What duties can a female "chaplain" perform?

I work at a hospital where Mass is held twice a week. The hospital priest and the substitute priest are both out sick with the flu. While they have been out, a woman from the chaplain’s office (I don’t know her specific credentials) has been saying the readings and explaining her interpretation of the Scripture readings. Usually, the priest anoints the sick but obviously she can’t do this. Instead, she calls the sick forward to the altar, walks around and holds each patient’s hands, and says a prayer for each of them. I have not witnessed this before and was wondering if this is appropriate.

Exactly what the person from the chaplain’s office is doing at these services is unclear from your report. If she is leading a Communion service, that is something a female layperson can do, provided, of course, that she is authorized to do so (something you can check out with the chaplain’s office). As for the prayers for the sick, any layperson can certainly hold sick people’s hands and say a prayer for them, but it would be less confusing if she did this outside of the regular service because within the service it could appear to be quasi-sacramental. Assuming she is the duly authorized substitute lay leader in the priests’ absence, you might suggest to this person that she pray with the patients individually outside of the Communion service.

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