It was mid-afternoon last week when a phone rang in an American Catholic rectory. A priest picked up.
“Father?” a voice asked with hesitation.
“We’d like your help. Our father is in the hospital. He’s elderly and we’ve been told he’s dying.”
“He has the virus.”
“Will you anoint him?”
“Let me see what I can do,” the priest replied.
Momentarily shaken, if not, admittedly, spiritually weakened, the priest called the hospital. He listened as administrators explained in detail the extra safety measures that must be followed during the pandemic. The proper usage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was explained. The priest agreed to oblige all protocol. The deck was cleared.
But he had to clear his head.
“All of a sudden, there was a lot of tension in my heart. What to do right then did not come easily; I wish I could say it did,” the priest said in an interview on Palm Sunday morning. “But what I kept coming back to was unsophisticated: this is my role as a priest.”
“It’s funny, the other thing that helped me decide was the freedom of celibacy. I have no one to endanger except the Lord, and you can’t pass on the virus to Him,” the priest said.
The priest walked into the hospital room at nightfall with a small kit, wearing his PPE gear. The gentlemen who lay before him was unresponsive. It was quiet as he began to anoint the man.
“It got very emotional in there; what I was doing, the anointing, became very real,” he said. “It’s hard to describe what happened in that room, but I can say it felt like I was helping this suffering man to prepare for death and to meet the Lord, giving him the spiritual nourishment he needed that night.”
The man died two days later. “It brought great comfort and closure to the family,” the priest said. “After the anointing, he was in the Lord’s hands.”
Bishop Mitchell Rozanski was the first American bishop to suspend the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick in his Springfield, Massachusetts diocese. The sacramental Anointing of the Sick is conferred upon those Catholics who are in danger of death.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “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.”
Priests from throughout the country have experienced frustration in gaining entrance into hospitals to anoint the sick, hear confessions and administer Viaticum (reception of the Eucharist before death).
Last week, a priest who was in the middle of granting an elderly woman an Apostolic Pardon (an indulgence given for the remission of temporal punishment due to sin) was removed by security. Nurses stationed across from the ailing woman’s room confronted the priest.
“I was three feet away from the poor woman, standing outside the curtain to her room,” the priest said. “And that’s when I was removed. As a priest in that situation, I am responsible for that woman’s soul. I knew if I pulled that curtain and walked in, that I would have gone to jail. I had a Mass to celebrate later that day. If it was at another time or circumstance, I have to think that I would have been in jail that night.”
After being escorted from the hospital, the priest called diocesan officials to help him to regain entrance, but was told that his diocese had to follow the hospital’s protocol.
“I’m embarrassed that our shepherds aren’t doing everything they possibly can to help priests administer the sacraments. It’s startling, but it seems we’ve submitted and bought into the secular zeitgeist – administering the sacraments to the dying is no longer essential,” he said.
“We used to charge in as priests; now, I guess, we fall back. I find it sad. It is disillusioning to priests. Throughout history, during times of war, plagues and epidemics – the Church Militant and Church Triumphant, they showed us the way. They cared more about tending to eternal fates and the soul than the potential loss of their own body.”
Full story at LifeSiteNews.