The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick was already implied
in Christs first mission to the twelve apostles. So they set off to preach
repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with
oil and cured them (Mark 6:13).
Some time during His public ministry, Christ personally
instituted anointing as a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament
(Council of Trent, November 25, 1551). After the Lords ascension into heaven,
anointing was commended to the faithful and promulgated by the Apostle James,
the brother of the Lord. What St. James says is that the sick should be
anointed. He also declares who is to perform the anointing and what effects are
to be expected from the conferring of this sacrament.
If one of you is ill he should send
for the elders of the Church, and they must anoint him with oil in the name of
the Lord, and pray over him.
The prayer of faith will save the
sick man and the Lord will raise him up again; and if he be in sin, they shall
be forgiven him (James 5:14-15).
Among the few passages of Scripture that the Church has
officially (and infallibly) defined are these two verses in the letter of James
the Younger, or Less, who was a near relative of our Lord. According to the
Council of Trent (November 25, 1551) the elders to whom St. James refers are
priests ordained by the bishop.
Until the Second Vatican Council, the anointing had to be
with olive oil blessed by the bishop. This is still the ordinary material used
in the administration of this sacrament. But Pope Paul VI decided that since
olive oil is unobtainable or difficult to obtain in some parts of the world, in
the future any oil obtained from plants could be used.
Moreover, in keeping with the directives of the Council, the
ritual was simplified. The formal papal declaration deserves to be fully
The Sacrament of the Anointing of
the Sick is administered to those who are dangerously ill, by anointing them on
the forehead and hands with olive oil, or if opportune, with another vegetable
oil properly blessed, and saying once only the following words: Through this
holy anointing and His most loving mercy, may the Lord assist you by the grace
of the Holy Spirit, so that freed from your sins, He may save you and in His
goodness raise you up (Apostolic Constitution on
the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, November 30, 1972).
In case of necessity, it is sufficient that a single
anointing be given on the forehead. In fact, if the particular condition of the
sick person warrants it, another suitable part of the body may be anointed,
while pronouncing the whole formula.
The sacrament can be repeated under two circumstances:
- If the sick person, having been once
anointed, recovers and then falls sick again.
- If in the course of the same sickness, the danger becomes more serious.
According to the directives of Canon Law, the Anointing of
the Sick can be administered to any member of the faithful who, having reached
the age of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age (Canon
As explained by Paul VI, 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. Consequently, as soon as any one of
the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the
appropriate time to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived (Apostolic Constitution). The key words are begins
to be in danger, as contrasted with at the point of death.
The new code is also more lenient than the former regarding
doubtful cases. If there is any doubt, the law now says, as to whether the
sick person has reached the use of reason, or is dangerously ill, or is dead,
this sacrament is to be administered (Canon 1005). This is a change from the
former prescription that the sacrament is to be administered conditionally.
Two further provisions exist in the Churchs general law.
One concerns the kind of desire a person must have to receive anointing, and
the other concerns people who are living in notorious sin. On the one hand,
therefore, this sacrament is to be administered to the sick who, when they
were in possession of their faculties, at least implicitly asked for it (Canon
1006). On the other hand, the Anointing of the Sick is not to be conferred
upon those who obstinately persist in a manifestly grave sin (Canon 1007).
Between these two situations lies the whole issue of having the proper
dispositions to receive the graces available through anointing.
Spiritual and Bodily Effects
The Church explains the words of St. James about the effect
of anointing by distinguishing two kinds of blessing which this sacrament
confers. The principal blessing is for the soul, the secondary is for the body.
How is the soul blessed by the Holy Spirit through
anointing? In several ways:
- The guilt of mortal sin is removed, so that a sinner is restored
to Gods friendship. With the guilt the eternal punishment due to mortal sin is
also removed. On this level, anointing has the same effect as Baptism and the
sacrament of Penance. Moreover, the sorrow required for remission of sin is the
fear of God, based on faith, which makes anointing so precious. Even though a
person is unconscious when anointed, yet he is restored to Gods grace with the
minimum requirement of what we call imperfect contrition, which means sorrow
for sin because a believer fears the just punishments of an offended God.
- Also, the guilt and temporal punishment of venial sins are
removed, depending on the dispositions of the person anointed.
- Temporal punishment still due to forgiven sins is removed, again
depending on the spiritual dispositions with which the sacrament of anointing
- Anointing strengthens the sick person in
especially two ways:
- Trust in Gods mercy is deepened by reassuring the one anointed
that, no matter how deeply God had been offended, He is a loving God who wants
only the salvation of the sinner.
- Courage is received to face the future, especially the prospect
of death. A person is prepared to enter eternity with a peaceful acceptance of
- Anointing gives extraordinary patience in enduring whatever
sufferings are experienced, and enables the one anointed to resist the
temptations of the devil to discouragement or even despair.
The Churchs teaching on the bodily effects of the sacrament
is simply expressed. This anointing, says the Council of Trent, occasionally
restores health to the body if health would be an advantage to the salvation of
the soul. In other words, the spiritual effects of anointing are unconditional
provided the sick person is properly disposed. But the benefits to the body,
including restoration to health, depends on Gods foreknowledge of whether this
would be good for the soul. Sickness is not an absolute evil. If God foresees
that being healed in body is for our supernatural good, He will raise us up
physically so that we might also be raised up spiritually and be more assured
of our eternal destiny.
Copyright © 2002 Inter Mirifica
Pocket Catholic Catechism