September 2016 Print


by Fr. Peter R. Scott, SSPX

Can a priest require a child to perform apostolic or social work before receiving the sacrament of Confirmation?

The Church’s requirements for the reception of Confirmation are clearly laid out in the 1917 Code of Canon Law and in the appendix to the Roman Ritual. These are that he be validly baptized, have at least the age of around seven years (Canon 788), that he be in the state of grace, and that if he have the use of reason, that he be sufficiently instructed (Canon 786), according to his level of understanding, in the nature, dignity, and effects of this sacrament and the dispositions necessary to receive it worthily, and that, accordingly to the traditional custom, he be fasting.

The rights of the pastor in this domain correspond to his duties. He must establish the certitude of baptism by obtaining an original baptismal certificate, he must ensure that all candidates for Confirmation have the opportunity to make a good confession beforehand, and he must determine that the candidates have been sufficiently instructed. The level of instruction is going to depend upon the age, abilities and education of the candidate. He must ascertain that the candidate knows the basic truths of the Catholic Faith, that he understands that Confirmation is one of the seven sacraments and what this means, and that he knows the four principal effects of this sacrament. Although a more detailed knowledge is required with increasing age and ability, the priest will generally not refuse the sacrament to a child who has the knowledge of which a well instructed seven or eight year old is capable, unless the gross negligence in learning the catechism demonstrates the lack of sufficient disposition to profit from the sacrament.

The Church in no way requires that the candidate for Confirmation perform works of an apostolic or social nature, such as bringing a friend or relative to the traditional Mass, teaching catechism, speaking to non-Catholics about the Faith, or picketing an abortion clinic. Apart from the fact that a child of around seven is generally not capable of doing such things, they require the fortitude that is given by the sacrament, not presumed ahead of time as a preparation. The priest’s duty is rather to ensure that those who have already received the sacrament, exercise the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost in a special way, and are encouraged afterwards to live up to the grace of their Confirmation by the open profession of their Faith and by living an exemplary Catholic life, which is most apt to draw souls to the Church.

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. The anointing of the loins is no longer practiced, as it once was, and both the ritual and the traditional Canon Law ask that it be omitted.

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, can 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 ber 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 one always announce a mystery when one announces a decade of the rosary for a special intention?

The rosary is both a mental prayer and a verbal prayer. The completeness or integrity, but not the efficacy, depends upon observing both aspects of this wonderful prayer in honor of Our Lady. Consequently, just as the Our Father’s and Hail Mary‘s ought to be recited correctly, and without undue haste, so likewise ought the mystery be announced that is to be meditated upon. Furthermore, it is also very beneficial to announce a special fruit or grace to be gained through the decade or rosary, for it helps the meditative aspect of the rosary when we understand what grace we are seeking to obtain.

It can and does frequently happen that when we recite a decade of the rosary for a special intention, such as vocations, that the particular mystery is not announced, especially if it is an additional decade. The reason for this is that the power of impetration is especially emphasized. However, it would certainly be preferable in such a case to announce a mystery, so that the recitation of this particular decade could also be a meditation as well as an intercession, and so that it could profit those who recite it as well as those for whom it is said. In this way, in fact, the decade will in fact be more efficacious, for the effectiveness of our prayers depends upon our conformity with the will of God, and this in turn is largely produced by meditation.

Let us, consequently, announce each decade as completely as possible, indicating the mystery, the grace requested, and the special intention (if there is one) for which it is offered.