A new book of prayers for laypeople ministering to the sick could be on its way

anointing of the sick A priest administers the Anointing of the Sick. | Kristina Ismulyani/Shutterstock.

The bishops of the United States are set to vote this week to create a new book of prayers for the comfort and healing of the sick specifically designed for laypeople to use. 

Father Andrew Menke, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship, told CNA that he hopes the potential new prayer book will be helpful for laypeople who want to minister to the sick, especially when a priest is unavailable. 

Only priests are allowed to perform the sacrament of anointing of the sick, which can be administered whether or not the sick person is in danger of death with the hoped-for effect of physical and spiritual healing. But there are several liturgical books — including the book used for the anointing of the sick — that include material that is specifically designed to be used by laypeople when a priest isn’t available, Menke noted. 

The book that the bishops are voting to create will be a compilation of those prayers, drawn from multiple sources traditionally used in ministry to the sick, he said.

“There’s all these things that are buried in books used by priests for the most part, but which are designed for laypeople,” Menke said. “So we’ve pulled all those things out, those extracts, and put them into one book, and we’re calling it Lay Ministry to the Sick.”

Menke said many parishes with an active ministry to the sick likely produce their own pamphlet listing prayers for the sick, but this book will be more official and robust. 

“A pastor can put this book into the hands of the folks who help him in visiting the nursing homes, hospitals, and places where there isn’t a priest-chaplain every day, but there might be a layperson there,” he said. 

Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee on divine worship, will present on the English- and Spanish-language editions of “Lay Ministry to the Sick” during the U.S. bishops’ fall meeting Nov. 14–17.

Menke emphasized that, assuming the book is approved by two-thirds of the bishops, it may be a couple of years before the book makes it into the hands of lay Catholics. After the vote this week, the Vatican will need to approve it. 

This is because the prayer book is part of an ongoing project by the bishops to revise all liturgical translations for accuracy. Thus, all the source material for this book has been newly translated from Latin in the past five years or so, Menke said.

Also being put up for a vote at the USCCB fall meeting will be new English and Spanish translations, from Latin, of the entire book of “Anointing of the Sick and Their Pastoral Care,” from which priests read when performing the sacrament. The changes made to those translations are ones the faithful are unlikely to notice, as it will primarily affect priests, Menke said. 

Blair will also present updates on the canonization causes of three American women during the fall meeting. 

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