Pastoral Reflection: The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick

In 06 Scripture & Theology on 2011/08/25 at 12:00 AM

Last year, our parish was involved in more than 40 funerals.  These are a reminder of the importance of the pastoral care of the sick and the dying.  In a sense, we should all be preparing for the day when we will be called from this life to our eternal reward.  Among the spiritual preparations for eternal life is the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  We need to remember that the Sacrament of Anointing is not solely reserved for the dying but that it is also for the sick.  Almost 50 years ago, the Bishops of the Second Vatican Council made this point in the Document on the Liturgy, SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM, of December 4, 1963: “Extreme Unction,” which may also and more fittingly be called “Anointing of the Sick, is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death.  Hence, as soon as any one 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 arrive.” [#73]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists two sacraments of healing: The Sacrament of Penance and the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.  The Lord Jesus in the Divine Physician of our bodies and souls.  Recall that during His public ministry, the Lord forgave the sins of the paralytic and also restore him to bodily health [Matt.9: 2-8]  There is a link between bodily and spiritual health.  The will of the Lord is that His healing ministry continues in the Church through His priests.  In the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, there is a conferral of grace and a prayer for the healing of body and soul.  There are times when a spiritual healing may actually be more profound than a physical healing.  Our illness or sufferings may be a sharing in the cross of Christ.

There are several Scriptural references for anointing.  A Scriptural basis for the Sacrament of Anointing is the following from the Letter of St. James: “Is anyone among you suffering?  He should pray.  Is anyone in good spirits?  He should sing praise.  Is anyone among you sick?  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 5:13-15]

The oil that is used for the Sacrament of Anointing is blessed in the Cathedral by the bishop during the Chrism Mass during Holy Week.  There are two anointings in the celebration of the sacrament.  First the priest anoints the forehead with the words, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”  The hands are then anointed with the words, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”

The sacrament has the following effects: the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ for his or her own good and for 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 sin (if the person is not able to obtain forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance); the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul and the preparation for the passing of this life to eternal life.  [Catechism, 1532]

The Catechism teaches that anyone who is preparing for surgery should request the Sacrament of Anointing.  The practice of anesthesia itself is risky.  The sacrament is appropriate for anyone who has chronic pain, a terminal illness, a mental illness or for one who is advance in year.  Sometimes a parishioner will inform me that he or she recently had surgery.  “I have asked, Did you call the parish office?”  Sometimes I hear the following: “No, I knew that you were busy so I didn’t want to bother you.”  “Priests,  particularly pastors, should remember that is is their duty to care for the sick by personal visits and other acts of kindness. [#35] If you or one of your loved ones is in need of the sacrament, please call me.  Prior to surgery, one may request the sacrament at the sacristy after on of the Masses.  Since my ordination, I have spent part of each week visiting parishioners who are hospitalized, in nursing homes or who are homebound.  I enjoy these visits.  In peace, Fr. Mark

Fr. Mark Lawlor is the pastor of the Catholic Parish of St. Vincent Catholic in Charlotte, North Carolina.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: