Q. Our 4-year-old was in the hospital, and we asked our priest to perform the anointing of the sick. He said that Church law does not allow this. Is that true?
A. Please be assured of our prayers for your family as your child recovers from an illness. Anointing of the sick is a sacrament that “commends the faithful who are dangerously ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, in order that he relieve and save them.”
Anointing of the sick may be offered to those in danger of death, and those who have “attained the use of reason,” which is presumed to happen at the age of 7.
The reason a child must reach the age of reason before receiving the sacrament is because the sacrament effects a spiritual healing, using the sacramental sign of physical healing. The primary effect, spiritual healing, only makes sense for those who have sinned, which requires the ability to choose.
The sacrament protects us against doubt, despair, and discouragement as we face death and our judgment. But since children who have never sinned have no reason to be afraid, they are not in need of that protection. Nor are they in need of the forgiveness for particular sins which comes along with the sacrament of anointing.
The anointing of the sin aids sinners in the way of salvation. Children who have been baptized, and not yet chosen sin, are not in need of the aid the sacrament offers. We can be assured that God, who is merciful and loving, will strengthen them in the time of their need.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.