Caring for the Dying
The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is an ancient Rite that is performed to convey God’s blessings to the recipient, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It brings spiritual and even physical strength during a time of illness, especially near the time of death.
The Anointing offers prayers (in union with the Church family) for possible recovery, and gives strength to the soul of the sick person – a calming of the spirit in the face of anger, fear or loss of hope. Sometimes, physical recovery may be God’s will, but every sick person needs grace, strength, and encouragement to bear illness with dignity. The sick person’s suffering is given a deeper meaning by being united with the suffering of the crucified Jesus. The person receives forgiveness of sins, and if the sickness is very serious, is also prepared for the passage to eternal life.
In the Sacrament, the priest extends his hands over the person’s head and then anoints the head with the Oil of the Sick, saying, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Then, if possible, he also anoints the palms, saying, “May the Lord who frees you from your sins, save you and raise you up.”
Many years ago, the titles “Extreme Unction” or “Last Rites” were used. As a result, nowadays many elderly Catholics and their families still misunderstand this Sacrament. The new Catechism reminds us that it is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death (see CCC 1514). Many sick and injured people recover nowadays, or go into remission, so the Sacrament can be received as many times as needed. The elderly, people with many ailments, and those with a very serious disease, chronic pain and suffering, or recurring illness, can be anointed often.
Please help us to help your sick: if possible, don’t leave the call for Anointing too late; and please help it to be celebrated with the dignity and participatory solemnity which it deserves.