When does Anointing of the Sick forgive mortal sins?


You learn something new all the time. I didn’t know until a few months ago that Anointing of the Sick forgives sins. Upon learning that, however, I realized how much sense it made: after all, the Biblical verses that speak of this Sacrament do say that it forgives one’s sins.

But how does Anointing of the Sick overlap - or not overlap - with Confession? Let’s say a Catholic receives Anointing of the Sick in a state of mortal sin. Does Anointing of the Sick wipe away even those serious sins? Does the person ever have to confess those particular sins?

Please note this is just a hypothetical. I am not sick, nor do I avoid frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation, nor do I seek any excuse to do so.


It is my understanding that the sacrament of the sick can indeed bring us God’s forgiveness of mortal sins, but that normally, by virtue of Church law, we are still required to verbally confess our grave sins when able to do so. The sacrament of the sick would wash away one’s mortal sins if one was no longer able to speak or properly communicate.




That makes sense. Thanks, guys.

So what are the rules regarding, say, this hypothetical situation:

A Catholic goes to a Mass in which Anointing of the Sick is offered partway through (I’ve been to plenty of Masses that do this at certain times of year). This Catholic has a chronic illness, and for that reason plans to receive. He also happens to be conscious of unconfessed grave sin - and he does plan to confess these sins soon, at his very next Confession. But obviously that’s not going to happen during this Mass.

He receives Anointing of the Sick with the others who present themselves for the Sacrament, and the Mass goes on.

Should he receive Holy Communion when it is offered to the faithful?


I would say no, and furthermore, he should not be anointed in that state. If one is conscious of unconfessed mortal sin, he is not to receive any of the “sacraments of the living,” which are all of the sacraments except Baptism and Confession, the “sacraments of the dead.”

While it is a good thing to be anointed, in this scenario, it would be much better for the person to neither be anointed nor receive Communion. After confessing, he could then be anointed and receive the Eucharist.

A different and unrelated question is whether the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick would be appropriate to receive at all in the given circumstances of health. A chronic illness might be the appropriate time to receive the sacrament, but it might not be as well.


I see.

So Anointing of the Sick is considered one of the Sacraments of the living even though one *can *receive it in a state of sin? (i.e. a person in danger of death who is physically unable to confess will have his sins forgiven by this Sacrament)


More or less. What it comes down to is that when one is unable to confess, one is free of that requirement. The church does not expect us to do the impossible. It’s the same with viaticum. If someone can receive the Eucharist, but can’t talk in order to confess, it is permissible to give them the Eucharist, provided other conditions are met, such as the person demonstrated when he could talk a desire to be reconciled, or there was at least a well-founded hope that he would confess if able. Given the relative frequency of death bed conversions, this “hope” can be pretty liberally interpreted. (on the other hand, if the person were a committed apostate, for instance, we would respect his obvious wishes and not administer the sacraments. The Church does not impose belief or reception of the sacraments on anyone.)

Ideally, the person will be able to make some gesture, squeeze a hand, blink their eyes, something, to symbolize contrition for their sins. In this case, the prayer of absolution is prayed, the person is anointed, given the apostolic pardon, viaticum, and then the prayers for the dying are prayed,

Basically, the principle is that in danger of death, the salvation of the soul always takes precedence. It’s not that we throw out all of the rules, but we err on the side of caution. Better to anoint someone or give an unrepentant sinner communion, than to deny viaticum to someone who is repentant and can’t express it due to an incapacity beyond their control.


It does forgive sins, if one is contrite. If one is not contrite then there is no efficacy of sacramental grace. Since when unconscious we do not know if the person is contrite, the benefit of the doubt is called upon. It is not to be conferred on those persisting in manifest grave sin, nor on those not “having reached the use of reason”.

CIC Can. 1004
§1. The anointing of the sick can be administered to a member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age.
§2. This sacrament can be repeated if the sick person, having recovered, again becomes gravely ill or if the condition becomes more grave during the same illness.

Can. 1005 This sacrament is to be administered in a case of doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead.

Can. 1006 This sacrament is to be conferred on the sick who at least implicitly requested it when they were in control of their faculties.

Can. 1007 The anointing of the sick is not to be conferred upon those who persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin.

Catechism of St. Pius X:

The sacrament of Extreme Unction produces the following effects:
(1) It increases sanctifying grace;
(2) It remits venial sins, and also mortal sins which the sick person, if contrite, is unable to confess;
(3) It takes away weakness and sloth which remain even after pardon has been obtained;
(4) It gives strength to bear illness patiently, to withstand temptation and to die holily;
(5) It aids in restoring us to health of body if it is for the good of the soul.


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