I am not a Canon Lawyer, but the Catholic Church makes very clear under Church (Canon) Law that ” The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments.” (source). In essence, while it is true that there can be special precautions taken, the concept of suspending the Sacraments, which are the formal means by which the grace of God is communicated to the faithful, cannot be denied to the faithful.
Thus, it is with great interest that the Bishop of Springfield, MA has according to CNA News suspended the administering of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
After rescinding a controversial policy concerning sacramental anointing of the sick, the bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts told priests Friday afternoon that anointing of the sick is “suspended” within the Diocese of Springfield.
Earlier this week, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski authorized a change to norms for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, permitting a nurse, rather than a priest, to conduct the physical anointing, which is an essential part of the sacrament.
“I am allowing the assigned Catholic hospital chaplains, standing outside a patient’s room or away from their bedside, to dab a cotton swab with Holy Oil and then allow a nurse to enter the patient’s room and administer the oil,” Rozanski told priests in an email March 25.
On Friday afternoon the diocese told CNA it had rescinded that policy.
In fact, Rozanski emailed Springfield priests Friday afternoon explaining that “After further discussion and review, I am rescinding my previous directive and temporarily suspending the Anointing of the Sick in all instances.”
The sacramental anointing of the sick is conferred upon those Catholics who are in danger of death.
“The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God’s will. Furthermore, ‘if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven,’” the catechism adds. (source)
It is true that one must be safe and take precautions when working with the public. However, it cannot come at the expense of the Faith itself and especially giving grace to people who are most in need of it.
It is understandable that bishops find themselves in a difficult place, attempting to balance the needs of the faithful with a desire for public safety and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Church. However, decisions such as this do not help the Church, but tend to do more long-term damage because they establish precedents and ideas that are not only questionable, but can be used to lead to greater suppression of the Faith.
The Church is in a difficult position already in society, and it is not going to become easier as Christianity becomes less popular and more hated. It is well-meaning to restrict certain things, but too much can give the impression that the Church will simply bend over for whatever government policy exists without asserting herself in society. Too much of this can result in any pushback being seen as an anti-social act and thus be used to drive persecution against her. Indeed, there are already some Protestant Churches facing pushback from the authorities for being open during the epidemic, and while one does not want to promote irresponsible behavior, one must also not deny people the ability to worship God or restrict it to the point of not being able to do so.
There has always been a fine line between the government and society that the Church has had to walk to both partake of, bind to, and separate the two groups from each other. the increasingly globalized world with more technology and the ability to make major decisions with long-term consequences quickly has made it more difficult, and now with the added changes to religious belief will likely be part of a larger pattern towards a rise of anti-Christian behavior eventually culminating in a new persecution.