We read about the Anointing of the Sick in the Letter of James in the New Testament, “Are there people sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up. If they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them” (James 5:14-15). The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus sent out the Twelve and they “anointed the sick with oil, and worked many cures” (Mark 6:13).
For the past 46 years, since Vatican II closed in 1965, the Church has stopped using the names Extreme Unction and Last Rites for this Sacrament. Vatican II called us to an understanding of this Sacrament closer to that of the early Church up to the twelfth century. The desire of the Church is that this Sacrament, intended for healing of body and spirit, be given to a sick person while they are still conscious and can fully participate in its celebration.
The Sacrament should be celebrated as early as possible in a serious sickness, not when death is close and the patient is sedated beyond consciousness. The sick person should be given the best opportunity to express his/her faith consciously by participating in the Anointing of the Sick. It is also important that family and friends try to be present for the Sacrament so that the sick person will experience the support of family and friends. Of course, there will be times when emergencies happen, such as an automobile accident or heart attack, when a priest needs to be called and the Anointing of the Sick given to a person who is unconscious and near death.
The Anointing of the Sick is intended for a person whose health is seriously impaired due to illness or old age. It may also be given before major surgery. Even children who are seriously ill can be anointed if they are capable of understanding the meaning of the Sacrament. The purpose of the Sacrament is to comfort the person who is ill and to strengthen his/her faith. The illness can be physical, emotional or psychological. The Anointing of the Sick is ministered by a bishop or priest who anoints the sick person on the forehead and on the hands with the Oil of the Sick. Oil is a symbol of strength, so the use of oil helps us visibly connect with the Sacrament’s purpose of strengthening the person who is being tried by illness. My goal in writing is to help you to realize that the graces given by this Sacrament can be understood by the sick person who receives it only if he/she is still conscious and is able to participate in the celebration of the Sacrament. So please don’t wait until the moment of death to contact a priest.
Let us be with you and your sick loved one while the person is still conscious and can fully participate in the celebration of the Sacrament.
priests of HFP