Anointing of the Sick
The apostle James writes (James 5:14-15):
Are there any sick among you? Let them send 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.
The Church receives the gift of healing power from the Lord as one of a list of charisms listed in the Letter of James. The particular charism of healing is recognized in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick as an extension of Christ’s own healing power made present in the Church today.
Anointing of the Sick, (sometimes called “Extreme Unction” and sometimes characterized as the “Last Rites”,) is intended to bring about spiritual and even physical effects for those sick persons who approach in faith. In addition to its power to heal, the sacrament is intended to remind the sick person of the merits of redemptive suffering, that is, the spiritual practice of joining one’s own sufferings to the sufferings of Christ for the redemption of the world. The sacrament also affirms the union the sick person has with the Church who prays for them for healing.
The sacrament is offered baptized persons who are seriously ill who have attained at least the ‘age of reason’ (which is generally reckoned as the same age as first Reconciliation and first Communion, although fruitful celebrations can sometimes be held with even younger ages than this). The sick person need not be in danger of death, but the illness or pending surgery should be of a serious nature which significantly impacts a person’s daily life and activities. Outside of an emergency, the sacrament should be received while in a “state of grace” (when a person is not conscious of grave sin). Ministered by priests using oils blessed by the bishop at the annual Chrism Mass, this sacrament is but one component of Catholic pastoral care for the sick. In addition to receiving the Anointing of the Sick, Catholics normally receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist when they are ill, particularly if one’s life is threatened.
In past generations, the Anointing of the Sick was relegated to use only when death was imminent. As such, it frequently became a private celebration at bedsides and in hospital rooms in all hours of the day and night, with or without family and friends present. In recent years, the Church’s practices have recognized the importance of the Sacrament as preparation for imminent death, but also for other serious health issues such as surgery, old age, chronic illness (cancer, heart disease, etc), mental illness, and other illnesses. The Church urges that the sacrament be used not only in danger of death, but in other moments of life when one needs the healing power of Christ. To this end, the Anointing of the Sick is offered several times through the year as part of (or following) Sunday Mass. It is also regularly offered on visits to the hospital and in monthly visits to ‘shut-ins’. The sacrament can be celebrated any time by appointment or in the event of an emergency by calling the parish office (854-7151). After business hours, there is an ‘emergency voice-mail box’ on our system where users can page a priest. (Please note that non-emergency calls left in this box will be erased without follow-up.) While the availability of a priest cannot be guaranteed at all times, every effort will be made to celebrate the sacrament in a timely manner.
Sacraments cannot be administered or received by those who are certainly dead. The dead are beyond the ‘sacramental economy’ of this world, and partake directly in God’s in the world that is to come, as they have prepared to receive it. However, when death is sudden or unexpected, it is not uncommon, at the priest’s discretion, to anoint ‘conditionally’ for the first few minutes to perhaps as long as 15-30 minutes after clinical death, in recognition of the fact that the disintegration which takes place at death with respect to the union of body and soul is possibly not as instantaneous as clinical death.
When death takes place, the Church earnestly prays for those who have died and for their families. For information about Catholic funeral rites and customs, please click here.
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Anointing of the Sick (via Catholic Answers)
Anointing of the Sick: A Parish Sacrament (via Catholic Update)
The Papal Encyclical, Salvifici Doloris, on Redemptive Suffering (John Paul II, 1984)