The Anointing of the Sick


One of the most powerful ways in which people continue to experience the healing love of the risen Christ is in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  This Wednesday I will teach on this Sacrament at Sacred Heart in Germain Hall at 7:00 pm and on this Tuesday I will teach on the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Patrick in Barker Hall at 7:00 pm.  I hope you will be able to attend one of these classes.

In order that you might better understand the Anointing of the Sick I will briefly sketch the history of the sacrament.  Hopefully this overview will lead all of those who eligible to request the sacrament.

The Anointing of the Sick has its roots in the ministry of Jesus.  In the gospels Jesus is constantly portrayed as one who reached out to those in need of healing.  Jesus offered spiritual, physical and emotional healing during his ministry.  Not only did Jesus heal but also he empowered his disciples to heal through the laying on of hands and through anointing with oil (Mark 6:13).

In the Christian communities of the first century, both the clergy and laity anointed the sick.  Toward the end of the first century the priest was given a special role in the anointing of the sick.  This role of the priest is reflected in the epistle of James, “Is any sick among you?  He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up.  If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven (James 5:14-15).”

Until the 12th century the sacrament of Anointing was understood as a sacrament of healing, forgiveness and salvation.  In that century the sacrament began to be seen as a sacrament of the dying.  Eventually the name of the sacrament was changed to Extreme Unction as it was seen in this way.  The Council of Nicea (325 AD) had already stated that the sacrament of the dying was Viaticum (in Latin, “for the way”).  Viaticum is Holy Communion, which is food for the journey to eternal life. This view of the Anointing of the Sick remained in force until the writings of the Second Vatican Council.

This new theological view was put forward in article 73 of the Constitution on the Liturgy, which states, “Extreme Unction which may more fittingly be called ‘Anointing of the Sick,’ is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death.”   The Rites of Anointing and Viaticum states that anyone who is seriously ill is eligible for the sacrament.  More specifically the sacrament is offered to those preparing for surgery, the elderly, and sick children as long as they “have sufficient us of reason to be strengthened by the sacrament.”

The purpose of the sacrament is to bring spiritual strength to those who are physically ill, not only by reminding them that they are loved and forgiven by God but also of reassuring them of God’s concern for their physical well-being.  This is a sacrament that calls for faith, which can find meaning in suffering and hope even in death.  It is a sacrament that calls for a response, and so it can be a means of personal growth and even physical recovery.  The sacrament provides the person the healing that is needed for salvation.  When approached in faith this always means spiritual healing and emotional healing.  Physical healing may also be brought about as well.

The Anointing of the Sick provides the grace of the Holy Spirit to those who are sick: by this grace the whole person is helped and saved, sustained by trust in God and strengthened against temptation and against anxiety over death.

Like all sacraments the Anointing of the Sick has a communal aspect.  It is best if a community of family and friends gather around the sick person when he/she is anointed.  It is also preferable for the sacrament to be celebrated at Mass.  When the priest anoints the individual he does so as a representative of the church community.  Therefore it is important for us to pray for the sick and with the sick whenever possible.  For this reason we remember the sick of the parish during the Sunday liturgy.

I invite you to call the parish office if you are experiencing series illness in your life or are preparing for surgery and would like to be anointed.  You may contact me through calling 559-1279.

Fr. Mark Watson

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