By JD Flynn
The chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee on liturgy wrote to U.S. bishops Friday, to clarify issues related to the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick which have arisen during the Church’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“With regard to Penance, it is clear that the Sacrament is not to be celebrated via cell phone,” Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford wrote in a March 27 memo to U.S. bishops.
“In addition, in the present circumstances cell phones should not be used even for the amplification of voices between a confessor and penitent who are in visual range of each other. Current threats against the seal of confession also raise questions about information on cell phones,” Blair added.
“With regard to the Anointing of the Sick, it is not possible for the anointing with oil to be delegated to someone else, such as a nurse or doctor.
Blair explained to bishops that questions about those matters had been referred to the papal representative in the U.S., apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre. The nuncio consulted with Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, who returned with the answers supplied by Blair to the bishops, according to the memo.
The memo came as bishops have worked to devise policies for sacramental ministry that respond to the tightening social restrictions imposed by civil authorities to slow the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. bishops have suspended the public celebration of Mass, and restricted the celebration of other sacraments.
The Archdiocese of Kansas City last week suggested that priests might use cell phones to amplify conversations during sacramental confession, if social distancing policies required a distance or barrier between priest and penitent. The archdiocese told priests that cell phones would be permissible for confession if priest and penitent were within eyesight. The archdiocese declined to respond to questions from CNA about this policy.
Priests in other parts of the country have also indicated their use of cell phones during sacramental confession undertaken with social distancing.
On Friday, the Diocese of Springfield, Mass, rescinded a policy that would have permitted nurses to physically anoint with oil Catholics seeking the anointing of the sick, while priests recited the requisite prayers, if the context of a hospital setting prohibited immediate contact between the priest and the ill Catholic.
In his memo, Blair suggested to bishops that “when it is not possible to administer the Sacrament[ of anointing], then what the Apostolic Penitentiary said about the Sacrament of Penance might be applied analogously to the Sacrament of the Sick: ‘Where the individual faithful find themselves in the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution, it should be remembered that perfect contrition, coming from the love of God, beloved above all things, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness (that which the penitent is at present able to express) and accompanied by votum confessionis, that is, by the firm resolution to have recourse, as soon as possible, to sacramental confession, obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones.’”
More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have contracted the coronavirus, and more than 1,500 have died, as of Friday.