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Anointing of the Sick during the pandemic

When celebrating the Anointing of the Sick, it would be most prudent to adopt practices that limit to the greatest extent possible the spread of COVID-19 from one recipient to another. Utilizing allowances given in the Code of Canon Law and Liturgical Law, it would be optimal to bless fresh oil before each visit to a sick person or before a series of visits to the sick in their homes or in a hospital on a single trip, utilizing cotton balls or Q-tips to apply the blessed Oil of the Sick. If masks are available, please use them while visiting sick patients during this pandemic, especially those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Blessing of the Oil of the Sick

The general introduction in the “Pastoral Care of the Sick” specifies in paragraph 21.b that the law itself permits “In case of necessity, any priest, but only within the celebration of the sacrament”, to bless the oil of the sick. 

Paragraph 22 continues, “If a priest, in accordance with no. 21.b, is to bless the oil during the rite, he may bring the unblessed oil with him, or the family of the sick person may prepare the oil in a suitable vessel. If any of the oil is left after the celebration of the sacrament, it should be absorbed in cotton and burned.”

Use of a Cotton Ball or Q-Tip:

Canon 1000 §2 states: “The minister is to perform the anointings with his own hand, unless a grave reason warrants the use of an instrument.” The COVID-19 pandemic presents such a grave reason. Therefore, I recommend that priests acquire a supply of cotton balls (or Q-tips if cotton balls are not available) as well as medical gloves for administering the sacrament of anointing during the pandemic. Use the cotton ball to dip into the oil and only touch the one being anointed with it. The priest may limit the application of the oil to a single sign of the cross on the forehead (or another part of the body if the head is not accessible). After the anointing, deposit the used cotton ball (or Q-tip) in a zip-lock bag (e.g., sandwich bag) and exercise care in taking your gloves off by turning them inside out, and deposit the gloves in the nearest trash receptacle. When finished with anointing one or more recipients of the sacrament, absorb the remaining blessed oil with cotton and burn it with the cotton ball(s) (or Q-tips) used.