“Is any among you sick? Let him call for the priests of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
WHAT IT IS
Also known as Extreme Unction or Last Rites, Anointing of the sick consists of of priest or bishop laying his hands on a sick person and anointing him or her with blessed oil. When possible, the sacrament should occur during the Sacrifice of the Mass and be preceded by Confession and followed by Communion.
The recipient should in danger of death because of illness or old age. If he or she is unable to request it, the sacrament should be given the benefit of the doubt and administered. However, it must not be conferred individuals who persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin.
The oil used should ideally be olive oil, although any vegetable-based oil is acceptable. Priests carry such oil in case they encounter someone in danger of death. Unlike baptism, anointing of the sick can be received more than once. It can also be repeated during the course of a single illness if the condition worsens.
Anointing of the sick provides strength, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties of the illness. The sick person also unites his or her suffering with Christ’s Passion. Suffering, a result of sin, becomes a participating in the saving work of Jesus.
It also allows the Church to intercede for the sick and to offer his or her pain and to become holier in the process. Finally, Anointing of the Sick completes our conformity to the death and resurrection of Jesus — just Baptism began it. It builds on the other Sacraments that mark the whole Christian life and fortifies us for the final struggles before entering Heaven.
Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint 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. James 5:13-15
They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. Mark 6:13
Illness and death directly result from sin. When Christ offers us eternal life, he promises not only to purify our souls but also our bodies. No matter how healthy or strong we might be at any point in our lives, we all face death. While the Sacrament of Penance addresses the spiritual and psychological pathology of sin, Anointing of the Sick cures the body.
It doesn’t prevent death, just as Penance doesn’t prevent future sin. But it allows God to work in our lives and gives graces for us to be saved. The two sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the sick recognizes humanity’s dual, joint nature of soul and body — both of which are in need of salvation by Christ.
Death and illness were never part of God’s original plan. They only entered the world after Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God punished our parents with pain, hunger and hardship, then expelled them from Paradise. He then stationed a “cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the Garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gn 3:24).
Now in sin, it would be a lie for them to remain in Eden. Driven from God’s presence, their former immortality would have become a permanent exile. So God kept them from the tree of life, allowing them to die as an act of mercy. Death results from sin, but God’s love is greater than death and greater than our sin. He heals us with His own person, and the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick reminds us of our dependence on God for all health. It also reminds us that within the temporary suffering of death, an eternal health awaits us — if we let God work in us. This Sacrament is another overture of love by a God who wants each of us to spend eternity with Him.
Like many of the Sacraments, Anointing of the Sick had antecedents in the Jewish tradition into which Our Savior was born. Individuals would anoint themselves with oil to refresh their bodies. For instance, in 2 Sm 14:2, Joab tells a woman not to anoint herself with oil so that she will appear to be in mourning.
It was also common practice to offer ointments as a sign of hospitality and in conjunction with death. This is plainly seen when the woman anoints Jesus in Mt 26, Lk 7 and Mk 14.
Anointing oil first appears in Scripture in Ex 29:7, when God describes the consecration of priests: “Then take the anointing oil and pour it on his head, and anoint him.”The formula to make the oil is described in the next chapter and God tells the Israelites to anoint both the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.