There is a well known scene from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In this scene the villagers are having a heated debate about how to determine if a woman is a witch so that they can give her proper burning. A man with all the requisite pretense of spurious sagacity steps forward and wows the crowd with his wisdom and erudition proclaiming with all the haughtiness of a climate change scientist, “If… she… weighs… the same as a duck,… she’s made of wood. Therefore, a witch!”
We are easily impressed by people, especially presumptively learned people, when they proclaim something to be true with a manifest aura of surety. We, confident in only our ignorance, are thus easily swayed to believe the otherwise unbelievable. This circumstance is deplorable enough when it comes to silly things such as the climate change hype. However, the horror becomes ineffable when we are led away from the faith by elaborate arguments and twisted logic of Catholic intelligentsia.
Fr. John McCartney of St. Matthew’s parish in Dix Hills NY wrote to his parishioners about the nature and origin of the sacraments. When, in his epistle, he arrived at the explanation of the sacrament of anointing the sick, he relayed this story which illustrates the above points well and further provides us the remedy to such pseudo-scholarship.
Of course, there is one Sacrament left: the Anointing of the Sick. When I was in the Seminary, a Vincentian professor told us that this was clearly the one Sacrament that Jesus did not institute Himself.
When questioned how this could be, he responded: “There is absolutely no place in Sacred Scripture where you can find Jesus commanding them to anoint the sick with oil.”He went on to explain that although anointing is mentioned in the Epistle of St. James, (Jas 5:14-16) this was clearly a “creation of the early Church,” and had nothing to do with Jesus. A classmate of mine raised his hand and said, “But Father, what about Mark 6:13?”
And he called to Him the twelve and began to send them out two by two… So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. (Mk 6:7; 12-13)
The teacher, who had a degree from a prestigious university in Europe, at first refused to believe it. A Bible was obtained, and he read the passage in silence. He said he had never remembered reading that passage before. Which is odd, because later in the same Gospel, St. Mark tells us that Jesus said: “In my name they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mk 16:17-18) In the Gospel of St. Matthew Jesus tells the twelve to “Heal the sick.” (Mt 10:8) These and more references to Jesus directly instituting the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick may be found in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, produced in the 1560’s under the direction of St. Charles Borromeo. They may be found as well in the Baltimore Catechism, in addition to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published by Pope John Paul II under the supervision of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. (see CCC 1506). Its institution by Christ is also attested to by many great saints and doctors of the Church. (see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Suppl. Q. 29 Art. 3.) Indeed, the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI , Sacram Unctione Infirmorum (On the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick), Published on November 30, 1972, begins with these words:
The Catholic Church professes and teaches that the Sacred Anointing of the Sick is one of the seven Sacraments of the New Testament, that it was instituted by Christ and that it is “alluded to in Mark (Mk. 6:13) and recommended and promulgated to the faithful by James the apostle and brother of the Lord. If any one of you is ill, he says, he should send for the elders of the church, and they must anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him. The prayer of faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him up again; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven (James 5:14-15).” (quoting the Council of Trent)
This teaches us an important lesson. It is always unwise, not to mention dangerous, to assume we know more than the Church. This does not mean we should not ask questions. On the contrary, it has always been my experience that those who ask no questions are the first to have their faith shaken or destroyed in a crisis. In this day and age all of us must be intelligent and well informed Roman Catholics. We should not immediately assume the Church is in error because we read some article in an anti-Catholic newspaper, or heard some priest in a necktie say so on television. When we have questions we should first look to the rich resources of the Church herself: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the teaching of the Magisterium and the Ecumenical Councils, the writings of the great saints and theologians of the Church over 2,000 years. If we do that, we will come to know Christ more deeply, and will always be prepared to make, as St.Peter said, “A defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.” (1 Pet.3:15)
Good advice Father. Follow the Church and you will let no one deceive you.