Picture of Eileen Rettig
Re: Part Three of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 1
by Eileen Rettig - Monday, 6 August 2012, 6:09 PM

The Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick have undergone many changes in the two millennia since the time of Jesus and the Apostles. Unlike the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist no exact time or place for their institution can be found in the Gospels and yet the Gospel accounts are full of incidents where Jesus forgave sins and healed the sick. In at least one instance he used a salve made of dirt and spit to open the eyes of a blind man.

The first generation of Christians did not see the need for any formal ritual for the forgiveness of sins outside of Baptism for several reasons. First, they firmly believed the end of the world was imminent. Second, they had a far different concept of sin than developed in the middle ages. Denial of their faith was the only sin they acknowledged at first, but they later added adultery and murder to the list. Once the persecutions stopped the church fathers had to decide what to do about sinners who wished to return to the fold. With a sense of mercy, many bishops decided to institute a program similar to the period of the catechumenate but it could only be gone through once in a lifetime.

During this period a practice of anointing the sick with oil continued. An outgrowth of the ancient practice of pouring olive oil on a person for medicinal purposes it was performed by laypersons and clergy. The source of it as a religious ritual came for the Epistle of James (5:14-15).

The middle ages brought several changes to both rituals. The Irish monks who served as missionaries brought the practice of private confession of sins rather than the public penitence that marked the patristic age but the penances attached could still be severe. In the rebuilding of western society a sense of legalism set in that permeated the understanding of the theologians of the time. The common people became more distant from the clergy and the rituals of the church. Few availed themselves of private confession and even fewer received the sacrament of anointing which had devolved into the sacrament for the dying.

Arguments ensued as to exactly when sins were forgiven in penance or just what the function of anointing the dying served. Did absolution by the priest confer forgiveness, or was he a conduit for God’s forgiveness? Did the final anointing forgive venial sins or remove all punishment accrued from the sins of a lifetime?

The reformers had a number of problems with these two sacraments. First, and most importantly they could not find any scriptural basis for either ritual to be considered a Sacrament. The question with Penance as it was called centered on how a man could grant forgiveness of sins when that belonged to God. Protestants began to follow the custom of simply telling God they were sorry for their transgressions. The complaint about Extreme Unction was that the passage in James refers to anointing the sick, not the dying. The Council of Trent dealt with the issues raised by the Protestant reformers the way it dealt with many of the issues raised by the Reformation. The bishops restated the scholastic definitions of the sacraments and the practices continued with very little change.

In the early twentieth century a few small concessions were made to encourage the laity utilizing these two underused sacraments. First Pius X lowered the age of First Communion to seven and because of the Jansenism movement many people went to Confession/Penance on Saturday, just prior to receiving Communion at Sunday Mass. Those who were seriously ill, but not quite dying could be anointed although to many Catholics this anointing still appeared to be confirming a death sentence. Vatican II brought about changes to these two sacraments, both in name and practice.

GRADE 3 (Accurate summaries; no evaluations.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Tuesday, 31 July 2012, 03:34 PM)