What is the place of healing prayer - even with the practice of "laying on of hands" - in the work of the Chaplain, spiritual director or similar helping professions in the pastoral or health care? What could be the appropriate ways of introducing a healing service in the mission of helping others spiritually?
It seems that such prayer might be a normal and essential part of the professional and spiritual counseling. More properly "fitting" in the service of a Catholic than questionable techniques such as reiki, etc. This type of prayer is intended to foster with the healing grace of God the medical healing (also the psychological and spiritual wholeness) of the patients.
When it comes to the argument against this type of prayer that it be confusing to people; I think the solution is education, presentation, and much, much patience. People/patients might not be prepared to accept a layperson's approach as much as from a priest. Still, much could be done with "good manners", being respectful of sensibilities, and by no means push our services on anybody. On the other side one should not be discouraged from introducing the possibility of prayer for healing.
It might be good form to organize (wherever it is possible) such prayer services in the form of meetings in a chapel, or other appropriate places and where there is not a personal pressure on the individual for this prayer but they might grow in desire to ask for it. I would do in such a meeting some common prayer and then offer to pray personally for whoever wishes for various problems they might have (many people are happy to receive prayer/blessing when facing an operation, for example). So it would be two parts in a meeting, common prayer with some little introductory thoughts - not sermon, but just simple explanation what is this type of prayer and encouraging, consoling words to the sufferers.
Of course, it is good if there is a little group doing this service - much can be done by involving volunteers in it. During this service one can offer the possibility to visit patient in the hospital - if they prefer and/or cannot come to the common service. In this way one would approach with the prayer the people who already want it
and are open for receiving healing graces that many times might be quite different from what we asked originally, but surely bring with them consolation, courage and trust in God.
Another question is if and how to include annointing in this prayer. The Sacrament of the Annointing of the Sick is restricted to ordained priests whether by oil of the sick or of other oil (as underlined here http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20050211_unzione-infermi_en.html ) - for present Church rules I believe, not for doctrinal necessity - yet there is the sacramental form of the blessed oil that can be used by lay persons, as well although the blessing of this oil is performed by priests. The blessing of the oil can be found in the “Book of Blessings” or in the Rituale Romanum at this web site for example
(THE ROMAN RITUAL, Translated by PHILIP T. WELLER, S.T.D. Copyright 1964 Philip T. Weller: PART XI. BLESSINGS AND OTHER SACRAMENTALS - 8. BLESSING OF OIL see the full text in the Note below [i] )
Explaining the difference between sacrament and sacramental (on the analogy of baptismal water and holy water) the patients can access to a powerful means of healing/liberation/ strength/consolation. In this case the prayer is called not “anointing” but “blessing”, not a sacrament but one of the sacramentals and it might be used by lay people in various circumstances ( like in this directive of the Diocese of San Diego
http://www.diocese-sdiego.org/Handbook/Handbook_HTMLs/Liturgy%2010/Liturgy10.html ). It is important to know how the local ordinary regulates this practice, and he might restrict the use of the blessed oil in public healing service to priests (as we know of a concrete instance). However, for private use there is no need of the permission from the bishop.
There is an interesting clarification about this practice given by Cardinal Ratzinger: "The document in question [INSTRUCTION ON CERTAIN QUESTIONS REGARDING THE COLLABORATION OF THE NON-ORDAINED FAITHFUL IN THE SACRED MINISTRY OF PRIEST
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/laity/documents/rc_con_interdic_doc_15081997_en.html ] was addressing the issue of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick which can be administered only by an
ordained priest. Non-ordained laity are not allowed to administer this sacrament with the Oil of the Sick nor to use any blessed oil to administer this sacrament. When I [Bishop Sam Jacobs of the Diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana] was in Rome in March for the Ad Limina visit, I asked Cardinal Ratzinger about this question. He assured me, in front of the other bishops from Region V, that the document was only referring to the sacrament of the sick and not to the ancient custom of lay people using blessed oil, even when praying for the sick, as long as a clear distinction was being made between the sacrament of the sick and sacramental use of blessed oil, as is done with blessed salt, palms, ashes, etc.
I asked that a clarification be made to the effect and he assured me
one would be coming." (source: http://ccc.garg.com/ccc/articles/nonattributed/Blessed_Oil.html )
I recall to have read somewhere about the historical background of the use of oil at the visit of sick and that it was a custom in the early Church to use the oil from the lamps that burnt at the tombs of martyrs. It was retained as having a special healing power. I have found some reference here: "Oil in Church Lamps" at
I would be cautious to not raise expectations in concrete cases in the sense that the patient does expect a sure miracle and gets disappointed if healing does not occur in the way he/she hoped. This goes also for family members who might ask for prayer for their loved ones.
For lay ministers or spiritual workers being taken as a priest it can be sort of embarrassing. What could we do? If after clarification and explanation they still call you "Father", so let it be - until the next encounter. Might be that the patient him/herself feels embarrassed when the word "Father" automatically slips off of his/her lips. We are so accustomed that a figure of authority should be a "Father" or at minimum a "Reverend Mother"! If it happens you can find consolation in the fact that at least they still thought you to be Catholic priests! For me it happened more than once that they thought of me as a heretic, or of a cult or strange religion - that could have been also funny if not embarrassing.
I remember also the uneasiness when needed to explain repeatedly that I am not a religious (funny word, suggesting that only members of orders are "religious") but a layperson; but this repeated experience helped also to develop and strengthen my "lay identity", the conviction is that we have a distinct role and spirituality in the Church on our own right. And basically the Church is first of all "lay" (coming from "laos" =people in Greek) as "the people of God". The various functions come as secondary to it.
These are just some thoughts that now occurred to me, partially on the base of past experiences. I know, the situation of Chaplains and mostly of lay Chaplains working in hospitals does not permit always too much freedom of action, but I hope that there are ways and occasions to offer the healing power of the Holy Spirit that one can search for.
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[i] PART XI. BLESSINGS AND OTHER SACRAMENTALS
8. BLESSING OF OIL
P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
God's creature, oil, I cast out the demon from you by God the
Father + almighty, who made heaven and earth and sea, and all
that they contain. Let the adversary's power, the devil's
legions, and all Satan's attacks and machinations be dispelled
and driven afar from this creature, oil. Let it bring health in
body and mind to all who use it, in the name of God + the Father
almighty, and of our Lord Jesus + Christ, His Son, and of the
Holy Spirit, the Advocate, as well as in the love of the same
Jesus Christ our Lord, who is coming to judge both the living and
the dead and the world by fire.
P: Lord, heed my prayer.
All: And let my cry be heard by you.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: May He also be with you.
Let us pray.
Lord God almighty, before whom the hosts of angels stand in awe,
and whose heavenly service we acknowledge; may it please you to
regard favorably and to bless + and hallow + this creature, oil,
which by your power has been pressed from the juice of olives.
You have ordained it for anointing the sick, so that, when they
are made well, they may give thanks to you, the living and true
God. Grant, we pray, that those who will use this oil, which we
are blessing + in your name, may be delivered from all suffering,
all infirmity, and all wiles of the enemy. Let it be a means of
averting any kind of adversity from man, made in your image and
redeemed by the precious blood of your Son, so that he may never
again suffer the sting of the ancient serpent; through Christ our
It is sprinkled with holy water.