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The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick

I’ve had a few very personal and profound experiences with the anointing of the sick. After recently hearing a priest share that it is one of the most underutilized and misunderstood sacraments, before sharing my stories, lets clarify what the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is, who it’s for, and how it’s done.

The Anointing of the Sick should not be confused with Last Rites, but it often has been. “The Last Rites,” called Viaticum, is considered the last time a gravely sick person receives the Eucharist before death from a priest, deacon, or a trained lay person. In certain cases, priests can confer Viaticum along with the sacraments of Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation to further prepare souls to encounter God.

WHAT IS THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is an excellent source to help us understand this sacrament, (see 1511-1515). According to it, there have been longstanding traditions in the both the East and West of anointing the sick with blessed oil. We also see this in the New Testament, alluded to in the Gospel of Mark (Mk 6:13) and promoted by the apostle James (Jas 5:14-15). Over centuries the sacrament began to be extended “more exclusively” for people on the verge of death. But after Vatican II, it was established through the Apostolic Constitution that the Anointing of the Sick be “given to those who are seriously ill by anointing them on the forehead and hands with duly blessed oil—pressed from olives of other plants—saying, only once: Through this 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.”

WHO IS IT FOR?

“[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.

If a sick person who received this anointing recovers his health, he can in the case of another grave illness receive this sacrament again. If during the same illness the person’s condition becomes more serious, the sacrament may be repeated. It is fitting to receive the Anointing of the Sick just prior to a serious operation. The same holds true for the elderly whose frailty becomes more pronounced.”  

CCC #1514-1515

A few provided examples:

  • The elderly who are weakened, even though no notable illness is present
  • Those who face surgery due to serious illness
  • Those who suffer serious mental illness

HOW IS THE ANOINTING DONE?

There are three parts that comprise the Anointing of the Sick, which are as follows:

“First, the prayer of faith by which the community asks for God’s help for the sick; second, the laying on of hands indicating the person is the recipient of the prayer of faith; and third, the anointing with oil on the forehead and hands signifying healing, strengthening and the presence of God. A generous amount of oil is to be used so that it can be seen and felt. Any part of the body (the place of pain or injury) may be anointed during the prayer. In case of necessity, one anointing is given on the forehead, or any part of the body, while praying the entire formula.”

(Catholic Health Association of the United States)

A COUPLE OF MY EXPERIENCES WITH THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK

A friend that served in ministry struggled with alcohol addiction. There were years of trauma and family history that contributed to it. After getting a DUI, she felt extreme shame, guilt, and anxiety. She knew she needed to go into rehab, yet there were so many struggles and obstacles to do that – i.e. the extremely high cost, the extended time off of work, whether she could still return to her ministry job afterwards, strain on the marriage.

I was so grateful to see the compassionate mercy of her boss, the Pastor, amidst that very difficult time. He did not judge, berate, or cast her out of ministry. Rather, he created a supportive space in the Church for her to pursue the help she needed to recover. And he provided a time for her to invite a few of us to gather as he extended the Anointing of the Sick. It was so beautiful and powerful to surround her with grace and mercy in her time of need. To hear her Spiritual Father say those words, “Through this 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.”

Another profound time of anointing was with my dad. I’ve blogged a number of times about some of the sorrows in accompanying him during the last months of his life, and the spiritual poverty I experienced amidst it. Right before having a profound experience in the sacrament of Reconciliation that I shared about in that blog, Trusting When It’s So Hard, my dad was given the Anointing of the Sick by the priest that also heard my Confession, Fr. Francisco.

My dad’s kidneys were failing, and it was even more complex because of his congestive heart failure and diabetes. The doctors had to be very cautious in working with him due to what could help the kidneys could cause further damage to his heart or other organs that weren’t healing due to diabetes. But the day when Fr. Francisco could come and give the anointing was the also the day when they were installing a temporary port to start dad on dialysis. I remember the date, September 15, 2017, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrow.

He came to the hospital and they had taken in dad early for surgery, so he was back in his room. It was the three of us, and Fr. Francisco performed the ritual with the oil. We were grateful, and afterwards, I asked and he agreed to hear my Confession down the hall.

Little did we know that my dad would proceed to go through about 2-3 rounds of dialysis to have his Nephrologist (Kidney Specialist) give striking news. The state of Dad’s kidneys and his bloodwork looked in good enough shape to stop dialysis. For how long, we didn’t know at that time, but when people start dialysis, it’s rare that they stop. For almost 7 months after that, we enjoyed a season where Dad didn’t have to endure the pain and exhaustion of dialysis 3 times a week. I truly believe that time was a gift from the grace of Anointing of the Sick.

If you or a loved one are facing serious illnesses, mental health issues, even addiction, God’s grace is waiting for you in this sacrament.

lisa martinez

If you or a loved one are facing serious illnesses, mental health issues, even addiction, God’s grace is waiting for you in this sacrament. I pray that you will have the humility and courage to reach out to a priest, your parish, someone in the Church to arrange for a time to receive an outpouring of love and mercy through the Anointing of the Sick.

About Author

Creative, Entrepreneur & Silly-Heart. Christ has called her to bring the broken to His Sacred Heart. Calls Austin home with her mountain-man husband, Mike, who she loves to travel through life with as well as around the world.

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