May 2012 Print


Is the administration of Extreme Unction valid if the priest does not anoint the hands and feet?

The proximate matter of the sacraments consists in the application of the remote matter to the person receiving the sacrament. For Extreme Unction the remote matter is the Oil of the Sick. The proximate matter is the action of anointing with the holy oils. In the different rites of the Church and even in the history of the Roman rite there have been different anointings, indicating the purification of the sins committed with each of the senses. The traditional Roman Ritual contains the anointing and order fixed by the tradition of the Roman Church, namely the anointing of the two organs, right first followed by the left, in the order: eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, hands, and feet.

It is quite clear from this variation in the history and rites of the Church that Christ did not institute the remote matter in a determined way, but rather in a general way, as an external anointing of the body, symbolizing and producing the interior anointing of the soul by the grace of the sacrament. Thus it is that the Code of Canon Law states that any one anointing on any one sense, or in any one part of the body, suffices for the validity of the sacrament (Canon 947 in the 1917 Code and Canon 1000 in the 1983 Code). Consequently there can be no doubt that the omission of the anointings on the hands and the feet does not invalidate the administration of the sacrament.

The question of the lawful administration of the sacrament is quite different. A distinction has to be made between the case of necessity, or the urgent case, in which there is only time for one anointing, as the person is at the immediate moment of death. In such a situation, the anointing, according to the traditional rite, must be done on the forehead, as containing all the other senses. However, if time remains afterwards, the priest is to go back and then perform all the other anointings that were omitted, for the sake of integrity.

Outside the case of necessity, a further distinction must be made. The anointing of the feet may be omitted for any reasonable cause at all (Canon 947, §3), such as the simple question of modesty or inconvenience. Consequently, a person ought not to be surprised or concerned if the priest omits the anointing of the feet. This is not the case, however, with the hands, which must always be anointed, with the correct formula, for the sacrament to be lawfully administered. There can, nevertheless, be an exception even here. It happens from time to time that a person is lacking the organ that is to be anointed, such as an ear, or a hand or a foot. In such a case, the anointing is to be done on the adjoining part of the body, if it is possible. If this is not possible because there is no adjoining part of the body, then the anointing is to be omitted. For example, there is to be no anointing of the hands and feet in the extraordinary case of a person who lacks both arms and legs. Outside of these special cases, a priest who would carelessly or deliberately omit the anointing of the hands would be culpable of a fault, but the sacrament would still be both valid and fruitful for the person who received it.

It is very unfortunate that the new rite for the “anointing of the sick” does not impose the traditional order of anointing, with its profound symbolism of the purification from the effects of all the sins committed with the various senses, and that as a consequence some might not appreciate the true value of the traditional order of anointing.


Should a lay person have a spiritual director?

Father Tanquerey in his standard textbook The Spiritual Life lists four principal exterior means of perfection that are normally necessary for the sanctification of souls. Spiritual direction is the first, for it “provides safe guidance” (p. 257). He goes on to explain that if spiritual direction is not absolutely necessary for the sanctification of the soul, it is nevertheless “one of the normal means of spiritual progress” (ibid.).

The error of those who maintain that we do not need spiritual direction is in fact well refuted by Pope Leo XIII in his 1899 encyclical condemning false Americanism, Testem Benevolentiae. Speaking against the innovators, who place natural virtues above supernatural virtues and active virtues above passive virtues, he invokes the whole of Catholic Tradition in the spiritual life, and how this innovation is a refusal to be directed by our elders. He invokes, to establish his point, the case of Saul, at the moment of his conversion. He was told to go to Damascus, to find Ananias “and there it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:7). The pope goes on to explain that God generally works upon men through the intermediary of another man, just as a spiritual director does upon those who trust in him: “God in His infinite providence has decreed that men for the most part should be saved by men; hence He has appointed that those whom He calls to a loftier degree of holiness should be led thereto by other men, ‘in order that’ as Chrysostom says, ‘we should be taught by God through men’” (In The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII, p. 447).

All the spiritual authors admit the necessity of a spiritual director in the religious life, since it is a state of perfection, and since the religious has the obligation of tending towards holiness, and hence to have a guide to guide him and protect him from the dangers and deceit of pride, illusion, self-deception, excessive mortification, scruples, and the like. The question arises as to persons in the world, who say that they do not have the same obligation of tending towards perfection. It is certainly true that they do not have the special obligation of the vows, but they still retain the obligation of the Christian life itself, contained in the saying of Our Lord, “Be you therefore perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). For he who does not advance in charity will certainly fall back. The interior life cannot be static.

St. Francis de Sales, the most renowned spiritual director, in his Introduction to the Devout Life, considers this to be a matter of great import: “Do you want to advance confidently along the path of perfection and the love of God? Then seek someone who can direct you. This is the most important advice I can give you. Search though you may, you will never find the will of God so surely as by the way of humble obedience” (Bk. I, Ch. 4).

Spiritual direction generally goes along with confession, and it is advised for ladies to do it then and there. Yet it is not the same thing as it, but goes much further. “Confession limits itself to the accusation of faults; direction goes far beyond this. It reaches the causes of sin, deep-rooted inclinations, temperament, character, acquired habits, temptations, imprudences. This is in order to discover the right remedies, such as go to the very roots of the evil. In order to combat defects the better, direction is also concerned with virtues opposed to them, the virtues common to all Christians, and those special to each particular class of persons…” (Tanquerey, p. 262).

Consequently, the simple fact of going regularly to confession does not constitute spiritual direction. We need to ask our confessor to direct our soul, encourage us onwards, tame our imprudent impulses, and be the physician of one’s soul: “Why should we wish to constitute ourselves directors of our own souls when we do not undertake the management of our bodies? Have we not noticed that physicians, when ill, call other physicians to determine what remedies they require?” (Tanquerey, p. 260).

A soul who is at a crossroad in life, or a soul who earnestly wishes to grow in the interior life, needs to find a spiritual guide. True, he need not be our regular confessor, yet he must be a priest who understands our soul with all its failures, weaknesses, and pettiness. How otherwise could he be our physician? If we cannot expect to have a saint as a spiritual director, let him be at least a man of God who has the necessary knowledge of ascetical and mystical theology. He needs also to understand souls from the intimate experience of years spent in the confessional. Finally, he must be a priest eager for God’s zeal who has at heart our spiritual progress. We can hardly expect proper spiritual direction from priests imbued by the errors of Vatican II and post-conciliar Modernism which have watered down all seeking for sanctity.

Members of Third Orders ought to consider it a necessary means for their advancement in perfection that they have a priest who is a spiritual director, and who understands profoundly the spirituality of their order, and who preferably is a member of it. They should not fall into the trap of seeking spiritual direction from one another, but from one who is charged with this responsibility before God. If it has been said that the first spiritual director of a wife is her good and prudent husband, it remains true that a really spiritual woman needs also the second guide who, alone, has the grace of state of the confessor and director of souls. She will advance in perfection if she finds a spiritual father who, in her regular confessions, will encourage her to fight against her faults and strive to please her husband in all things.