There are times when there are limits to social distancing.

The Boston Archdiocese is organizing teams of priests to provide the Sacrament of the Sick, a traditional Catholic anointing end-of-life ceremony, to COVID-19 patients at hospitals around the state.

M.C. Sullivan, a former nurse and the Chief Healthcare Ethicist for the Archdiocese of Boston, organized the program, which includes nearly every single hospital in the state’s Catholic network. Sullivan says she leaned on her medical background to convince the hospitals — many of whom initially rejected the idea — that the process would be safe for patients, hospital staff and the priests themselves.

“I wanted to make sure they understood that the priest would not get in the way, that they would only be in the room for seconds, and only at the foot of the bed,” Sullivan told WGBH News. “We had to educate them about what this is, but also figure out how to make things as efficient as possible and to make sure that the priests are not unduly exposed to the illness.”

Thirty priests in eight teams have been deployed to 45 hospitals in the state to provide an altered version of the ceremony, which is traditionally administered to people who are approaching death. Instead of saying a prayer beside the bed of the patient, priests say a prayer outside the room, and very quickly enter to anoint the patient with Oil of the Sick, an oil that has been blessed for this purpose.

Instead of anointing the patient on the forehead, holding their hand and standing beside them as a priest normally would, the priests enter the room quickly, anoint patients on the foot, and leave shortly after.

Sullivan says she explained to doubtful medical professionals that the ceremony is “more than a blessing” to Catholics under their care.

“It's not that something happens if they don't get it, but it's a huge part of the consolation and the comfort for seriously ill patients and their families,” she said. “We say it brings spiritual healing, and that's a crucial element in the presence of serious illness or possible death.”

The priests who work in the program are all volunteers under the age of 45, and work exclusively with COVID-19 patients. According to Sullivan, “dozens” of other priests have volunteered and are ready to jump in, should a member of the current cohort become sick.

In an email newsletter, Cardinal Sean O’Malley thanked the priests who have participated in the program. “We are very grateful to the priests who have volunteered to serve in this ministry, and we ask everyone to pray for them, their mission and their safety,” O’Malley said.

The priests cannot use their regular oil stocks because of possible contamination, so O’Malley had a special ceremony to bless a new shipment of oil and distribute the new Oil of the Sick to priests on the COVID-19 response team.

Sullivan says the program will continue as long as COVID-19 patients continue to be admitted to hospitals in the archdiocese.

The response from family members, patients and staff members has been extremely positive, according to Sullivan. “Staff members and administrators in the hospitals have been really pleased about the way this has worked out,” she said. “They're thrilled for their patients, who they know feel better to the extent that they are aware of things.”

On one of the first days of the program in early April, a priest went to do the sacrament for the first time, and Sullivan says a nurse asked him to bless the staff when he came out of the room, following his anointing of the patient. “He thought she just meant the few team members that were right there,” Sullivan said, “and when he came out, 25 staff members had assembled for the blessing.”