Anointing of the sick

Should a family member be ill or going in for surgery, please call the Parish Office so that a might celebrate the sacrament of the sick with them. This can be done during or after any weekday or weekend Mass.

Why is oil used?

One of the best-loved stories Jesus told is that of the Good Samaritan. When the Good Samaritan knelt beside the man who had been beaten, he poured oil and wine into his wounds to start the healing process.

Oil has been used in the Church from the very beginning as a sign of healing. In Mark 6:13, we read "And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil the many that were sick and healed them." In James 5:14–15, we read, "Is there any among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. "

In the first eight centuries of Christianity the anointing was seen exclusively as a prayer for healing and not as a preparation for death. During the medieval centuries the anointing was stressed more and more as a sacrament that forgives sin and as a preparation for death. Thus it became known as "extreme unction" or the "last anointing" and was limited only to those clearly in danger of death.

With the Second Vatican Council, the sacrament is once again available to anyone who is seriously impaired by sickness or old age, and it is no longer called "extreme unction" but the sacrament of the sick.

Since the sacrament of the sick is a prayer of the entire Church that helps the one who is ill identify with Christ's own sufferings, the ideal is to have a number of people gather for the celebration. Those who are sick or weak from old age need many things: affection, friendship, recognition and contact with the faith community. They also need the assurance of forgiveness and expressions of support as they cope with the physical, mental and spiritual challenges of healing or preparation for death. It is for these reasons that the Christian community should gather for the celebration of the sacrament of the sick.

How sick do I have to be to request this sacrament?

Not as sick as we formerly thought. The sacrament is most fruitful when you are not so sick as to be unable to participate in the prayers and ritual actions. The new ritual states that the sacrament is for "those of the faithful whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age." The sacrament is not celebrated indiscriminately with people whose health is not seriously impaired.

Can I be anointed before surgery?

Yes, whenever a serious illness or disability is the reason for the surgery. For example, the insertion of an artificial hip or exploratory surgery to determine if cancer is present is an occasion to ask for the sacrament. In these cases one does not have to be in the hospital to request the sacrament. It is even preferable to celebrate the sacrament before going to the hospital. Being in one's parish or customary prayer situation enables one to better appreciate the prayers and symbols of the sacrament.

What if I am old but do not consider myself seriously ill?

There are times when old age itself and the fears and isolation that can sometimes accompany it need to be brought to the healing and comforting presence of Christ in this sacrament. The rite states "elderly people may be anointed if they have become notably weakened even though no serious illness is present." It is a powerful sign to a parish community to see senior members of the community place their limitations and dependence in the hands of Christ.

Can I ask the priest to anoint my sick child?

Sick children may be anointed if they have sufficient use of reason to be strengthened by this sacrament.

Can I receive the sacrament a second or third time?

Yes. The sacrament may be repeated if you recover and then fall sick again (with the same or another illness). The sacrament may also be repeated if the illness is protracted or if one's condition becomes more serious.

Are those who have already died to be anointed?

No. The sacraments are for the living. Those who have died should be prayed for but not anointed.

To receive the sacrament, whom do I call?

Call your parish. Any priest can administer the anointing, but ordinarily you will want to celebrate it with those with whom you usually share your faith: your pastor, parish, family and friends. Call our Parish Office and request the sacrament.

If I am going to be anointed at home, what do I have to prepare?

Very little. The priest will bring everything he needs with him. Simply prepare an area in which the priest and all those present can gather for prayer: an area in your living room or dining room where those present can be seated comfortably and are able to see and hear so they can participate in the readings and prayers and receive holy communion. Whenever holy communion is brought to the sick, all practicing Catholics may share in the reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord. If you are so sick that you are confined to bed, the celebration of the sacrament can take place in your bedroom.

Prepare a small table upon which the priest can place the holy oil and the Blessed Sacrament. The table can be covered with a white cloth. A crucifix reminds us that our sufferings are united with those of our crucified Lord. Candlelight, fresh flowers or whatever beautifies can aid those present to enter reverently into the mysteries being celebrated.

When the priest arrives, what is he going to do? Welcome the priest and introduce him to those present. Usually there will be a short period of friendly conversation to determine how you are feeling and which prayers would be most appropriate. The length of the rite will usually range from 5 to 10 minutes depending upon your strength and the other pastoral circumstances.

The actual rite begins with opening prayers and a reading from scripture. After the litany of intercessions the priest will lay his hands on your head. Together with all present he will pray silently for your healing. Next he will thank God for the gift of oil: "God of all consolation … make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it; heal them in body, in soul and in spirit, and deliver them from every affliction." Then the priest will anoint you by making the sign of the cross with the oil on your forehead, saying: "Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit." All respond: "Amen." Then the priest will ask you to present the palms of your hands and he will anoint them saying: "May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up." All respond: "Amen." Then rub your hands together and pray that the healing power of Christ may penetrate and heal any weakness or affliction.

Do I have to go to confession before being anointed?

No. The anointing of the sick forgives sins. However, the sacrament is intended for those who are in the state of grace. If the sick person feels alienated from God and the Church by mortal sin, then the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation should take the place of the penitential rite. Because this sacrament includes the forgiveness of sins, only priests are authorized to celebrate it.

What if I am already in a hospital, how do I ask for the sacrament?

Make your request known to the hospital staff. Today, hospitals no longer have full-time priest chaplains. Every effort will be made to contact a priest for the dying. Otherwise, the part-time priest chaplain will anoint you on his next visit.

Will I experience healing? 

This is a question that everyone wants to ask. The answer is "yes." The sacrament is the prayer of the Church, the body of Christ. Christ himself has assured us that whatever we ask the father in his name will be granted.

Many who have been anointed are eager to share their experience and often the stories they tell are of wonderful and unexplainable healing.

Some form of healing does take place. It is not always the physical healing of the medical profession. The sacrament is not a substitute for the work of doctors and nurses, drugs and hospitals. But there is always, for those rightly disposed, a new sense of God's presence and peace. We should not forget that God's healing power also works through the hands and intelligence of medical professionals.

We pray in the sacrament that the sick be healed in body, in soul and in spirit. Sometimes the wounds of our heart need to be healed more than the wounds of our body. Ultimately we pray that the sacrament of anointing will give us a better understanding of the mystery of a loving God who raises his crucified Son to display his victorious wounds, as he sits forever at the Father's right side.

What is a communal anointing?

All the sacraments are celebrations of the Church community. At certain times of the year, your pastor may invite all who are elderly or ill to attend a special Mass during which all who come forward are anointed. This is a wonderful expression of our care and support for one another. Unless there is a sudden change in one's health, an anointing of once or twice a year is more than adequate.

For more information or to arrange for this sacrament, contact:

Kim Seevers
Pastoral Assistant for the Sick and Homebound, Marriage and Parish Outreach
253–564–5185, ext. 3013