Sacrament of the Sick

Anointing of the Sick – One of the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church.

Who is it for?

If you think the Anointing of the Sick is just for the extremely old or the critically ill or if you assume that only time you can receive it is at the moment of death, you aren’t alone. Most Catholics still think of the sacrament that way. While it is true that Anointing of the Sick is one of the ways the Church helps prepare us for death, it much more than that. It is the sign of Christ’s healing presence in the world.

Who Can Receive?

Anyone, regardless of age, can receive the sacrament if his or her health is seriously impaired. It can be administered before surgery, and contrary to many people’s belief, it can be receive more than once if the original illness gets worse or if another serious sickness is diagnosed.

In the Letter of James in the Bible, James writes, “Is anyone among you sick: He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord, the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise them up”. The words of St. James are still true today – the Sacrament which is the Anointing of the Sick is the Church’s way to continue the healing work of Jesus.

Purpose of the Sacrament?

As the Anointing of the Sick is a Sacrament, it means that through the rite and a ritual (the prayers and actions) of the sacrament, the Real Presence of God is present. The experience of the Sacrament varies from person to person. For some, it may be reassuring; for others it may be comforting to know that in their illness, the Church remembers them and prays with them and reminds them – they are not alone but part of the Church community; for others the anointing can bring healing to them at different levels from the physical to mental to the spiritual.

 What Takes Place?

Despite its potential for drama, the Anointing of the Sick is the lowest key of all the Sacraments. The rite and ritual is short and contains two elements – prayer and anointing with oil. The priest may also distribute Communion to the person being anointed and anyone else who is able to receive.

Faith versus Science?

It is important to remember that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick complements medical treatment. It does not replace it. God uses the skill of the medical staff as well as modern medical techniques to restore health.

Jesus – the Healer.

The Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament which certainly mirrors the actions of Jesus when he walked the earth, spending much of his time healing the sick. In fact, most of His miracles involved curing some kind of illness. In the beginning of Jesus ministry, His reputation as a healer spread rapidly. In his Gospel, Luke tells us about some people who were so anxious to have Jesus cured their paralyzed friend that they cut a hole in the roof of the house and lowered the sick man down to him (Luke 5:18-19). Jesus showed himself to be the long awaited Savior by becoming a healer.

After his death and resurrection, Jesus’ disciples continued to heal the sick. In Ch 3 of Acts of the Apostles, a man how had been crippled from birth asked Peter for some money. Peter said he didn’t have any gold or silver, but Peter said he would give the crippled man something better – the ability to walk. Then, Peter helped the man up and the newly cured man began to jump around, praising God (Acts 3:1-9). This early Church experience lead to a realization that Jesus the Healer continues to be very much present in the Church right up to the current time, even after His death; resurrection and accession (Jesus taken up to Heaven).

Was the Sacrament of Anointing known before as “Extreme Unction” or “Last Rites”?

Yes, though since Vatican II, the Church has returned to the truer origins of the Sacrament as found in Mark 6:7-13 “They anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them”. This change is reflected in the new name of the Sacrament – The Anointing of the Sick. Before Vatican II this sacrament was seen as the final chance to reconcile with God before death hence the name Extreme Unction or Last Rites – extreme referring to the last sacramental anointing after baptism and confirmation to a person needing to be in danger of death before they should be anointed and unction means the rubbing of oil on somebody as part of a religious ceremony. The emphasis of the Sacrament was on the power to forgive sins. This over emphasis on the forgiveness of sin meant people waited until the person was dying before asking for the sacrament for fear if the person received it and was to sin later; they would not be reconciled with God. This false idea flowed from the false concept in the Early Church that (for certain sins at least) forgiveness was limited to a precise number at times. This distorted the purpose of the Sacrament and created misunderstanding which Vatican II seeks to correct.

Suffering and illness have always been among the greatest problems that trouble the human spirit. Catholics feel and experience pain as do all other people; ye their faith helps them to grasp more deeply the mystery of suffering giving them insight to bear their pain with great courage. They recall in Scripture where Christ during His life often visited and healed the sick, and now the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick ascertains He is with the sick today; especially at the times when they are afraid, afflicted; dejected; feeling alone and suffering.

The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick does not remove the mystery of suffering; rather the Anointing of the Sick celebration gives us a window into the mystery of a caring and loving God.