Anointing of the Sick
Who Should Receive the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick?
The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick may be received by any member of the faithful who has reached the age of reason (Cf. CIC, CAN. 1004) “whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age,” (PCS, no. 8) including serious mental sickness (Cf. PCS, no. 53). A sick person may be anointed before surgery whenever a serious illness is the reason for the surgery and elderly people may be anointed if they have become notably weakened even though no serious illness is present. (Cf. PCS, nos. 11-12) “Anointing is to be conferred on sick people who, although they have lost consciousness or the use of reason, would, as Christian believers, have at least implicitly asked for it when they were in control of their faculties.” (PCS, no. 14)
What is meant by "Serious Illness"?
As noted above, those “whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age,” (PCS, no. 8) should receive the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The footnote on this statement in PCS says that the word “seriously” was carefully chosen, rather than “gravely,” “dangerously,” or “perilously,” so as “to avoid restrictions upon the celebration of the sacrament” such that those “whose health is seriously impaired,” receive it, but also avoiding the sacrament being “given indiscriminately or to any person whose health is not seriously impaired.” “A serious illness or disorder represents a sever dysfunction of the balance of one’s psycho-physiological makeup.” (Kasza, 10-11) “That is to say, the sacrament is for those who, being clinically ill, undergo serious spiritual crisis, making it difficult for them to sustain faith and hope, and to live human life with resolution and dignity.” (Power, 101) “The seriously ill are those who suffer in mind, body, or spirit to such a degree that they become incapacitated as Christians or as human beings.” (Kasza, 12)
When Should the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick be Received?
“‘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.” (SC, no. 73) “The faithful should . . . ask for the sacrament of anointing . . . as soon as the right time comes, . . . and . . . should not follow the wrongful practice of delaying the reception of the sacrament.” (PCS, no. 13) In addition, for special cases, when there is a genuine necessity, for example, when sudden illness or an accident or some other cause has placed one of the faithful in the proximate or immediate danger of death, (Cf. PCS, nos. 30, 232) rites are provided for these exceptional circumstances and emergency situations.
Who can Administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick?
Only priests (bishops and presbyters) and a priest alone can validly administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. (Cf. CCC, no. 1516; CIC, CAN. 1003 §1)
What are the Effects of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick?
The effects of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick are as follows: “the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for [their] 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 [their] soul; the preparation for passing over to eternal life.” (CCC, no. 1532) “The foremost effect attributed to the sacrament is the salvation of the whole person in the midst of the challenge to faith and to hope posed by the experience of sickness . . . both physical cure and the forgiveness of sins are secondary effects contingent upon the need of the recipient.” (Glen, 1179)
How is the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick Celebrated?
“There are three distinct and integral aspects to the celebration of [the sacrament of Anointing of the sick]: the prayer of faith, the laying on of hands, and the anointing with oil.” (PCS, no. 104) “The community, asking God’s help for the sick, makes its prayer of faith in response to God’s word and in a spirit of trust (see James 5:14-15).” (PCS, no. 105) The gesture of the laying on of hands has several meanings: the priest identifies the person who is the object of the Churches prayer of faith; it’s a sign of blessing; it’s an invocation for the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the sick person; and, above all, it’s a biblical gesture of healing and Jesus’ own usual manner of healing. (Cf. PCS, no. 106) “The practice of anointing the sick with oil signifies healing, strengthening, and the presence of the Spirit. . . . Thus, the sick person is strengthened to fight against the physically and spiritually debilitating effects of illness, . . . [and] the oil of anointing is a sacramental sign of the presence, power, and grace of the Holy Spirit.” (PCS, no. 107)
Where Should the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick Celebrated?
Like all sacraments, Anointing of the Sick is a “liturgical service.” “Liturgical services are not private functions but are celebrations of the Church which . . . pertain to the whole Body of the Church . . . and . . . touch individual members of the Church in different ways.” (SC, no. 26) The “rites . . . are meant to be celebrated in common, with the faithful present and actively participating.” (SC, no. 27) Therefore, given the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick’s liturgical and communal nature, it is “very fitting to celebrate it within the Eucharist,” (CCC, no. 1517) i.e. within the context of a Mass.
If it is not possible for the sick person to receive the sacrament during a Mass, there are also rites for “anointing outside of Mass, . . . and anointing in a hospital or institution.” (PCS, no. 97) No matter where the sacrament of anointing is celebrated (home, hospital, institution, or church), it “should be celebrated with members of the family and other representatives of the Christian community whenever this is possible. Then the sacrament is seen for what it is— a part of the prayer of the Church and an encounter with the Lord.” (PCS, no. 99)
Can the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick be Repeated?
The effects of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick continue as long as the one who receives it remains in the same infirm condition that occasioned the reception and the benefit persists until the need for its sacramental power has passed. (Cf. Hardon, 542-3) The “sacrament can be repeated if the sick person, having recovered, again becomes gravely ill or if the condition becomes more grave during the same illness.” (CIC, CAN. 1004 §2)
How Does the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick Relate to Other Sacraments,
“Last Rites,” “Extreme Unction,” and “Viaticum?”
From its beginning (Cf. Mk 6:13; Jas 5:13-15), “the church practiced anointing as a rite for the sick.” (Gusmer, 23) “Nowhere in the early tradition does one find mention of the Anointing as a sacrament of preparation for death. Where mention is made of a ‘sacrament of the dying,’ the reference is always to the Eucharist, administered as Viaticum.” (McBrien, 844) Viaticum (Latin, ‘provision for a journey’) is “the Eucharist received by a dying person. It is the spiritual food for one’s ‘passing over’ to the Father from this world.” (CCC, Glossary “Viaticum”) Several factors during the Middle Ages caused the meaning of anointing to be altered from a rite for the sick into a sacrament for the dying, such that by the twelfth century the original order of penance, anointing, viaticum had been altered to penance, viaticum, anointing—anointing had become quite literally Extreme Unction, (Latin, ‘last anointing’). (Cf. Gusmer, 24) The Second Vatican Council directed that a new rite be developed for “Extreme Unction,” which is more fittingly called “Anointing of the Sick,” that should correspond more to the ancient practice of the church. (Cf. Martos, 397; SC, no. 73) The council also ordered that the earlier sequence should be restored so that, if in fact they were dying, Catholics would be anointed before and not after they received viaticum, (Cf. Martos, 397) so that “as the sacrament of Christ’s Passover, the Eucharist should always be the last sacrament of the earthly journey, the ‘viaticum’ for ‘passing over’ to eternal life.” (CCC, no. 1517)
From this we can see that under normal circumstances (i.e. not the exceptional or emergency situations triggered by sudden illness, accident, or some other cause placing one of the faithful in the proximate or immediate danger of death), the rites of Penance (also referred to as “Confession” or “Reconciliation”), Anointing of the Sick, and Viaticum are separate and distinct. The faithful receives the sacrament of Penance, as needed, for the forgiveness of sins. “The sacrament of the anointing of the sick should be celebrated at the beginning of a serious illness.” (PCS, no. 175) “The celebration of the eucharist as viaticum, food for the passage through death to eternal life, is the sacrament proper to the dying Christian . . . Viaticum, celebrated when death is close, will then be better understood as the last sacrament of Christian life." (PCS, nos. 175) It should be noted that although only a priest can administer the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick, a deacon or a duly appointed lay minister of Holy Communion can administer Viaticum. (Cf. PCS, no. 29)
For exceptional circumstances, a "Continuous Rite of Penance, Anointing, and Viaticum" has been set out so that these sacraments may be given together in a single celebration and if the person is unable to receive holy communion, the priest can use this rite, omitting the liturgy of viaticum. (Cf. PCS, no. 233) Since in this situation, the priest is giving the rites or sacraments of the church for the last time, it is sometimes referred to as “last rites.” (Cf. Keller, 105). Additionally, if death seems imminent and there is not enough time to celebrate the three sacraments in the manner given in the continuous rite, there is a “Rite for Emergencies” that the priest should use. (Cf. PCS, no. 234)
How Does One Request the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick?
For normal circumstances (i.e. not the exceptional or emergency situations triggered by sudden illness, accident, or some other cause placing one of the faithful in the proximate or immediate danger of death), the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is offered at the discretion of the Pator. Specific dates will be published in the bulletin, social media, and website. If anointing is needed before for a a surgery, where a serious illness is the reason for the surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, etc., call the parish office at (540)434-4341.
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CIC: Code of Canon Law: New English Translation. Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998.
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