The Catholic Church has always taught that the anointing of the sick is one of the seven sacraments of the New Testament that was instituted by Christ. We hear in Our Gospels how many times Jesus healed the sick so that they could continue return to their former ways and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The idea of turning to the sacraments of the church for healing, continued on for many years, however, along the way, the sacrament of healing took a tone of being a sacrament for the dying, especially by using the terms, “last rites” or “extreme unction.” The sacrament was no longer one that hoped in the healing powers of the Great Physician, Jesus, to return one to good health, but one that prepared one for death.
In the early 1980’s the theology of this sacrament returned to be one for healing and not preparing for death. The terms “last rites” and “extreme unction” are no longer used when referring to this sacrament for the sick.
The theological understanding and precepts for the celebration of this sacrament are given in the introduction to the rite. Vatican II documents say,”…’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 that person to receive this sacrament has already arrived.” Therefore, the best time to seek this sacrament is as soon as one finds that they are seriously ill and they should not delay for sending for the priest.
This sacrament gives the grace of the Holy Spirit to those who are sick: by this grace the whole person is helped and saved, sustained by trust in God, and strengthened against the temptations of the Evil One and against anxiety over death. Thus, the sick person is able not only to bear suffering bravely, but also to fight against it. A return to physical health may follow the reception of this sacrament if it will be beneficial to the sick person’s salvation. If necessary, the sacrament also provides the sick person with the forgiveness of sins and the completion of Christian penance.
Recipients of the Anointing of the sick
The Letter of James states that the sick are to be anointed in order to raise them up and save them. Great care and concern should be taken to see that those of the faithful whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age receive this sacrament.
The sacrament may be repeated if the sick person recovers after being anointed and then again falls ill or if during the same illness the person’s condition becomes more serious.
A sick person may be anointed before surgery whenever a serious illness is the reason for the surgery.
Elderly people may be anointed if they have become notably weakened even though no serious illness is present.
Sick children are to be anointed if they have sufficient use of reason to be strengthened by this sacrament.
When a priest has been called to attend those who are already dead, he should not administer the sacrament of anointing. Instead, he should pray for them, asking that God forgive their sins and graciously receives them into the kingdom.
The “last rite” of the Church is called viaticum. Once a person’s illness becomes so severe, and hope for recovery seems slight, but not impossible, the sick person or the family of a sick person may call the church to administer viaticum. However, for the sick person to receive “last rites” he or she must be able to receive Holy Communion; food for the journey. So there should not be a delay in asking for this rite of the church. Viaticum can be administered by any trained minister, whether ordained or lay.
Because a Catholic is baptized into the parish community, it is most appropriate when possible, that the sick person be anointed with at least some of the faithful present. Therefore, our parish normally celebrates Anointing at various Saturday and Sunday’s throughout the year particularly for those preparing for surgery or is suffering from chronic illness, disease, or prolonged pain. In addition, anyone who has become suddenly ill or been in a serious accident should contact parish office immediately.
If someone is near death, our priest should be called so that the priest will come and commend the dying person to God in a rite the church has for this purpose.