Newsletter of the District of Asia

 March - April 1999

The New Sacrament of Extreme Unction

1.     Definition and effects of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction according to the traditional doctrine of the Church.
"Extreme Unction is a sacrament instituted for the spiritual as well as for the temporal comfort of the sick in danger of death "

Catechism of St. Pius X

What is the effect of this sacrament?

     "The effect is the grace of the Holy Ghost, whose anointing takes away sins, if there are any still to be expiated, and removes the trace of sin; and it comforts and strengthens the soul of the sick person. It gives him great confidence in the divine mercy. Encouraged by this, the sick man more easily bears the inconvenience and trial of his illness and more easily resists the temptations of the devil who lies in wait for his heel. This anointing occasionally restores health to the body, if health would be of advantage to the salvation of the soul. " (Council of Trent. 14 session).

As a consequence, "it is well to receive Extreme Unction while the sick person retains the, use of his senses, and while there remains some hope of his recovery, because he thus receives it with better dispositions and is hence able to derive greater fruit from it; and because this sacrament restores health of body (should it be for the good of the soul) by assisting the powers of nature; and hence it should not be deferred until recovery is despaired of " (Catechism of Saint Pius X).

2. The change of the doctrine and of the practice since the Council Vatican II.

Principal documents:

Vatican II: Constitution on the Sacred-Liturgy, Dec. 4, 1963.
Paul VI : Apostolic Constitution on the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, Nov. 30, 1972.
New Canon Law (1983)

a. The Effects of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction

      Traditional Doctrine                                     

"The sacrament of Extreme Unction has been principally instituted to cure the sickness of the sin. " (St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Suppl 30,1) This doctrine is developed by the Council of Trent quoted above.

      New Doctrine

The new doctrine of the sacrament of Extreme Unction clearly appears in the new ritual of the benediction of the oil of the sick by the Bishop on Holy Thursday.

Blessing of the oil of The Sick:

      Traditional Formula                                                                             

"Send, O Lord, the Holy Ghost on this olive oil (...) to restore the soul and the body (...) in order that those who will receive this unction will have a help for the soul and the body."

      New Formula

"Send, O Lord, the Holy Ghost on this and oil (...) to restore the body (...) in order that those who will receive this unction will have a help for the body

It is clear that the new doctrine insists on the corporal effect of the sacrament. It is an inversion of the traditional doctrine of the Church.

b. The person being able to receive the sacrament of Extreme Unction.

This new doctrine insisting on the effects of this sacrament on the body, we find in the new sacramental discipline a changing concerning those who can receive this sacrament:

      Traditional Doctrine                                                                  

"The sacrament of Extreme Unction can only be administered to the faithful   "(...) who are in danger of death because of sickness or old age"(Traditional Canon Law C940). This doctrine had always been taught in the Church. Let us only quote the council of Florence (15th century): "This sacrament should not be given except to the sick whose death is feared. "

      New Doctrine

 The sacrament of the anointing of the sick can be administered to the faithful (...) who begin to be in danger because of sickness or old age" (New Canon Law. C1004). The word "death " has been suppressed.  However, it was mentioned in Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n. 73: "who begin to be in danger of death. "

What happens, if the sacrament is given to somebody who certainly is not in danger of death (because if there is a doubtful danger of death, it is allowed, in the traditional practice of the Church, to give the sacrament "under condition")?

If someone is certainly not in danger of death, the constant teaching of the Church until Vatican II tells that the sacrament is probably invalid (NAZ, Dictionary of Canon Law).

The insistence on the cure of the body and the suppression of the danger of death as a necessary condition for the reception of Extreme Unction have three consequences:

1. The changing of the traditional name "Extreme Unction" into " Anointing of the sick" or "Sacrament of the sick."

2. The administration of the sacrament to the persons who are not in danger of death:

"Elderly people may be anointed if they are weak, though not dangerously ill."

("Introduction to the rite of anointing sick and to the pastoral care of the sick" Dec. 7, 1972). This is probably invalid.

And while the catechism of the Council of Trent said that "the danger of death must arise from sickness" (which means: not from an exterior cause), we see frequently today the anointing of persons before a surgery (when the danger of death doesn't come from the illness itself), or of those condemned to death, before their execution - which is again probably invalid.

3. The third consequence concerns the condition for re-administering this sacrament. The new canon Law (n.1004) says that "this sacrament can be given another time (...) if, during the same sickness the danger becomes more serious. " The traditional Canon Law said: "This sacrament cannot be reiterated during the same sickness, unless the sick, after having received the unction, sufficiently recovered and fell again in danger of death" (C.940).

c. Another important change concerns the matter of the sacrament.

"The matter of a sacrament is the sensible thing made use of; in effecting the sacrament. " (Catechism of Saint Pius X)

      Traditional Doctrine                                       

"The matter of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction is olive oil blessed by a bishop." (Council of Florence)  "Olive oil alone" (Catechism of the Council of Trent) The Holy Office declared September 14,1842), that "it is rash and close to error, to assert that this sacrament could be valid with another oil."

      New Doctrine

The "Apostolic Constitution on the sacrament of the anointing of the sick (Nov. 30,1972) says: "The sick are to be anointed with blessed olive oil or, as circumstances suggest, with another oil extracted from plants." There is here an obvious danger of invalidity.

Concerning the Anointing:

      Traditional Doctrine                            

"The anointing should be done on these parts: on the eyes because of sight, on the ears because of  hearing, on the nose because of smelling, on the mouth because of taste or speech, on the hands because of touch, on the feet because of walking. " (Council of Florence)

      New Doctrine

"The sick are to be anointed on the forehead and hands. " (Paul VI. Apostolic constitution on the sacrament of the anointing of the sick)

The traditional rite has 5 unctions, the new rite has only two. This alone does not render it invalid, because "in case of necessity, only one unction is sufficient" (Traditional Canon Law n.947), but with this reduction of the number of the unctions, the sacrament loses much of its meaning.

It is again a consequence of the changing of the doctrine concerning the effects of this sacrament. In the traditional rite, the anointing of the 5 senses mean that this sacrament cures the sickness of the sins committed by the means of the 5 senses. In the new doctrine, there is an insistence on the cure of the body. Thus, 2 anointments on the body are sufficient.

d. The minister of Extreme Unction

The Council of Trent says: "If anyone says that the presbyter of the Church, who St. James says should be called in to anoint the person who is sick, are not priests ordained by the bishop, but the older men of any community, and that consequently the proper minister of Extreme Unction is not the priest alone: let him be anathema. " (4th Canon on Extreme Unction).

This canon is important today, where, in some cases, Extreme Unction is administered by deacons, sisters or lay people. It is then certainly invalid.

Note re: the Apostolic Blessing in articulo mortis (when death is approaching). The traditional Roman ritual of this sacrament says that this blessing is usually given along with Extreme Unction, and grants a plenary indulgence (remission of the whole penalty of purgatory) for the dying. It is a precious gift for him.

It is usually not given anymore. This is a great lost for the dying.

e. The last important change concerns the form of this sacrament.

"The form of a sacrament is the words which are pronounced to order to effect the sacrament. " (Catechism of Saint Pius X).

      Traditional Form                                                                              

"By this holy unction and His pious mercy, may God forgive thee whatever sins thou hast committed by the evil use of sight (hearing, smell, taste and speech, touch)." (Traditional Roman Ritual).

      New Form

"By this holy unction and His pious mercy, may God help you by the grace of the Holy Spirit, in order that, delivered from your sins, God save you and restore you in his goodness. "

In the new form, the principal effect of the sacrament (curing the sickness of the sins) is less clearly indicated, and the (secondary and accidental) effect (curing the body) is added ("restore you").

This change doesn't invalidate the sacrament, because the essential meaning is still there, but once again, the signification of the sacrament is reduced. It is again a consequence of the new doctrine on Extreme Unction since Vatican II, which insists more on the cure of the body than on the cure of the sins.

4. Conclusion

If Extreme Unction is administered with another oil than olive oil, it is probably invalid.

If Extreme Unction is administered to persons, who are certainly not in danger of death, or whose danger of death does not come from the sickness itself (anointing of the sick before a surgery, when the danger only comes from the surgery; or anointing of those condemned to death before their execution), it is probably invalid.

If Extreme Unction is administered by anyone who is not a validly ordained priest, it is definitely invalid.

The changes in the new form of Extreme Unction are not essential changes which would invalidate the sacrament in itself. But these changes, with time, present the danger of changing the intention of the priest who administers the sacrament. He can have the intention to restore only the body and not the soul, which then would render the sacrament invalid and not give the grace to the sick.

Therefore, we cannot accept this reform, which is so opposed to the traditional doctrine of the Church on this sacrament; and because of the risks of invalidity. It is therefore prudent to administer it again and conditionally to somebody who would have received it in the new rite.

(From a study of Father Juan Carlos CERIANI, SSPX, in "Le sel de‑la terre " nn. 7 and 10).

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