The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick
The sacrament of the anointing of the sick is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. As the name implies, anointing of the sick is intended for those suffering physical ailments. While many people associate this sacrament with those who are dying, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “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” (CCC 1514).
Scriptural Basis of Anointing of the Sick
Jesus’ ministry on Earth often involved physical healing of those in need – there are many accounts in Scripture of His healings, some of the many “signs and wonders” He gave us to demonstrate His divinity. After His ascension, Jesus’ Apostles carried on His ministry, including healing and anointing the sick. The sacrament is alluded to in Mark 6:13 – “They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” – and James 5:14-15 – “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.”
Does Anointing of the Sick Heal People?
God does not always heal our physical ailments – and it is not for us to know when and why He will. There are many people who believe that they or a loved one were healed through the sacrament of anointing of the sick and, certainly, our faith allows for the possibility of great miracles. We can always hope and pray for God’s divine healing of any physical disease or sickness.
But will everyone who receives this sacrament receive physical healing? No. Like all sacraments, anointing of the sick is about receiving graces from God. According to the Catechism,
The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects:
- the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and 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 sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Penance;
- the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul;
- the preparation for passing over to eternal life (CCC 1532)
While important and often longed for, physical healing is only one potential outcome of this sacrament.
Is It Better to Be Anointed or Go to a Doctor?
As Catholics, we are fortunate that we don’t need to choose between these options! Catholics believe and accept the natural sciences and the many, many benefits they give us. We do not believe that faith and medicine are mutually exclusive, or that God will only heal us if we turn only to divine remedies, rather than scientific ones. In fact, many believe that miraculous healings today often come through the medical sciences – God can have a hand in anything, even the work and results of doctors and scientists.
Is Anointing of the Sick the Same as Last Rites?
There are two distinct rituals for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick –
- The “continuous rites of penance and anointing,” and
- The “rite for emergencies,” often called “Last Rites.”
In essence, the first is for those who are sick or in need of physical healing, and the second is intended for those who are likely dying. One of the most important parts of last rites is “Viaticum” – the recipient’s final reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist. Viaticum is from the Latin for “that which you take on the road.” In other words, this is a particular form of the Eucharist that is intended to give us the strength to travel to God and end our life’s journey.
What Happens at the Anointing of the Sick?
Regardless of which ritual is used, the anointing of the sick is always given by a priest. He begins with the sign of the cross and a blessing with holy water. There are usually some Scripture readings, and the sacrament of penance (confession) may be celebrated. The actual anointing comes when the priest, using his hands, anoints the foreheads and hands of the recipient with Oil of the Sick, one of the holy oils blessed by the bishop at the Mass of Chrism. While he does this, the priest prays, “Through this holy 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.” The Eucharist may be received at this time, and the priest blesses the sick person and anyone else who is present.