Anointing of the Sick

“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven”-  (James 5: 14-15).

You need not be on the verge of dying to receive this sacrament. This is clear from the fact that the anointing and the prayers that accompany it have as a purpose the restoration of health. If you are in no immediate danger of death, but are sick through abuses, or aged, or mentally debilitated you can and should receive the sacrament.

Anointing of the sick helps you to share more fully in the cross of Christ. By so sharing, you contribute to the spiritual good of the whole Church. By the fact that you share more fully in the cross of Christ through anointing, you are being prepared for a fuller share in Christ’s Resurrection.

Preparation for The Anointing of the Sick

If you are sick at home or in the hospital, call the parish at 407-482-4282. Besides the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, we can arrange for someone to bring you communion regularly.

Why do we Anoint the Sick?

Our mission as Church is to do what Jesus did. And on nearly every page of the Gospels we read of Jesus’ concern for the sick. Healing was essential to the mission of the disciples: “He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two…. They anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (see Mark 6:7-13).

Anointing does not hasten the act of death. In this sacrament, God invites you to connect with him in the light of your final meeting with him. Through this sacrament, the entire Church asks God to lighten your sufferings, forgive your sins, and bring you to eternal salvation.

In the course of time, the focus of the sacrament shifted from healing the sick to forgiveness of sins. The time for receiving the sacrament was delayed to the deathbed when forgiveness of sins would also be the final preparation for heaven. “Over the centuries the Anointing of the Sick was conferred more and more exclusively on those at the point of death. Because of this it received the name ‘Extreme Unction’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1512). The Sacrament of the Sick had become the Last Anointing, the unction in extremis.

The Second Vatican Council in 1963 placed the sacrament once again in the context of mutual prayer and concern described in the Epistle of James. Anointing “is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death” but is intended for all those who are seriously ill. Consequently, what we formerly called “Extreme Unction” is now more properly called “The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick”.

More has changed than the sacrament’s name. Our experience of the revised Sacrament of the Anointing has brought about a change in the way we think about the sacrament. For example: 1) This sacrament (like all sacraments) is a community celebration; 2) sickness involves more than bodily illness; and 3) anointing heals us through faith.
Excerpted from Anointing the Sick: A Parish Sacrament by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., Th.D., retrieved September 5, 2009 from http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0196.asp

When should someone be anointed?

If you are sick at home or in the hospital, you can be anointed.

In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Church says, “As soon as 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.” In other words, along with appropriate medical treatment, we should give God the opportunity to help cure our serious sickness.

Persons with the disease of alcoholism or persons suffering from other addictions can be anointed. So can those who suffer from various mental disorders. The anxiety before exploratory surgery to determine if cancer is present is a situation in which Christ’s power can be invoked in the sacrament.

Often the spouse or the principal caregiver of the person who is seriously ill also asks to be anointed when he or she, too, is seriously affected by the illness—the debilitating fear of an elderly husband (“How will I be able to live if she dies?”); the anguish of young parents whose child is dying (“How can a just and loving God allow this to happen?”).

In these cases the person does not have to wait until the illness is so grave that he or she is in the hospital or institutionalized to celebrate the sacrament. Sacraments, after all, are community celebrations. It is preferable to celebrate them in the context of family and parish even before going to the hospital. The sick person has a better opportunity to appreciate the prayers and symbols of the rite when in her or his customary worshiping community.

There are times when old age and the fears and isolation that can sometimes accompany it need to be brought to the healing and comforting touch of Christ in this sacrament. It is a powerful sign for a parish community to see their senior members place their limitations and dependence in the hands of Christ, who accepted human limitation and freely embraced suffering and even death itself.

The Anointing of the Sick is a different kind of healing than a chemical placed into our body as medicine or a surgical intervention to cut out diseased tissue. Sacraments are acts of faith; they grace the whole person—body, soul and spirit. The blessing over the oil for anointing asks God to “send the power of your Holy Spirit, the Consoler, into this precious oil. Make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it; heal them in body, in soul and in spirit, and deliver them from every affliction” (Pastoral Care of the Sick, #123) Excerpted from Anointing the Sick: A Parish Sacrament by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., Th.D., retrieved September 5, 2009 from http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0196.asp

Will I be healed?,  Does it work?,  Will I experience healing?

These are the questions that I am most frequently asked regarding the Sacrament of Anointing. And I always answer by saying yes. In my experience with this sacrament as a priest, healing always takes place. That healing, of course, is not restricted to mere physical healing.

When our attention is directed toward physical illness, it is natural to think of the effects of the sacrament in terms of physical healing. Sacraments, however, are celebrations of faith, expressions of who we are before God. This understanding of sacrament, together with the realization that we are more than our physical body, has led us to look again at the effects of the Sacrament of Anointing.

The Second Vatican Council has reminded us: “The purpose of the sacraments is to make people holy, to build up the Body of Christ and finally to give worship to God” (Liturgy, #59). The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick accomplishes this by helping us gain insight into the religious meaning of human suffering.

A quote from the General Introduction to the ritual itself, Pastoral Care of the Sick, explains more: “Suffering and illness have always been among the greatest problems that trouble the human spirit. Christians feel and experience pain as do all other people; yet their faith helps them to grasp more deeply the mystery of suffering and to bear their pain with greater courage. From Christ’s words they know that sickness has meaning and value for their own salvation and the salvation of the world. They also know that Christ, who during his life often visited and healed the sick, loves them in their illness” (#1).

The celebration of the sacrament does not explain human suffering; sacraments are more than mere words of explanation. The sacraments celebrate faith. In the very celebrating we experience more and more who we are and what we believe. As the Catechism says, “Christ invites his disciples to follow him by taking up their cross in their turn. By following him they acquire a new outlook on illness and the sick” (#1506).

What does this new outlook involve? It helps us understand what St. Paul meant when he said: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…” (Col 1:24).

It also sheds light on what St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians: ” ‘[P]ower is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (12:9). In the sacrament, the sick come to see that “Jesus associates them with his own life of poverty and service. He makes them share in his ministry of compassion and healing” (Catechism, #1506).

The Sacrament of Anointing does not remove the mystery of human suffering. Yet its celebration gives us a window into the mystery of a loving God. Our loving God raises up the crucified Son to display his victorious wounds, sitting triumphant at the Father’s right hand.

Excerpted from Anointing the Sick: A Parish Sacrament by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., Th.D., retrieved September 5, 2009 from http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0196.asp

What does the Priest do?

Despite its potential for drama, the Anointing of the Sick may be the most low-key of all the sacraments. “After it was all over, I thought, ‘This is it? Now I’m supposed to be healed?” says Bridget. “I felt kind of empty after the process, like I was waiting for a flashing light or something.”

Her reaction is common. The first time I saw an anointing, I was surprised at how short and unexciting the ceremony was. All the priest did was say a few prayers and read a Scripture passage. Then he placed his hands on the person’s head and prayed silently. Finally, he took out some holy oil and rubbed a little on the person’s forehead and palms. The whole event took less than 10 minutes.

Those two elements—prayer and anointing with oil—are the essence of the sacrament, the parts that must be performed for it to be valid. What else happens depends on how much time is available, the condition of the patient and individual desire. The priest may distribute Communion to the person being anointed and anyone else who wants to receive. Finally, he may merely end the service with a simple prayer and blessing.

Since the sacrament requires little in the way of space or materials, it can be administered almost anywhere people need the healing touch of Christ from bedrooms to battlefields, from living rooms to ambulances. Some parishes now offer a communal Anointing once or twice a year, inviting all parishioners who are ill to participate.

“I’m glad I received it,” Bridget says. “Kids worry about their image and don’t like to be known as being religious, but I don’t feel embarrassed to have had the sacrament. I feel really thankful. If priests had the anointing for youth at a youth Mass, maybe more would come. You feel really out of place when everyone who goes up to the altar is 60 years old.”
Excerpted from For Our Healing: The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick by Woodene Koenig-Bricker, retrieved September 5, 2009 from http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/YU/ay1292.asp

How often can I be anointed?

The Sacrament of Anointing can be received more than once. Each time a person has a serious illness or is undergoing surgery, he or she should be anointed.

That doesn’t mean when you have a common cold or get a tooth filled!

But it would include such things as diabetes. If you have a chronic illness like that, it is quite acceptable that you celebrate the sacrament when a communal anointing happens at your parish.

If you are anointed in the hospital, get discharged, and return to the hospital, you can be anointed again.

Excerpted from Anointing the Sick: A Parish Sacrament by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., Th.D., retrieved September 5, 2009 from http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0196.asp

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