4 Feb 2012

5th February 2012 - 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Reflection on Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick

On this weeks programme we continue our monthly series on the seven sacraments with this month focusing on the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick which ties into the fact that February 11th, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, is World Day of the Sick. We have our weekly reflection on the Sunday gospel as well as saints of the week and some local notices.

This weeks podcast is available HERE.

Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick

(this reflection was put together from the various sources listed at the bottom of the piece)



Traditionally referred incorrectly to as Extreme Unction or Last Rites, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick was previously most commonly only administered to the dying, for the remission of sins and the provision of spiritual strength and health.
What are the Last Rites?

The ministration known as the Last Rites in the Catholic Church does not constitute a distinct sacrament in itself. It is rather a set of sacraments given to people who are extremely ill and believed to be near death. These are the sacraments of Anointing of the Sick (which, in spite of not being reserved for the dying, is sometimes mistakenly supposed to be what is meant by "the Last Rites"), Penance and the Eucharist. If all three are administered immediately one after another, the normal order of administration is: first Penance then Anointing, then Viaticum.

The Last Rites are meant to prepare the dying person's soul for death, by providing absolution for sins by penance, sacramental grace and prayers for the relief of suffering through anointing, and the final administration of the Eucharist, known as "Viaticum," which is Latin for "provision for the journey." Reception of the Eucharist in this form is the only sacrament essentially associated with dying. Accordingly, "the celebration of the Eucharist as Viaticum is the sacrament proper to the dying Christian". The comfort of Viaticum has been valued by Christians since the beginning of Church history. The first ecumenical council, held at Nicaea in 325, decreed: "Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum" (canon 13). Having repented of our sins and received reconciliation, we travel with the Lord Jesus out of this earthly life and to eternal happiness with him in heaven.


What is the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick?

In modern times, however, the use of the sacrament has been re-examined and expanded to all who are gravely ill or are about to undergo a serious operation, and the Church stresses a secondary effect of the sacrament: to help a person recover his health. Like Confession and Holy Communion, to which it is closely linked, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick can be repeated as often as is necessary. Pope Benedict XVI in his message for the 2012 World Day of the Sick on February 11th reminds us that anointing of the sick is one of the Church’s two “sacraments of healing”, together with the “medicine of confession”, penance.

The modern celebration of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick recalls the early Christian use, going back to biblical times. When Christ sent His disciples out to preach, "they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them" (Mark 6:13). James 5:14-15 ties physical healing to the forgiveness of sins:


“Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.

Pope Paul VI revised the format of the rite in 1972 (it was one of the last rites to be revised after the Second Vatican Council). In the Apostolic Constitution he reminds us that “The Catholic Church professes and teaches that the Sacred Anointing of the Sick is one of the seven Sacraments of the New Testament, that it was instituted by Christ and that it is "alluded to in Mark (Mk. 6:13) and recommended and promulgated to the faithful by James the apostle and brother of the Lord.
From ancient times testimonies of the Anointing of the Sick are found in the Church's Tradition, particularly her liturgical Tradition, both in the East and in the West. In the course of the centuries, in the liturgical Tradition the parts of the body of the sick person to be anointed with Holy Oil were more explicitly defined, in different ways, and there were added various formulas to accompany the anointings with prayer, which are contained in the liturgical books of various Churches. During the Middle Ages, in the Roman Church there prevailed the custom of anointing the sick on the five senses.

The Second Vatican Council stated that " 'Extreme Unction,' which may also and more fittingly be called 'Anointing of the Sick,' is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as any one of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the appropriate time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that: "The 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." (CCC 1514)

When in doubt, priests should err on the side of caution and provide the sacrament to the faithful who request it. Pope Benedict XVI noted that the sacrament, formerly known as extreme unction, may be administered in “various human situations connected with illness, and not only when a person is at the end of his or her life”.

From the earliest times, the sacrament of the anointing of the sick was cherished among Christians, not only in immediate danger of death, but even at the beginning sign of danger from illness or old age. A sermon of Caesar of Arles (ca. A.D. 470-542) contains the following: "As often as some infirmity overtakes a man, let him who is ill receive the body and blood of Christ; let him humbly and in faith ask the presbyters for blessed oil, to anoint his body, so that what was written may be fulfilled in him: ‘Is anyone among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he be in sins, they will be forgiven him. . . . See to it, brethren, that whoever is ill hasten to the church, both that he may receive health of body and will merit to obtain the forgiveness of his sins" (Sermons 13[325]:3).
The essential rite of the sacrament consists in the priest (or priests, in the case of the Eastern Churches) laying hands on the sick, anointing him with blessed oil (usually olive oil blessed by a bishop, but in an emergency, any vegetable oil will suffice), and praying "Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up." Anointing with olive oil recalls the “double mystery of the Mount of Olives,” the Pope said, as both the location of the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus confronted his passion, and the place where he ascended into heaven. Oil thus acts “as God’s medicine … offering strength and consolation, yet at the same time [pointing] beyond the moment of the illness toward the definitive healing, the Resurrection.”. When circumstances permit, the Church recommends that the sacrament take place during Mass, or at least that it be preceded by Confession and followed by Holy Communion.


Only priests (including bishops) can administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, since, when the sacrament was instituted during Christ's sending out of His disciples, it was confined to the men who would become the original bishops of the Church.


Received in faith and in a state of grace, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick provides the recipient with a number of graces, including the fortitude to resist temptation in the face of death, when he is weakest; a union with the Passion of Christ, which makes his suffering holy; and the grace to prepare for death, so that he may meet God in hope rather than in fear. If the recipient was not able to receive the Sacrament of Confession, Anointing also provides forgiveness of sins. And, if it will aid in the salvation of his soul, Anointing may restore the recipient's health.


"The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects: the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his 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 his soul; the preparation for passing over to eternal life" (CCC 1532).


Some resources about the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick:

Gospel - Mark 1:29-39

Resources for this weeks gospel:

Saints of the Week

Psalter - Week 1

February 6th - St Paul Miki and Companions (Martyrs)
February 7th - St Mel (Bishop) - Patron of diocese of Ardagh & Clonmacnoise
February 8th - St Josephine Bakhita (virgin) - Patron of Sudan
February 9th - St Migeul Febres Cordero
February 10th - St Scholastica (Virgin) - sister of St Benedict
February 11th - Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick


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