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Rome's Zenit News

 Fecha: 2012-11-20

Q: I am a Roman Catholic priest who serves as a chaplain in a state penitentiary. Security protocols require a gate clearance for all liturgical items, including sacramental wine, books, hosts, vessels, etc. I have had to leave such items at the gate or be denied entry into the facility when either a gate clearance has not been issued or cannot be found. The chief chaplain is an Orthodox priest who keeps the holy oils in his office. The situation has only arisen once where a Catholic in the infirmary requested anointing of the sick but was hospitalized outside the facility before I could get to tend to him. As a rule I do not bring my oils into the facility as there is neither general need nor a gate clearance. The metal container sets off the security alarm in any case. Bringing (smuggling) materials into the prison without a gate clearance would result in a reprimand at least and probable dismissal. May I make use of the Orthodox sacramental oils to anoint a Catholic inmate? Just to clarify, access to vegetable oil (olive or other) would be quite difficult as those items are restricted to the dining hall and kitchen during their operating hours and kept under secure lock at all other times. Perhaps the best solution is to arrange to keep a set of holy oils in the chaplain's office but the metal container could remain an issue. -- W.S., Pennsylvania

A: There are several points to address. As the priest mentioned, the best solution would be to keep the holy oils available in the chaplain's office. If a metal container is an insurmountable problem, then perhaps a container made of glass, ceramic or some other suitable material would be permitted.

It might be possible to have the metal container cleared on a once-off basis and bring in fresh oil each year in another vessel to replenish it.

If this is not feasible, then it is possible to use the holy oils stored by the Orthodox priest.

The principle involved is the mutual recognition of sacraments. The Catholic Church recognizes the validity of all sacraments performed by the Orthodox Churches. Thus it recognizes as valid sacramental matter the oil of the sick duly blessed by an Orthodox bishop.

This is also confirmed by the Ecumenical Directory which allows Catholics in an emergency to validly and licitly receive the sacraments of penance, anointing of the sick, and Communion from an Orthodox priest.

Thus if a Catholic prisoner needed these sacraments in an emergency, and the Catholic chaplain were not available, the Orthodox chaplain could attend him.

In principle the reverse would also be true for an Orthodox prisoner and the Catholic chaplain. However, in this case the Catholic chaplain should verify the practice ahead of time with the Orthodox chaplain, since the laws regarding the sharing of sacraments may vary among different Churches.

* * *

Follow-up: Communion Through a Feeding Tube

Pursuant to our comments regarding the possibility of receiving Communion through a feeding tube (see Nov. 6) a reader asked about a case where a hospital patient could not ingest the host: "Could an extraordinary minister of holy Communion bless them with the holy Eucharist instead, or is that seen as Benediction and only to be done by a priest?"

The rites for the pastoral care of the sick only foresee the possibility of a priest or deacon blessing a sick person with the Blessed Sacrament.

In the rite for visits to the sick in ordinary circumstances the rubrics say:

"No. 91 [After distributing Communion] The priest or deacon blesses the sick person and the others present…. If, however, any of the blessed sacrament remains, he may bless the sick person by making a sign of the cross with the blessed sacrament, in silence."

In referring to hospital visits where Communion is brought to many rooms, a briefer rite is observed in which the blessing is omitted (Nos. 92-96).

The above cases foresee the blessing in addition to, but not as a substitute to, holy Communion. If, however, a patient is physically unable to receive the Eucharist, I believe it is compatible with the mind of the legislator for a priest or deacon to offer some spiritual comfort by blessing the person with the pyx.

An extraordinary minister of holy Communion would not have that possibility since Eucharistic blessings are reserved to the ordained. He or she could still visit the sick person with the Blessed Sacrament, place it on the prepared table as if coming to give Communion, and accompany the patient for a period of prayer, adoration and spiritual communion before moving on to the next room.

This procedure is not specifically foreseen in the rites, but I believe it falls within the bounds of the relevant liturgical law.

* * *

Readers may send questions to Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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