Anointing of the sick


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Anointing of the sick

  1. 1. Introduction: Traditionally referred to as Extreme Unction or Last Rites, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick was previously most commonly administered to the dying, for the remission of sins and the provision of spiritual strength and health. In modern times, however, its use has been expanded to all who are gravely ill or are about to undergo a serious operation, and the Church stresses a secondary effect of the sacrament: to help a person recover his health. LikeConfession and Holy Communion, to which it is closely linked, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick can be repeated as often as is necessary. Biblical Roots: The modern celebration of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick recalls the early Christian use, going back to biblical times. When Christ sent His disciples out to preach, "they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them" (Mark 6:13). James 5:14-15 ties physical healing to the forgiveness of sins: Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in 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 shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him. Who May Receive the Sacrament?: Following this biblical understanding, the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes 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." When in doubt, priests should err on the side of caution and provide the sacrament to the faithful who request it. The Form of the Sacrament: The essential rite of the sacrament consists in the priest (or priests, in the case of the Eastern Churches) laying hands on the sick, anointing him with blessed oil (usually olive oil blessed by a bishop, but in an emergency, any vegetable oil will suffice), and praying "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 circumstances permit, the Church recommends that the sacrament take place duringMass, or at least that it be preceded by Confession and followed by Holy Communion. The Minister of the Sacrament:
  2. 2. Only priests (including bishops) can administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, since, when the sacrament was instituted during Christ's sending out of His disciples, it was confined to the men who would become the original bishops of the Church. The Effects of the Sacrament: Received in faith and in a state of grace, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick provides the recipient with a number of graces, including the fortitude to resist temptation in the face of death, when he is weakest; a union with the Passion of Christ, which makes his suffering holy; and the grace to prepare for death, so that he may meet God in hope rather than in fear. If the recipient was not able to receive the Sacrament of Confession, Anointing also provides forgiveness of sins. And, if it will aid in the salvation of his soul, Anointing may restore the recipient's health. The Catholic Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick 6 of 7 in Series: The Essentials of Catholic Sacraments The Catholic Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick used to be called Extreme Unction (last anointing), not because it was the last sacrament a Catholic received before checking out of this life but because it was the last anointing you received. Catholics are anointed with holy oils at Baptism and Confirmation, which usually occur fairly early in life, so the third anointing sacrament is received much later — hopefully. The sacrament was also commonly called Last Rites, because before antibiotics and penicillin, more people died than recovered from disease and injury. In the same vein, Extreme Unction was the sign that nothing more could be done to prolong life, so the sick and injured were spiritually preparing for death. Even today, many elderly Catholics get a little shiver of dread when the Catholic hospital chaplain brings his purple stole and oils. In reality, the Anointing of the Sick is to offer prayers for possible recovery, with the more important intention to give strength to the soul of the sick person. Often, when people are sick, they get discouraged, depressed, angry, annoyed, and afraid. The Church believes that the sacrament offers a special grace to calm the spirit. If physical recovery is God’s will, so be it. If not, then the person needs the grace, strength, and encouragement to bear the illness with dignity. Administering the sacrament, the priest dips his finger in the oil stock, which often has cotton inside to absorb the oil and keep it from spilling and going bad. He dabs some on his thumb and then anoints the head, saying, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy
  3. 3. help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Then, if possible, he anoints the palms of the person, saying, “May the Lord Who frees you from your sins, save you and raise you up.” If it’s an emergency, such as a patient in the trauma center, the priest can anoint any part of the body that’s available if the doctors and nurses are working on the head and hands of the injured person. The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick absolves all sins the person is sorry for but did not previouslyconfess in the Sacrament of Penance. If the person can’t make a confession, the anointing compensates by forgiving sins she would’ve confessed were she able to do so. Because of this aspect of absolving sins, deacons can’t anoint, but priests and bishops can. The Catholic notion of redemptive suffering, that is, uniting your own suffering with the crucified Jesus gives a person’s unavoidable suffering meaning and purpose. This notion is explicitly and implicitly expressed in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Because many sick and injured people recover nowadays, or at least go into remission, Catholics are able to receive the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick as many times as needed. The elderly, people with many ailments, and those with a deadly or serious disease, chronic pain and suffering, or recurring illness, can and should be anointed often. The Anointing of the Sick: Comfort and Healing The Anointing of the Sick is a remarkable sign of God's great love for us. In his merciful efforts to bring us safely to himself in heaven, God seems to have gone to the very limit. Jesus has given us the sacrament of Baptism, in which original sin and all pre- Baptismal sins are cleansed from the soul. Allowing for mankind's spiritual weakness, Jesus also gave us the sacrament of Penance, by which post-Baptismal sins could be forgiven. As though he were impatient lest a soul be delayed a single instant from its entry into heaven, Jesus gave to his Church the power to remit the temporal punishment due to sin, a power which the Church exercises in the granting of indulgences. Finally, as though to make doubly sure that no one, except through his own deliberate fault, would lose heaven or even spend time in purgatory, Jesus instituted the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
  4. 4. A special sacrament for the sick & suffering The Catechism of the Catholic Church's section on the Anointing of the Sick defines the purpose of the sacrament as "the conferral of a special grace on the Christian experiencing the difficulties inherent in the condition of grave illness or old age." (Catechism, 1527) In his Gospel St. Mark (6:12-13) gives us an indication of this sacrament of the sick when he tells us that the apostles, going forth, "preached that men should repent, and they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many sick people, and healed them." However, the classical description which the Bible gives of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is found in the Epistle of St. James: Is any one among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters [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 be in sins, they shall be forgiven him. (James 5:14-15) The Oil of the Sick The oil used in administering the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is called Oil of the Sick. It is one of the three Holy oils blessed by the bishop of the diocese at his cathedral on Holy Thursday morning, the other two Holy Oils being Holy Chrism and the Oil of Catechumens, which is used in Baptism. Oil of the Sick is pure olive oil—nothing being added except the blessing of the bishop. Its appropriateness as part of the outward sign of Anointing of the Sick is evident from the healing and strengthening effects which are characteristic of olive oil. The essence of the sacrament lies in the actual anointing and the short prayer which accompanies the anointing. In giving the sacrament, the priest anoints the sick person on the forehead and hands. During this anointing, the priest says: "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." Counteracting undue fear When faced with the danger of death, a person normally will experience a feeling of great anxiety. This is to be expected. God has planted in human nature a strong attachment to life which we commonly call the instinct for self-preservation. He has done so precisely
  5. 5. in order to assure that we take due care of our physical well-being and do not expose ourselves to unnecessary danger to our life. We need not feel ashamed, therefore, nor convicted of lack of faith if we find ourselves apprehensive when the shadow of death looms over us. To counteract this fear of death when it needs to be counteracted, and to remove all cause for fear, God has given us the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Graces of the sacrament In common with all the sacraments, Anointing of the Sick confers sanctifying grace. It is an increase in sanctifying grace that Anointing of the Sick gives, since it presupposes that the recipient already is free from mortal sin. Thus there is intensified in the soul that supernatural life, that oneness with God, which is the source of all spiritual strength as it is also the measure of our capacity for the happiness of heaven. Besides this increase in sanctifying grace, Anointing of the Sick gives its own special sacramental grace. The primary purpose of the special grace of Anointing of the Sick is to comfort and to strengthen the soul of the sick person.  This is the grace that quiets anxiety and dissipates fear.  It is the grace which enables the sick person to embrace God's will and to face the possibility of death without apprehension.  It is the grace which gives the soul the strength to face and conquer whatever temptations to doubt, despondency, or even despair may mark Satan's last effort to seize this soul for himself. Doubtless some who read this have already received Anointing of the Sick, perhaps even several times. If so, they know by experience, as does the writer, what peace of mind and confidence in God this sacrament bestows. Secondary effects This spiritual tranquility and strength is further increased by the secondeffect of Anointing of the Sick. This is the preparation of the soul for entrance into heaven by the forgiveness of venial sins and the cleansing of the soul from the remains of sin. If we are so blessed as to receive the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick in our last illness, we may have every confidence that we shall enter into the happiness of heaven immediately after death. We hope that our friends still will continue to pray for us after death, since we never can be sure of the adequacy of our own dispositions in receiving this sacrament; and if we do not need the prayers, someone else will profit by them.
  6. 6. Yet we should have a high degree of confidence, once we have received Anointing of the Sick, that we shall look upon the face of God moments after our soul leaves our body. The soul has been cleansed from all that might hold it back from God, from venial sins and from the temporal punishment due to sin. The "remains of sin" from which Anointing of the Sick cleanses the soul include that moral weakness of soul which is the result of sin, both of original sin and our own sins. This weakness—even to the point of spiritual indifference—is likely to afflict that person especially who has been a habitual sinner. Here again, the soul of the sick person is tempered and prepared against the possibility of any last-moment conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Anointing of the Sick Complements Confession Since Penance (Confession) is the sacrament by which God intends our mortal sins to be forgiven, a sick person who has mortal sins to confess must receive the sacrament of Penance before he receives the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. However, it is a comfort to know that Anointing of the Sick does forgive mortal sin also if the critically ill person is unable to receive the sacrament of Penance. This could happen, for example, if Anointing of the Sick were administered to an unconscious person who had made an act of imperfect contrition for his mortal sins before losing consciousness. Healing the sick It is plain that the principal purpose of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is a spiritual one: to prepare the soul for death, if death is to eventuate. However, there is a secondary and conditional effect of Anointing of the Sick: the recovery of bodily health by the sick or injured person. The condition under which this secondary effect can be expected to operate is stated by the Council of Trent: "When it is expedient for the soul's salvation." In other words, if it will be spiritually good for the sick person to recover, then his recovery can with certainty be expected. The recovery, however, will not be a sudden miraculous recovery. God does not multiply marvels unnecessarily. Whenever possible he works through natural causes. In this instance, recovery will be the result of the powers of nature, stimulated by the graces of the sacrament. By eliminating anxiety, abolishing fear, inspiring confidence in God with resignation to his will, Anointing of the Sick reacts upon the bodily processes for the physical betterment of the patient. It is evident that we have no right to expect this physical
  7. 7. result from Anointing of the Sick if the priest is not called until the body is hopelessly ravaged by disease. But perhaps "hopelessly" is not a good word. Every priest who has had much experience in caring for the sick can recall some remarkable and unexpected recoveries that have followed after Anointing of the Sick. You can return to the main article on the Catholic Sacraments, or go to our home page to see the other articles about the Catholic faith. This article contains material adapted and abridged from Father Leo Trese's classic book, The Faith Explained. That work is Nihil Obstat: Louis J. Putz, C.S.C., University of Notre Dame. Imprimatur: Leo A. Pursley, D.D., Bishop of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Terms Definitions What is the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick? The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick celebrates and carries out the healing ministry of Jesus. The sacrament of Anointing offers persons strength, peace, and courage to overcome the hardships of serious illness or the increasing frailty of old age. What is the foremost truth celebrated in the sacrament of Anointing? God's loving concerns for sick, suffering, or dying people is the first and foremost truth celebrated in the sacrament of Anointing. What is the primary emphasis of the sacrament of Anointing? The sacrament does address the physical, bodily conditions of illness, but the primary emphasis of Anointing is to bring spiritual strength and healing to sick and dying people. Give two examples of Gospel passages that show Jesus healing people. What In Mark 5:21-43, Jesus cured a Canaanite woman's daughter and in John 9:1-12, Jesus heals a man born blind. From these and many
  8. 8. enabled him to heal people? other Gospel accounts, we know that Jesus healed because he felt compassion for hurting people. He wanted to show people firsthand the power and depth of God's compassion. Working through him God's power enabled Jesus to heal people and to work so many wonders. Describe what it means to say that Christians themselves can be "wounded healers." In the Christian tradition, experiences of suffering and healing are linked to service to others. The sacrament of Anointing both celebrates and affirms this reality. Experiences of sickness and suffering are not in themselves something to be sought after. But the can be healing in a sense if they lead to compassion for others. For instance, the best counselors for drug-dependent people are often formerly addicted persons, who themselves find great healing by helping others. What is the hopeful message of the paschal mystery with respect to illness and death? The sacrament of Anointing reminds us of the hope-filled reality of Jesus' own suffering, death, and Resurrection, and allows us to reaffirm our faith in that reality. This is the powerful, hopeful message of the paschal mystery: The God of Jesus is the God of life. And life, not death, will always have the last word. Describe three different options for celebrating the sacrament of Anointing. Several slightly different rites are available for celebrating the sacrament of Anointing. The sacrament of Anointing can be celebrated with
  9. 9. a whole faith community, either as a part of a Mass or in a separate healing service. The sacrament of Anointing can also be celebrated by individuals who are seriously, but not terminally, ill. Finally, the sacrament of Anointing is also available to bring a special comfort and peace to those persons who suffer from a terminal illness or are close to death. Name the six element common to all forms of the sacrament of Anointing. What actions and words are essential? A number of elements are common to all forms of celebrating the sacrament of Anointing: (1) prayers, (2) a penitential rite, (3) readings from the Scriptures, (4) the laying on of hands by the priest, (5) anointing with oil on the forehead and hands by the priest, and (6) Holy Communion. Essential to the sacrament is the anointing by the priest of the person's forehead and hands while praying these words: Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up. Amen. What do the laying on of hands and receiving of Communion emphasize in Anointing, and in what other sacraments are these rituals found? The laying on of hands and receiving of Communion emphasize that healing occurs in the context of a caring community. The laying on of hands is also received in the sacraments of Confirmation, Reconciliation, and Holy Orders, and Holy Communion is a symbolic action used in Eucharist. In the early church, how did As faithful followers of Christ, the Apostles and
  10. 10. Christians carry out the healing mission of Jesus? the first Christian communities carried on his healing mission. The Letter of James, written to mention members of the early Christian church, suggests that prayer, the laying on of hands, and the use of blessed oil were all common healing practices among them. What does Extreme Unction mean? Why was this term used for the sacrament of Anointing until recent decades? The sacrament of Anointing came to seen as preparation for death rather than as an act of healing. By the twelfth century, the sacrament was officially called Extreme Unction--a term meaning "last anointing"; it was even called "the last rites." For the most part, the association of Anointing with impeding death prevailed until changes were made in the sacrament by the Second Vatican Council. What purpose of Anointing has been restored and emphasized since Vatican Council II? Today Anointing's original purpose--healing-- is once again emphasized. The official designation of Anointing as part of the Catholic church's overall pastoral care and concern for sick and dying people indicates this fact.