The Anointing of the Sick
The second sacrament of Healing is the Anointing of the Sick. The Church recognizes that sickness and suffering are serious problems for humanity. While illness does lead some people to turn against God, it can also help the faithful realize what is important in life and turn them toward God.
Jesus showed great compassion for the sick and performed many healings. In curing sufferers, he often asked them to believe; in healing, he used outward signs such as the laying on of hands and getting people to bathe themselves. The sick often tried to simply touch him, realizing they could be healed that way. Through his sufferings, Jesus joined in the sufferings of the sick.
Healing and the laying on of hands were also part of the mission of the apostles. “In my name … they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17–18). Today, the Church strives to care for the sick and make sure they are remembered in prayers. In addition, the Church offers them a special sacrament, the Anointing of the Sick. The purpose of this sacrament is to strengthen those who are tried by illness.
There is testimony that this sacrament has existed since the earliest days of the Church, when the sick were anointed with blessed oil. As time went on, that anointing with oil was reserved for people who were close to death, and the sacrament came to be called Extreme Unction. However, this rite has always contained an intercession and prayer that the sick person recovers, as long as it would be helpful to his or her salvation.Performing the Sacrament
The Church teaches that anyone who seems to be in danger of death from sickness or old age is eligible for and should receive the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. If someone who has been gravely ill receives the sacrament, then recovers, he or she can receive it again in case of another grave illness. If the illness worsens, the sacrament may be received again. People may also receive the sacrament before a serious operation. An elderly person who becomes much more frail may also receive this sacrament.
For a while, the Anointing of the Sick was called the last sacrament because it was often administered when the sick person was close to death. However, the Church teaches that the Eucharist as viaticum (a word that means, literally, “I go with you,”) should always be the last sacrament received on earth, to strengthen the Catholic during the passage to eternal life.
Only priests are allowed to administer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. The Church treats the performance of this sacrament as a communal liturgy no matter where it is celebrated, even in a home or a hospital room. It can be administered to a particular patient or to a group of sick people. The Church celebrates the Anointing of the Sick as part of the Eucharist, preceding it by the sacrament of Penance, if circumstances allow.
The anointing with oil and prayers of the priest confer the following upon the ailing believer.
Strength provided through the grace of the Holy Spirit
Closer union with the suffering of Christ
A contribution to the holiness of the Church
A preparation for the journey to everlasting life