Anointing of the Sick
In this Sunday’s readings, we see Christ’s solicitude for those who are physically and spiritually ill. Thankfully, Christ continues his ministry to the sick through the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. When we are physically ill, St. James tells us to “call for the priests of the church,” so that they may pray over the ill and anoint them with oil.
The Sacrament of Anointing is administered by a priest or bishop when a member of the Church suffers a serious physical illness that places them in the danger of death. A friend once said that anointing is for “grave conditions that place us near the grave.” St. James goes on to say that this prayer and anointing will “save the sick person and, if they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them.” So, the ordinary effect of Anointing is the salvation of the soul and the forgiveness of sins. An extraordinary effect if it lay in God’s will is the health of the sick person. In addition, the special grace of Anointing is that it likens the heart more to Christ’s suffering heart so that the person can more readily and efficaciously offer their suffering in union with Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.
In order to benefit the most from this sacrament, it is best to request it when the ill person can first confess their sins sacramentally, participate consciously in the rite and prayers, and receive Holy Communion. This is why it is best to call the parish priest before the person is no longer responsive or can no longer swallow. This also ensures that the priest can respond before the person dies.
A few special pastoral cases should be noted. The elderly can be anointed when their age reaches a point that their weakness places them in the remote danger of death. Not all cases of surgery and medical procedures are cases for Anointing. Instead, those who will be under general anesthesia may request Anointing since it places them in the danger of death. Mental illness, even when it is grave and/or acute, is not a reason for Anointing. Also, Anointing of the Sick may be repeated if a) the person has recovered from the illness and falls gravely sick once again, placing them again in the danger of death, or b) the person becomes sicker with the same illness and is clearly nearer death than before.