(This is second part, please go to previous blog to follow the argument. Putting ideas on paper.)
History. One the day of my ordination May 18, 1996 A friend of mine told me of a about a very sick baby at Fairfax Hospital. (Interesting enough that is where I am now a chaplain.) I left my ordination party with the sacred oil to go bless the baby. I remember seeing a small boy who looked very sick. I remember seeing all these wires and tubes.
I said to the mom and dad, “Do you believe that if I anoint your son he will be healed?’ One of the last classes that I had at the seminary was a class on the sacrament of anointing of the sick. One of the themes of the class was that in the early church when people were anointed there was an expectation that they would be healed. But over the centuries anointing became more and more associated with death. Therefore, the lively expectation of receiving a miracles was lost. I also didn’t yet realize that Church law forbid giving the sacrament of healing to a child younger than 7. The reason being that anointing takes away sin. A child below the age of 7 cannot sin, i.e. he/she cannot receive the sacrament of anointing. Over the years I have argued that this line of reasoning why a child under the age of 7 cannot be anointed reflects an outdated theology of the sacrament. Anointing is about healing and less about preparing for death.
I anointed the young boy. I got a call a week later that the boy received a healing. This event on the day of my ordination prefigured my interest in the healing ministry. It was also strengthen my spirit that God truly was moving me and eventually the Church to see that children under the age of 7 could receive the sacrament of anointing of the sick.
My experience reminds me this story. “When she was nine, Imelda decided to enter the Dominican Convent in Val di Pietra. At that time, entering a convent at such a young age was not unusual. Even as a member of the convent, however, she still could not receive communion. She prayed and prayed that Jesus would grant her wish and allow her to receive Him sooner. She waited hopefully for some sign, yet none came. Every time she went to Mass, it caused her great pain that she could not receive. In May of 1333, Imelda was eleven years old. On the eve of the Feast of the Ascension, she asked the priest if she might make her First Communion. Once again, he denied her request. After Mass, Imelda remained in prayer before the tabernacle, begging Jesus to come to her. Another sister who had stayed behind to clean the chapel saw a great miracle taking place. The Eucharist had come out of the tabernacle and was hovering above Imelda’s head. This sister ran to get the priest who immediately gave communion to Imelda. The other sisters left Imelda alone to pray after this miraculous event. Several hours later, two sisters came to check on her. When they touched her, they realized she had died in a state of ecstasy. Imelda was beatified in 1826. In 1910, Pope St. Pius X began to allow children to receive Holy Communion at age seven. He also named Imelda the patroness of First Communicants. Her body is incorrupt.” Pius X concluded that if God saw fit to give this young girl communion it must be His will to allow all children to receive communion at a younger age.
As far as I remember that little boy was the only child I gave the sacrament of anointing to. But 9 years into my priesthood. I offered to anoint a young boy of 6. When news of this got to the Bishop office I was called in and told that this is against the law of the Church. I promise the chancery official that I would not anoint a child under the age of 7. And I have been faithful to that promise since. However, when I left the office I said to chancery official that, “This will change. ” He responded to me, “It will never change.” Which I said, “You will see it will change.”
(Please forgive me for mistakes in syntax, punctuation, grammar etc…My point is to start to lay out my argument. My argument fill attempt to flow from the theological, pastoral and historical.)