A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Use of Orthodox Holy Oils

ROME, 20 NOV. 2012 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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: Use of Orthodox Holy Oils [12-4-2012]

Our Nov. 20 affirmation regarding the sacrament of the sick for prisoners mentioned that the Ecumenical Directory "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."

In response to that article, an Orthodox priest made the following reply: "The canonical Orthodox Churches are not in communion with the Church of Rome. So, though Rome may permit her members to receive communion, etc., from the Orthodox, we Orthodox clergy are not permitted to give communion to anyone but Orthodox Christians who have prepared themselves by prayer, fasting and confession. To suggest otherwise is misleading and disingenuous and may stir up the old criticisms that we have against Rome of trying to lure our people away."

I am not sure if this is the policy of all Orthodox Churches. I do not believe that a Catholic priest's spiritually assisting a gravely ill Orthodox person when his own minister is unavailable could be honestly construed as luring the faithful away.

Nor am I so sure that the Orthodox Churches have no equivalent to the last canon in the Code of Canon Law which reminds us that the salvation of souls is the Church's supreme law.

Meanwhile, a Latin-rite military chaplain asked about the following situation: "My concern is the propensity of one of our Anglican ministers to use the blessed oils as he anoints the non-Catholic patients he sees. Although this minister considers himself Anglo-Catholic, he has not gone through the process of becoming a Roman Catholic priest. He respects the blessed species reserved in the tabernacle (in a separate Blessed Sacrament room). Don't the blessed oils deserve the same respect?"

There is a great difference between the Blessed Sacrament and the holy oils. But the oils should also command respect because they are the proper matter for a sacrament.

The Church would not recognize the sacramental nature of the anointing performed by the Anglican minister as it does not officially recognize the validity of Anglican orders. Although the Anglican minister probably has the best of intentions, it would be best to suggest that he obtain oil elsewhere so as to avoid even the appearance of simulation of a Catholic sacrament.

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