[Opinion] COVID-19: A Threat To The Sacrament Of Anointing Of The Sick

[Opinion] COVID-19: A Threat To The Sacrament Of Anointing Of The Sick

I may not sound sacramentally accurate or logically balanced in this article. However, it’s out of a genuine concern for the Catholic Church so far as the Sacrament of the sick is concerned in this trying moments of a pandemic caused by COVID-19.

It may be said that COVID-19 has come to reshape the foundations of many concepts and experiences of realities of politics, religion and it’s tenets, culture and human interaction in the socio-economic markets of our lives. In the light of the above, it seems to me that COVID-19 is at war with the administration of the sacrament of the sick.

For the sake of this article, permit me to settle and tease your mind with a bit of catechism which you may already know.

What are sacraments? These are the spiritual and physical ladders that God through Christ gives to Himself in order to get very close to fallen humans. They are efficacious signs of Grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us (CCC. # 1131).

It’s often expressed as an outward sign of an inward Grace.These sacraments are seven (7) and are instituted by Christ to touch all the stages and important moments of the Christian life (CCC. #1210.) The dedicated Sacrament of healing and saving those who are being tried by an illness such as COVID-19 is called The
Anointing of the sick.

James, the brother of the Lord promulgated this Sacrament by saying…” Are any of you ill? You should send for the church elders who will pray for them and rub Olive oil on them in the name of the Lord. This prayer made in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will restore them to health and the sins they have committed will be forgiven (James 5:14-15)
As a result of the above declaration, Priests (Bishops and presbyters) are the only ministers of anointing of the Sick (cf. CCC. 1516). The above teaching is backed by the Church’s code of Canon Law in which every priest, but only a priest can validly administer the sacrament of the sick (cf. Can. 1003 *1). The big question is with the fear and panic surrounding the Advent of COVID-19, can any priest go closer to a Catholic Christian who becomes a victim of this pandemic Virus of SARS-Cov-2? If yes, in which manner?

The ears of the Church in recent months of COVID-19 is turned towards the World Health Organization (WHO) and the study of Virology in which social distancing and self-protection is highly recommended. Is this not a threat to the priestly act of Anointing the Sick by getting closer and pastorally touching a sick Covid-19 patient as Jesus did to Peter’s mother-in-law? ( Luke 4:38-39).

What can a priest in Ghana, for instance, do assuming a victim faithful calls him for this Sacrament based on Canon 1006 ….that this Sacrament is to be administered to the sick who, when they were in possession of their faculties (full use of reason), at least implicitly ask for it?

Let’s pay some attention to the Form and Matter of the Anointing of the Sick and let’s see if Covid-19 is not a threat to our healing sacrament.

Some explanations of Form and Matter will be of help. A Form..of any sacrament is the Word that is used to convey the intended purpose of the sacrament and Matter is the specific material, element and gesture being used.
So the Form of the anointing of the sick 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”
the matter is the oil of the sick which must be applied by the priest on the forehead and the hand of the Sick.

Remember this is a sacrament and must be done in presence of COVID-19 victim so that Christ, who is the best physician can sacramentally visit the sick and fulfill through the priest the clarion instruction of Matthew 25:36 l was sick and you visited me.

How can this important priestly act be done when Covid-19 has caused the shutdown of everyone in some countries? With all the increasing positive cases that is chocking Ghana, what can our Church do in the event of a total shutdown?

This is a battle that we cannot as a Church community leave our frontline medical team to fight alone. We must support with our sacramental prayers. It is a battle in the dark where our enemy Covid-19 sees us but we don’t see it. My village opinion is that each Diocese must apply for PPEs and in time of need, a priest may join the medical team in full regalia as Doctors and nurses and Laboratory technicians in administring this saving sacrament.

Again, Canon 1000 paragraph 2 states that the minister is to anoint with his own hand unless grave reason indicates for the use of an instrument.

I think COVID-19 has the merit of being called a grave cause for which no priest will be willing to anoint with his own anointed hand. This is why l indicate in the title that, COVID-19 is a threat to the sacrament of the sick..

May the Annunciation of the Lord move each pastor into prayer so as to have the courage to protect the souls entrusted to his care.

Source: Fr. Franklin Adzaho (The Village Poet)


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