Q. My mother, a baptized member of the Baptist tradition, is 92 years old. She is currently hospitalized with some very serious health issues that may result in the end of her natural life.
I am a Roman Catholic, an ordained permanent deacon. I would like to know your view on whether to have my parish priest administer the sacrament of anointing (of the sick) to my mother. She is not asking for this, is likely not sufficiently lucid to understand and would not have understood the sacrament even before the deterioration of her health.
At some level, I suppose having her anointed would provide a sense of peace to my wife and me. Are we off base? (Evansville, Ind.)
A. The church’s Code of Canon Law, in No. 844, speaks to your situation. In reference to the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick, that canon provides that “if the danger of death is present … Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”
The effects of the sacrament of anointing include, among others, “the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of penance; the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul; (and) the preparation for passing over to eternal life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1532).
Given those effects, I can understand why it would be of great comfort to you to have your mother anointed. However, a key element here is that your mother never asked to be anointed, and I would consider it a violation of her privacy and privilege to confer the sacrament on someone who (as the canon stipulates) has not sought it on her own accord.
Certainly it would be proper for you and/or your parish priest to pray at your mother’s bedside that God will bless her with strength and peace. I would suggest, too, out of respect for your mother’s religious preference, that you might invite a Baptist minister to pray over her. (I’m not sure of her state of awareness, but that might give her added comfort.)
Be at peace. No doubt your mother has lived a good life (including raising a deacon for the church). I’m quite sure that God has this all figured out and is waiting to bring her home.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.