Anointing the Sick
The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick gives strength and support and can be administered to anyone struggling with an illness.
Who may Receive?
In the Catholic Church, Extreme Unction or the Last Rites is the anointing at the time of death. Since the Second Vatican Council, this sacrament is now called the Anointing of the Sick and has been broadened to offer healing and comfort in times of illness that may not lead to immediate death. Speaking about a wider implementation of this sacrament, Pope Paul VI advocated for “a wider availability of the sacrament and to extend it—within reasonable limits—even beyond cases of mortal illness."
Unlike the traditional understanding of the Last Rites, the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is, ideally, to be administered in a communal celebration.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that when the sick are anointed they should be "assisted by their pastor and the whole ecclesial community, which is invited to surround the sick in a special way through their prayers and fraternal attention" (1516). "Like all the sacraments the Anointing of the Sick is a liturgical and communal celebration…It is very fitting to celebrate it within the Eucharist" (1517).
The healing that occurs in this sacrament of anointing is not necessarily physical healing. While we believe that physical healing can occur through the great power of God, the grace that is infused through this special sacrament is the reminder of the eternal presence of God in our human suffering.
When the priest blessing the oil of anointing, he asks God to "send the power of your Holy Spirit, the Consoler, into this precious oil. Make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it; heal them in body, in soul and in spirit, and deliver them from every affliction" (Pastoral Care of the Sick, #123).
"The celebration of the Anointing of the Sick consists essentially in the anointing of the forehead and hands of the sick person (in the Roman Rite) or of other parts of the body (in the Eastern rite), the anointing being accompanied by the liturgical prayer of the celebrant asking for the special grace of this sacrament" (CCC 1531).
Jesus strengthens the one who is sick with anointing of sacred oil. Anointing of the sick makes Jesus present through concrete symbols that at the same time confer the grace they symbolize; it is a physical pouring out of the saving grace of Jesus. This presence of Jesus in this sacrament of anointing provides to the sick the strongest means of support.
It is most effective to invite others to be part of the anointing of the sick. Those gathered in prayer around the one who is sick is a sign of the entire church present. Suffering and illness have always been among the greatest problems that trouble the human spirit.
Christians feel and experience pain as do all other people; yet their faith helps them to grasp more deeply how in the midst of suffering Jesus is present, and are then so strengthened by Christ to bear their pain with greater courage.
When you experience sickness, you should ask for anointing so you may learn to bring Christ into your suffering. By embracing the presence of Jesus, you are achieving your salvation. The second part of the prayer of the anointing that typically happens as the priest anoints your hands says: “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” Jesus through this anointing raises you up. Raising you up means you are made ready for eternal life; that you may experience the fullness of the love of God that Jesus wants to share with you—this is salvation. Jesus, then in this holy anointing, transforms your sickness into salvation.
Jesus is present not only to the one who is sick, but also to the priest who administers the sacrament, and to those who join in support. Therefore, it is best to invite family, friends, and anyone in the church community who can support you with their prayers of faith.
As the priest leads the prayer, it is as a sign of Christ leading the people of the Church in caring for the one who is sick. To show that all support the one who is sick, people can lay their hands on the shoulders or stand near the person who is sick. The priest, in the person of Christ, lays hands on the forehead of the one who is sick, and asks for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. All pray for strength, and if it is helpful for the person’s salvation, to restore the one who is sick to health. Then the priest anoints the forehead with sacred oil for the sick, saying: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
The one who is sick hears the tender words of Jesus and feels the closeness of the Holy Spirit through the anointing. The one who is sick is surrounded by prayers of the church that culminates in the Lord’s Prayer. The anointing of the sick is an opportunity for the Church to join in prayer of support and strengthening