Anointing of the Sick

What is Anointing of the Sick?

Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament which gives one grace as strengthening, and peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that are associated with disease, illness and dying. Along with the sacrament of Confession, it is considered a sacrament of healing.

“Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1501)

Anointing of the Sick creates a union with the Passion of Christ (Jesus’ suffering on the cross). Just as Christ suffered and was glorified, one also receives grace through suffering, a consequence of original sin, so that there is healing of the soul. And because Christ’s sacrifice brought salvation to the human race, when we are united with his suffering we can offer it in union with his suffering for the good of others. St. Paul described this, saying,

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church (Col 1:24).

Suffering in itself is not a good. However, God can bring about good from suffering for us and for others. Because suffering in itself is not a good, it is important to note that the Anointing of the Sick can also bring about physical healing. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) describes the effects of the sacrament in this way:

When the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given, the hoped-for effect is that, if it be God’s will, the person be physically healed of illness. But even if there is no physical healing, the primary effect of the Sacrament is a spiritual healing by which the sick person receives the Holy Spirit’s gift of peace and courage to deal with the difficulties that accompany serious illness or the frailty of old age.

Anointing also brings grace upon the whole of the Church because each member of the Church is united as one in the Body of Christ. It brings the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Penance. Finally, it is a preparation for the final journey to heaven mostly for those that suffer from serious or terminal illness and infirmity.

Who can receive Anointing of the Sick?

Anointing of the Sick should be administered to anyone that begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age and also just prior to a serious operation. These, however are not limits of the sacrament. It can be repeatedly given to someone if his/her condition becomes worse as well as for the elderly whose frailty becomes worse.

In some cases, this sacrament can be given to people whose illnesses severely affect their lives even without causing a danger of death. In the earliest Church anointing was often used this way, but for many years the Church offered the sacrament mainly to those who were dying because its graces are especially valuable as death becomes imminent. More recently, the sacrament has also been offered to people who suffer from serious mental illness.

The USCCB affirms that anointing is not only for those who are dying:

The Rite of Anointing tells us there is no need to wait until a person is at the point of death to receive the Sacrament. A careful judgment about the serious nature of the illness is sufficient.

Who administers this sacrament?

Like almost all sacraments bishops and priests are the ordinary ministers. The faithful are encouraged to call upon a priest to perform this sacrament when it is known that someone is sick and/or dying. Usually someone will receive the sacrament by making an appointment with a priest. If someone is in the hospital a priest may come to them to anoint them. In some cases, a priest will offer the Anointing of the Sick after Mass to anyone present who wants to receive it. Although it is important to remember that this sacrament is intended for serious illnesses, it is also valuable to offer the graces of Anointing of the Sick even to those who might be suffering from hidden illnesses.

Is Anointing of the Sick Biblical?

Of course! Everything Catholic is in the Bible. We refer to James 5:14-15:

“Is anyone 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. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.”

Additionally, below are the notes in regards to the passage and the sacrament from the New American Bible:

“In case of sickness a Christian should ask for the presbyters of the church, i.e., those who have authority in the church (Acts 15:2,22-23; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5). They are to pray over the person and anoint with oil; oil was used for medicinal purposes in the ancient world (see Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:34). In Mark 6:13, the Twelve anoint the sick with oil on their missionary journey.”

What are the matter and form of Anointing of the Sick?

The matter is the oil and the laying on of hands by the celebrant and the form is the prayers of the priest or bishop. The priest or bishop will pray in silence and then anoint the sick person with oil on the forehead (and sometimes on other body parts as well).

What is Viaticum?

Viaticum is the Eucharist when it is given along with the Anointing of the Sick for those who are about to die. Viaticum is considered “food for the journey” into eternal life. The giving of the Eucharist at the time of death is a powerful sign and reality of being united with Jesus as we make the transition through death from our earthly lives to our eternal lives.