint the sick?

Well, I’m sure some deacons would gladly raise their hands and volunteer for this sacramental duty — but we can’t.

Neither can lay people.

And that’s beginning to cause problems, as the AP reports:

4 ANOINTING OF THE SICK_0.jpg It was John B. Baus’s 82nd birthday. When he was getting ready to go out with his wife, he had a heart attack and ended up on his way to the emergency room instead.


Doctors there worked to stabilize him and performed surgery to implant a pace maker. Mary Adele Baus, his wife, went home after the surgery, assured that her husband was resting comfortably.

Instead, at 3 a.m. doctors were working frantically with oxygen and electric paddles to keep Baus alive.

In the midst of the effort Baus asked for a Roman Catholic priest, fearing death was only moments away.

“He said ‘I’m a dying man, and I want to see a priest,'” Mary Baus remembered. “All they said was that they didn’t have one.”

Baus survived, but his wife said it was a traumatic event that left both her and her husband shaken.

“There used to be a chaplain available if you needed him,” she said. “Or you could get a priest to come to the hospital. Now it’s not for sure that you will see anyone.”


Finding a priest to be at the bedside of the dying is becoming harder and harder across the country. The shortage of priests has been a problem for years, but its implications become most clear at dire times for the ill.

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond says that across the country there are fewer priests and fewer young men who want to become priests.

“We are challenged to find young men looking for vocations,” Aymond said. “We are getting fewer, and the process of preparing for the priesthood can take six to eight years. It makes it difficult to have people who can step in for retiring priests.”

Once called the Last Rites or Extreme Unction, the death bed ritual has changed for Catholics in recent years. The once-obligatory deathbed rite has been replaced with a new sacrament known as the anointing of the sick.

“It’s not like you used to see in movies with the priest anointing a dying man,” Aymond said. “Now we urge people to have it before they go into the hospital. It should be a community celebration, not something administered in isolation.”

Check out the link for more.

Comments read comments(20)
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Sorry, I must be anon on this one.

posted January 27, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Well…, darn it! I had written an entire comment but because there was an error my post dissapeared.
I won’t repeat the entire story, but I had experience of trying to find a priest in my town to go give Anointing of the Sick to a person. It took two or three tries to finally get one to agree to go. It wasn’t a case of a prior commitment. It was a case of, ” Sigh…I’d rather not. Can you call so and so instead?”
I know it’s a difficult job and that it is difficult being on call 24 hours a day, but really!!

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Your Name

posted January 27, 2010 at 5:58 pm

I am posting as anonymous today, something I never do. I had a long conversation with a Catholic RC chaplain about this today. Neither of us are priests but we are both in a position to know how the lack of them is causing more and more problems in regard to the Sacrament of the Sick. It is very sad. We pray for vocations, but what is God asking of us?

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Mr Flapatap

posted January 27, 2010 at 6:11 pm

A new sacrament?????? That’s news. By the way, “last rites” simply refers to the last one you get, regardless….

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John V

posted January 27, 2010 at 6:16 pm

“The once-obligatory deathbed rite has been replaced with a new sacrament known as the anointing of the sick.”
Sorry, this is just sloppy writing. When I read something like this, I wonder how much the reporter really knows about the Church.

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posted January 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Big problem! The Sacrament of the Sick is intertwine with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, hence the problem surfaces.
Wonder how many times Mary and John [and millions of others like them] spoke about vocations to her own son’s and grandsons? Until mom and dad start helping, the shortage will continue.

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Holly Hansen

posted January 27, 2010 at 7:48 pm

The Church will have to come to grips with this and expand the ministry of Permanent Deacons and Lay People.

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Doug Sousa

posted January 27, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Proud of all the sharp readers who caught the “came up with a new sacrament” comment! I have been trying to think of a clever response….

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posted January 27, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Think of the nations in the world where a priest only visits a community a few times a year… No priest “on call” in those situations.
An emergency hospitalization, as noted in the post, presents its own complications. But when surgery is scheduled, it’s possible to request the Sacrament of the Sick ahead of time.
In the nursing homes I’m responsible for, regular communal anointings are celebrated and if I’m not able to respond to every call, it’s a comfort to family when they know that their loved one was recently anointed. And of course, a minister who’s not a priest may visit, lead the prayers of the dying and give Viaticum.
Theologically, the Church is unable to extend to deacons the ministry of anointing so an adjustment must be made in pastoral understanding and practice. Good catechesis of parishioners and hospital/nursing home personnel will go a long way to make this situation a better one.

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Gerard Nadal

posted January 28, 2010 at 1:57 am

What if we had the same deal for priests as we do for deacons regarding marriage and ministry?
Married priests work a 9-5 job and do their priestly ministry evenings and weekends, the same as deacons. Think it could fly?

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted January 28, 2010 at 6:36 am

I think it’s worth exploring. At my in law’s parish in Maryland, one of the priests is a former Episcopalian, married, who converted. They wouldn’t permit him to live in the rectory, so he has his own house for his family, and a full time job as a teacher at a university. Like a deacon, he works for the parish on weekends and in the evenings.
I do think at least one priest should be full time, assigned to a parish, when possible. But the above option might be a big help, and God knows, we need help!
Dcn. G

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Stephen Cianflone

posted January 28, 2010 at 6:48 am

This is where I have a problem and disagree with the catholic church. We the people are what make up the church. It is all of our responsibility to care for the sick and the widows and the orphans. We are and should all be able ministers of the good news. When we just rely on the those who we select or those who we school in college we become lazy and uncaring and uninvolved. Want to know why the church is sick? This is why.

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Your Name

posted January 28, 2010 at 8:34 am

Are we talking about the sacrament of anointing or are we talking about caring for the sick? They’re hardly the same thing.

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posted January 28, 2010 at 10:21 am

As a reporter writer, I often am called to write about topics I may know little about. And I know I have made my share of errors.
So, kudos to the writer for illuminating the situation for us. Perhaps someone – in charity – may want to reach out via email to the reporter and explain the situation. This isn’t a new rite or sacrament but a new understanding, a new name.
Let’s help the reporter write better for next time.

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Your Name

posted January 28, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Anointing, The Sacrament of Healing and Mercy
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The sacrament of Anointing is the new name given by the Second Vatican Council to the sacrament of Extreme Unction. As might be expected, all the founders of Protestantism denied that Christ instituted this sacrament. At most, they would admit that Anointing of the Sick was a charism of bodily healing. That is why the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century issued no less than four infallible declarations defining both Christ’s institution of Anointing and its three-fold purpose of conferring grace, remitting sin, and giving strength of body and soul to the sick who receive this sacrament.
This is why only Priests can annoint the sick. We must pray for Priests to perservere in their own vocations, and pray also, that their hoiness will inspire others to become priests.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted January 28, 2010 at 3:30 pm

As more than a few people have pointed out, deacons are in the business of “conferring grace, remitting sin” when they celebrate the sacrament of baptism — which deacons administer not only to newborns, but often to children as old as five or six.

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Franklin Jennings

posted January 28, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Stephen Cianflone,
Baloney. You are talking about issues not at all related to the issue raised in this article. But I will agree that your post illustrates the biggest problem facing the laity: miserably simplistic catechesis, not suited for adult Christians.

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Franklin Jennings

posted January 28, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Yeah, Deacon, but an unbaptised atheist or pagan can confer grace and remit sin through the same sacrament, so I dont see how it helps anyone’s argument.

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John Rudd

posted January 28, 2010 at 11:42 pm

As a person who is a candidate for the Diaconate, I thought it would make sense to allow others to annoint the sick if no priest are available. But then I listened to the Letter of St. James Chapter 13-15 read at a daily mass a few weeks ago and I can understand why we have only priests anoint:
“Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.”

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John Rudd

posted January 28, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Letter of St. James 5:13-15

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Deacon Bob Dzuris

posted June 29, 2010 at 4:07 pm

It would be incorrect to restrict the interpretation of “presbyter” as priest. According to Abingdon “The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, all translations from the Greek mean literally “old man” in contrast to “younger man”. In Luke 15:25, Acts 2:17 (quoting Joel 2:28)and 1 Peter 5:5 it referts to a notable man of past generation and in other places such as Luke 22:66; Acts 22:5 the translation would be “elder”. I do not see the passage referenced as justification for this sacrament being exclusive to the priesthood. It is currently the teaching of the church that the sacrament of the anointing of the sick is exclusively a faculty assigned only to priests. Deacons may in the absence of a priest, administer Viaticum.

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