Last week, this article described the background and effects of the sacrament Anointing of the Sick.  This article will focus on how this sacrament is administered.

To begin with, if it is feasible and the recipient has not done so recently, it is preferable for him to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation just before receiving Anointing.  For, as with the cure of the paralyzed man in Capernaum, the curing of the soul is primary to health of the body.  See Mark 2:1-12.  The priest then leads the liturgy with prayers and readings.  As with all sacraments and most Catholic prayers, we begin with the sign of the Cross.  Through this sign, we invoke God by name, for we know Him personally, and recall the cross through which Jesus won for us salvation.  There is then a reading from Scripture; for, as with Mass, the written word proclaims the personal Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Again as with Mass, there are usually intercessions, for we join our common prayers with the sacraments that Christ instituted.

At this point, the priests administers the sacrament by the laying on of hands and anointing with blessed oil.  Assuming that the oil has already been blessed by the bishop he gives thanks for the blessed oil with prayers that invoke God’s compassion for us and the refrain, “Blessed be God who heals us in Christ.”  (If the oil has not been blessed by the bishop, he blesses the oil at this point.)  The priest then lays hands in silence on the head of the person to be anointed.  After this laying on of hands, the priest anoints the recipient, usually on the forehead and the hands, reflecting the desire for cleansing in mind and work.  During this anointing he prays, “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit” and “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”  These prayers reflect pouring forth of grace from heaven, giving cleansing and restoration in body and soul. These two gestures, the laying on of hands and anointing with blessed oil, along with the prayers, are the essence of the sacrament.

Next week this article will conclude the discussion with a description of the symbolism behind the laying on of hands and the oil, as well as an outline of the rest of the anointing liturgy.


Two recent articles have discussed the consolation of faith in the midst of human suffering.  Building upon this theme, it is fitting to conclude our discussion of the sacraments with a description of the final sacrament that Christ gave His Church, Anointing of the Sick.  As with all the sacraments, Jesus Christ inaugurated this sacrament during His public ministry.  From an early time, He called for His disciples to pray for and cure the sick as part of their proclamation of the kingdom of God.  See Luke 9:1-2, 10:8-9.  And, just before ascending into heaven, Jesus told His disciples to lay hands on the sick for their recovery. See Mark 16:18. Building upon this instruction, the letter of James says, “Is any among you sick?  Let him call for the priests of the church, and them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”   James 5:14. Although the precise manner has changed over time, the Church has ever since conferred the sacrament of anointing upon those who are gravely ill for the purifying and strengthening of the soul, the consolation of the mind, and curing of the body.

This sacrament is conferred by a priest upon a member of the faithful who, because of illness or age, is in danger of death, even if that result is not probable or imminent.  It is available to Catholics who are at least at the age of reason; and it can also be received by any baptized Christians who are in danger of death and believe in its efficacy.  The same person can receive the sacrament again if the situation has gotten worse or if there is a relapse after recovery.

As described in the Catechism, there are two guaranteed effects for anyone open to them.  First, the sacrament unites the recipient more to Jesus Christ and thus makes his struggles a source of holiness for himself and the whole Church.  Second, it gives consolation and courage to deal with infirmities, with a particular experience of Christ at our side.  Furthermore, if someone is contrite but unable to receive Confession, Anointing of the Sick confers forgiveness of sins.  The sacrament can also lead to recovery from the illness if that is conductive to salvation.  On the other hand, if death is imminent, the recipient becomes stronger and more open to divine light for the final passage to the greater kingdom.

The next article will describe the symbols used in this sacrament.


Last week’s article discussed the power of baptism to cleanse us of original sin and give us a fresh start in life. This article will describe another effect of baptism, our consecration as Temples of the Holy Spirit.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul described the faithful as temples of the Holy Spirit. See 1 Cor. 3:16-18, 6:19. In ancient Israel, there was one Temple on earth; and it was the dwelling place of God’s glory among us. When Solomon dedicated the Temple in 957 B.C., the wondrous majesty of God filled it with such glory that at first no one dared enter. Due to the sins of the people, the glory of God left the Temple; and the Babylonians destroyed it in 586. But, when the people of God repented and returned from exile, they rebuilt the Temple; and the glory of God returned. In the early second century B.C., a Greek tyrant desecrated the Temple as a part of his effort to suppress the Jewish faith. But the people fought back, regained the Temple and dedicated it again to God. By the time of Christ, not only Jews but God fearers from around the Roman Empire came to worship at the Temple, knowing that they were with God as much as possible on this earth.

The Temple was thus central to the Jewish faith and to presenting this faith to the world. And so, Jesus loved the Temple greatly and visited it often. Because of this love for the Temple, He drove out the merchants and money changers who marred its glory. Through baptism, we receive more than the glory of the ancient Temple, for Jesus shares His life with us. Through Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit and are able to be a people of heroic and supernatural virtue, able to bring the divine presence into the world. When we commit sins, we mar this glory as the money changers did of old; and mortal sin forfeits this glory altogether as the glory of God left the Temple because of the grave sins of the people.

But through repentance and the sacrament of Reconciliation, God is always willing to purify our souls once again. And, if we cooperate with Christ, then when the journey of this life is over, we, with all the faithful, will receive permanent temples of unimaginable light and joy in heaven, where we will be in God’s presence forever.


Last week’s article outlined the overall background and effects of baptism. This article will describe the first of those effects, the purification from original sin.
People sometimes wonder why the Church uses the word sin for a fallen condition that we are born with, and thus are not to blame for. A distinction between three Latin terms, mala, peccata and culpa, is helpful here. In Latin, mala means any evil, that is, the absence of a good that ought to exist, regardless of whether there is any sin involved. Thus, blindness, poverty and early death is a mala even if there is no sin involved.

Peccata, by contrast, is sin, that is something in a free agent (most commonly actions, words, or desires) that is an offense against reason, truth and right judgment, contrary to the law and love of God, even if the person involved is not to blame for it. Thus, a desire can be sinful even if it is involuntary and not blameworthy. A child raised to think that something immoral (e.g., impurity or violence against infidels) is right may not be at fault for his views; but such views, and actions based upon them, are still peccata, sinful and destructive of human nature. And then, if something is sinful and blameworthy, the Latin term is culpa, from which we derive our word culpable.

Original sin is peccata, for it is that deep flaw in human nature, the separation from God caused by the sin of our first parents and handed on as a sort of spiritual genetic defect to all of humanity. From original sin come many effects, including: concupiscence, the tendency toward evil and difficulty at doing what is right; struggle at prayer; darkness of the intellect and difficulty of work; divisions among people even when they are of good will; damage to creation itself; and death. Original sin, in addition to personal sins committed since the fall of Man, created a barrier between God and man, and blocked the path to heaven, for nothing impure enter those glorious realms.

Baptism removes original sin, but not all the effects of original sin. And thus, even after baptism, there are still struggles with concupiscence, difficulty at prayer, weakness in thinking and work, divisions among people, a world that is often against us, and death itself. But, with Christ at our side, we can fight these obstacles and open a path through the wilderness to the realms of everlasting life.


Over the last few months, this article has described five of the seven sacraments. During the next few weeks, this article will discuss first baptism and then anointing of the sick, the sacraments that begin the Christian life and ensure the presence of Christ in illness and eventually at the end of this earthly journey. John the Baptist and other Jewish teachers prepared the way for the sacrament of baptism by baptizing people with water to show their repentance of sins and desire for cleansing from heaven. See Matt. 3:11-12; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:15-17; John 1:25-27, 33.

Those first baptisms were not the sacrament, for they were not instituted by Christ and could not of themselves confer this divine forgiveness. Rather, they reflected a longing for the spiritual healing long promised by the prophets and psalmists. See Ez. 36:25-27. Ps. 51:1, 9. Then, as His public ministry was beginning, Jesus came to John the Baptist to receive the ritual from him. John understandably wondered why Jesus came to him, for it was Jesus who would confer the grace and healing that John’s baptism only symbolized.

But Jesus told him that it was fitting to confer baptism and that it would result in true righteousness. See Matt. 3:13-16. And so, John baptized Jesus and three events followed: (1) the heavens were opened; (2) the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove; and (3) the Father said from the heavens, “You are My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” See Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22. Jesus then instructed His disciples to baptize the people in Israel. See John 3:22-24. And, just before ascending in heaven, He commissioned them, “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Matt. 28:19.

From that time on, the Christian leaders intuitively understood that, through baptism, we begin the Christians life. See Acts. 2:38, 8:12-13, 9:18, 10:48, 16:15; Rom. 6:3-4, 1 Cor. 1:13-16, 12:13; Gal. 3:27. The three events that occurred at the baptism of Jesus reflect the three most central effects of baptism. First, the heavens are opened to us as we are cleansed of original sin. Second, the Holy Spirit comes to us as new temples of the Lord. Third, we become adopted sons and daughters of God. See Catechism 1263-65.

The next two articles will discuss these wondrous gifts conferred in baptism.


Last week’s article described the natural order of marriage.  This article will focus on why we call marriage a sacrament.  For marriage is unique among the sacraments insofar as it was already a sacred institution before the time of Christ and remains so outside of the Christian faith.  What did Jesus Christ add to marriage that made it one of the seven sacraments in the order of grace?

We begin with the fact that John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the groom, an image that Jesus Himself later affirmed.  See Matt. 9:14-15; Mark 2:19-20; John 3:29.  The letter to the Ephesians and the Book of Revelation describe the Church as the bride of Christ.  See Eph. 5:21-33; Rev. 19:6-9, 21:1-3, 9-11.  As a hymn says, “From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride.  With His own blood He bought her.  And for her life He died.”  Their wedding feast is celebrated under symbols at each Mass and will be celebrated in fullness of glory at the end of earthly time.

And thus, every Christian married couple is meant to be a living example of the love between Christ and His Church.  And every Christian family is meant to be what the Vatican II Council calls a “domestic church,” a second Nazareth in which Jesus, Mary and Joseph are welcomed, and the kingdom of God is shown to the world.  See Lumen Gentium (1965) 11; Catechism 1655-58.   As with the Church throughout the world, there will still be struggles, sacrifices and shortcomings.  But, as Jesus said to His people “I will be with you always to the end of the world,” Matt. 28:20, so He promises each Christian couple that He will be with them always, in all the mountains and valleys, the sunshine and the storms of life together.

Thus, every couple married in Christ receives a commissioning and a promise.  The commissioning is to build up God’s kingdom on earth, starting in the home.  A couple is meant to help each other grow in holiness, to teach their children the faith by both word and practice, and to give an example of love, life and faith to a world very much in need of that witness.  And Christ promises that, if they will welcome Him and the Church into their lives, the offerings of married life will, like the seed that falls upon good ground in the famous parable, bear great fruit on earth and make them worthy of eternal life.


The last two articles have focused upon American society and her historic defense of the rights given by God.  This article and the next will return to a discussion of the sacraments and describe what the Vatican II Council calls, “the primordial society,” that is, marriage and the family.

In recent years, there has been much doubt about the essence of marriage and family; and this confusion has led to many of the attacks on religious liberty.  For many people claim that the historic defense of Judeo-Christian principles of marriage and family (and by extension the historic principles of the other great religious traditions) are somehow unfair or intolerant.  But we do not hold that a doctor is being unfair or intolerant when he distinguishes between what leads to good health and sickness, nor an engineer when he distinguishes between what will cause structures to be stable or unstable.  Even more so, defending the natural and supernatural laws that provide the basis for healthy and stable families and societies is simply a matter of truth and charity.

With regard to marriage, Genesis 1 and 2 use a lot of symbolism, but they describe very important realities.  And one of these realities is that God Himself created marriage from the beginning.  We then developed schools, businesses, governments, sports, and the like.  And we can change the rules for the things we created as the situations change, although even in those fields there are enduring principles such as those of justice and natural rights.  However, God Himself created certain structures to give a solid foundation for everything else.  And among those structures are marriage, the ancient Chosen People, the Church and the sacramental system.  Each of these institutions has a crucial role in salvation history.

As Genesis 1 states, “God created man in His own image. . . . male and female He created them.”  Gen. 1:27.  There is a complementarity of masculinity and femininity in humanity, as there is by analogy a complementarity between harmony and melody in music, primary and pastel colors in art, rhyme and meter in poetry, and nouns and verbs in prose.  Marriage brings together this complementarity in a commitment of lifelong and total love.  And this loving union then gives children a father and mother, along with grandfathers and grandmothers one generation up.  This permanent, faithful and complementary love between man and woman and among generations then enables individuals and societies to appreciate the love of God who guides onward to everlasting life.


With Independence Day approaching, and in the midst of the Fortnight for Freedom, the two weeks set aside by the American bishops to pray for religious liberty, it is helpful to reflect upon a great classic of American political thought that has unfortunately been largely neglected in recent years.  In 1960, Fr. John Courtney Murray published We Hold These Truths, which argued that America was founded upon certain propositions that have sustained the national spirit throughout the centuries.  He warned that those propositions were under threat by the pessimism, relativism and decadence of the modern era, but that the Church was in an excellent position to defend them.

In particular, Fr. Murray outlined five propositions that were behind the new political realms that the Revolution created.  First, nations and governments are under the law of God.  Second, that law can be ascertained by reason, and is thus available to people of all faiths, or even no particular faith.  Third, this law of God includes fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, freedom of speech and religion, human dignity, and parents’ ability to raise their children with their values.  Fourth, all people should be able to participate, not only in government, but in all of society.  And fifth, the continuing freedom of a people depends upon it remaining a virtuous people.

As Fr. Murray pointed out, even though few of America’s founders were Catholic (with the notable exception of the great businessman Charles Carrol, who helped finance the Revolution), the Catholic faith is in an excellent position now to uphold these great propositions of our country.  In particular, the Church maintains a great tradition about natural law, that is to say laws discernible by reason that govern human nature and society.  And, with her social teaching, particularly developed from Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Rovarum onwards, the Church has strongly upheld a society guided by the law of God and a focus of human dignity, family and social responsibility.  Furthermore, the Church’s belief that there is a universal call to holiness and that God pours forth wisdom even into the simplest person is a strong basis for allowing all people to participate in society.  And finally, the Christian faith maintains that truth and freedom from sin is essential to any authentic idea of liberty.  In this way, faithfulness to Christ and loyalty to this nation’s heritage of virtuous liberty are joined together.  As Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32.


Last week’s article discussed Holy Orders and religious orders in the church.  This article will give a brief discussion of what we mean by religious orders.

In the early church men and women developed communities away from society to live in deeper prayer and awareness of the greater kingdom.  At first, these communities were away from society to avoid persecution.  But, after the legalization of Christianity in 312 and 313, religious communities expanded as many people sought consecrated life to live more like the saints and angels.  As these communities grew, some early leaders such as St. Augustine, St. Benedict, St. Scholastica and St. Basil the Great wrote rules to govern these communities.  These rules became the basis of religious orders, such as the Augustinians, the Benedictines and the Basilians.  In later centuries, other great religious figures drafted rules for new religious orders.  Thus for example, St. Dominic founded the Dominican order, St. Francis and St. Clare the Franciscans, St. Bruno the Carthusians, St. Ignatius of Loyola the Jesuits, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal the Visitation sisters, and St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Merrilac the Daughters of Charity.  Other founders developed new orders with a revised version of a current rule.  Thus, for example, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton formed the Daughters of Charity with a rule based upon that of the Daughters of Charity.  And the Ignatian rule was the basis for the Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Theresa of Calcutta in 1950, and Miles Christi, founded by Fr. Roberto Yannuzzi in 1994.

Each of these rules reflects the type of spirituality that the founders promoted.  For as the same principles of engineering lead to many different types of architecture, so the same Catholic principles have been the foundation of many different spiritual traditions.  For example, the Benedictines emphasize fine, chanted liturgies and a clear ordering of the day to experience the peace and joy of heaven.  The Dominicans promote the joining of faith and reason and of service and teaching.  And the Jesuits focus upon training the intellect, emotions and imagination in service as soldiers of God.   Although these rules were developed for consecrated religious brothers and/or sisters, many religious communities have a third order formed of faithful men and women in the world who participate in their spirituality.  For all people are called to holiness; and all people can benefit from the great traditions represented by the wide variety of Catholic orders.


Last week’s article discussed in general the sacrament of Holy Orders, through which men become deacons, priests or bishops.  This article will describe some distinctions with regard to Holy Orders and religious orders.

To begin with, a priest can be a diocesan priest or a religious order priest.  Diocesan priests, such as myself, are consecrated for a diocese, a geographic area of the church.  They make vows of obedience to the bishop of that diocese, and their ministry would typically be in that diocese.  Diocesan priests usually serve in parishes, although some diocesan priests have other roles, such as high school and college chaplains, seminary teachers, military chaplains, and chancery officials.  Other priests are consecrated for religious orders, such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, or Jesuits.  A man would decide before entering seminary whether he senses a call to diocesan or religious life, and then to which diocese or religious order he is called.  He would then apply for admittance into formation for that diocese or religious order.  And, if they accept the application, he would begin formation as a seminarian for the diocese or begin preparation for joining the order, usually as a postulant and then a novice.  For a diocesan seminarian, formation is typically six or seven years if he had graduated college before entering, and eight or nine years if he begins formation with a high school degree.  Formation is typically somewhat longer for religious order priests and leads to consecration to the order and to the priesthood.

Religious orders can, and usually do, include both men and women religious in different sides of the order.  The men can prepare for the priesthood or life as a religious brother.  The women prepare for life as a religious sister.  Religious orders may have many apostolates, but they join together the brothers and sisters throughout time and space in a common spiritual tradition.  For example, the Franciscan tradition emphasizes a life of evangelical poverty in order to be more open to the Holy Spirit and the ability to sense Christ’s presence in the poor and the Eucharist and the glory of God reflected in nature.  And Benedictines emphasize the peace that comes from ordering the day in accordance with prayer (often chanted), the careful study of Sacred Scriptures, and humble labor.

Next week’s article will describe further some of these religious orders and traditions.  The two articles after that will discuss the vocation of married life.