Anointing of the Sick
ILLNESS IN HUMAN LIFE
Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, we experience our powerlessness, our limitations, and our finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death. Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. Illness can also make us more mature, helping us discern in our lives what is not essential, so that we can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.
ILLNESS IN SCRIPTURE
In the Old Testament, we see many faithful people who live their sickness in the presence of God. It is before God that they lament their illnesses, and it is from God, Master of life and death, that they implore healing. For many faithful people, illness becomes a way to conversion – a passionate opportunity for growth in union with God.
In the New Testament, we witness Christ’s deep compassion toward the sick and his many healings of people who are ill. Jesus has the power not only to heal, but also to forgive sins. He heals the whole person – soul and body. Jesus’ healings are signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announce a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through Christ’s death and resurrection. On the cross, Christ takes upon himself the whole weight of evil and takes away the sin of the world, of which illness is a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross, Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion.
THE CHURCH'S MINISTRY TO PEOPLE SUFFERING ILLNESS
The love of Jesus for the sick is the source of Catholics’ tireless efforts to comfort people who are ill. The Church has received the charge from Christ to “Heal the sick!” (Matthew 10.8). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we strive to carry out this charge by taking care of the sick, as well as by accompanying them with our prayer of intercession. We believe in the continuing, life-giving presence of Christ, the physician of souls and bodies. This presence is particularly active through the sacraments, and in an altogether special way through the Eucharist, the bread that gives eternal life.
THE SACRAMENT OF THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK
In addition to the Eucharist, the Church has had from its beginning a particular rite for the sick, attested to by St. James: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the priests of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5.14-15). Catholic tradition has recognized in this rite one of the seven sacraments, which is especially intended to strengthen those who are being tried by illness – the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
The grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has special effects: the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for the person’s own good and that of the whole Church; the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age; the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was physically not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Penance; the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of the person’s soul; the preparation for passing over to eternal life, whenever this might occur.
WHO SHOULD RECEIVE THIS SACRAMENT?
Although the Church’s earliest traditions of anointing were for people with all sorts of illnesses, not just people who were approaching death, over the centuries, the Anointing of the Sick was conferred more and more exclusively on those at the point of death. Because of that, it received the name “Extreme Unction.” Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has returned to the original practice for the Anointing of the Sick. The Church teaches that the Anointing of the Sick “is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.” For any person who needs this sacrament, it should never be delayed!
The Church teaches that the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick may be received by anyone “whole health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age.” This includes: persons facing surgery when the surgery aims to correct an illness; the elderly who are notably frail or weakened, even when no serious illness has been diagnosed; seriously ill children who have reached the age of reason; and those who suffer serious psychological illness, if they would be strengthened by the sacrament.
If a sick person who received this sacrament recovers health, the person can in the case of another grave illness receive this sacrament again. If during the same illness the person’s condition becomes more serious, the sacrament may be repeated.In all cases, a priest assists ill people who have questions about receiving the Anointing of the Sick.
HOW IS THE SACRAMENT ADMINISTERED?
The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is administered by a priest, who prays for the coming of the Holy Spirit over the sick person, lays his hands on the sick person, then anoints the sick person on the forehead and hands with blessed oil, saying, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” When possible, the priest is assisted by the presence of other members of the Church, who are invited to surround the sick in a special way through their prayers and fraternal attention.
To receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick,
please contact our parish offices at 978-683-9416.