“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.” James 5:14-15
Alluded to many times by Saint Mark in his Gospel, but promulgated to the Church by Saint James, Anointing of the Sick is the second of the healing sacraments. Due to our fallen nature, illness has always been one of the most serious problems humanity faces. Every illness has the ability to make us glimpse death and illnesses can either drive us further from or closer to God (CCC 1500-1501). Ushering in the kingdom of God, Christ the Divine Physician shows his compassion to the sick throughout the Gospels. He not only has the power to heal infirmities, but also to forgive sins because he desires to heal the entire person—soul and body. “When healing, Jesus often asks the sick to believe and have faith. He then uses signs to heal: “spittle and the laying on of hands, mud and washing. The sick try to touch him, ‘for power came forth from him and healed them all’” (CCC 1504). As foretold in Isaiah 53, Jesus takes our sufferings upon himself and shares in them to overcome the root of all sufferings: sin. By his death and resurrection, he shows victory over sin and that by uniting our sufferings to his, we can share in his redemptive Passion.
Christ sent forth his apostles with the mission of healing: “In my name … they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover” (Mark 16:16-17). The Holy Spirit gives to some the charism of healing to show the power of the Risen Lord Jesus. However, just as Jesus did not heal all physical ills when on earth, so too, “even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses. Thus St. Paul must learn from the Lord that ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9)” (CCC 1508). The graces of the sacrament include 1) forgiveness of sins, 2) peace, courage, and strength to face spiritual trials, 3) union with the Passion of Christ, 4) intercession for the People of God and their sanctification, 5) preparation for death, 6) and if God wills it, physical healing. (CCC 1520-1523).
Who can receive this sacrament and how is it celebrated? Any Catholic who is 1) seriously ill in mind or body, 2) about to undergo a serious operation, 3) the elderly or frail, and/or 4) at the point of death. If the sick person recovers and then falls seriously ill again, he or she may receive the sacrament again. Likewise, if after anointing, a person’s condition worsens, the sacrament may be repeated (CCC 1513-1515). The fullest form of the healing sacraments is celebrating Penance, Anointing, and Eucharist together. The dying should receive the Eucharist as viaticum (“food for the journey”).
As the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist form a unity called “the sacraments of Christian initiation,” so too it can be said that Penance, Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist as viaticum constitute at the end of Christian life “the sacraments that prepare for our heavenly homeland” or the sacraments that complete the earthly pilgrimage. (CCC 1525)
Form, Matter, and Minister
Form: Prayer of the priest over the sick person: “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.” (CCC 1513, 1519).
Matter: the imposition of hands (laying hands on the head of the sick person) and the anointing their forehead and hands with the blessed oil o the sick (CCC 1513, 1519).
Minister: Bishops and priests (CCC 1516). Since one of the effects of the sacrament is the forgiveness of sins, only those to whom forgiveness of sins has been entrusted (priests and bishops) may administer this sacrament.