There are some topics that I bring up in a Sunday homily every so often that always seem to be of interest and news to many of you. Last Sunday’s Gospel passage concluded with, “The Twelve … anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mk 6:13) And so, it was appropriate to speak on a misunderstood sacrament the Anointing of the Sick. The following are catechetical highlights we all need to know about this sacrament.
The above passage from Mark is where Christ institutes the sacrament. The Letter of St. James teaches how the Apostolic Tradition put it to use. “Are there people sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up. If they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them.” (Jas 5:13-15)
We keep in mind, though, the reading from St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, where he spoke of suffering with this mysterious “thorn in the flesh”. He learned from the Lord that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor 12:9) Such it is, that suffering, at times, is to be endured.
Regardless of the physical benefits we may or may not receive from the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, a person’s soul is cleansed from his sins and restored completely to the sanctifying grace that allows him to enter heaven. In such a state of grace, the sick person isn’t the only beneficiary. He is now a more effective instrument of grace for others. “The sick person … through the grace of this sacrament, contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to God the Father.” (CCC1522)
The Catechism clarifies that one doesn’t need to be on his death bed. “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) This sacrament isn’t meant to be a one-shot deal like Baptism or Confirmation. “If a sick person who received this anointing recovers his health, he can in the case of another grave illness receive this sacrament again. If during the same illness the person’s condition becomes more serious, the sacrament may be repeated. It is fitting to receive the Anointing of the Sick just prior to a serious operation. The same holds for the elderly whose frailty becomes more pronounced.” (CCC 1515)
I provide this information for your personal edification, but also to deputize you. I need you to call me when you know of a Catholic who needs these benefits. I still make house-calls.