RCIA CLASS 17B
– ANOINTING OF THE SICK
I. The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is based upon Jesus' special concern for the sick call for the Apostles to carry on His healing presence.
A. During His earthly ministry, Jesus had a special concern for the ill, and performed most of His recorded miracles on their behalf. See, e.g., Mark 1:32-34; Luke 7:18-23.
B. Both during His
earthly ministry and just before the Ascension, Jesus commissioned His
disciples to carry on that ministry to the sick as a sign of the Kingdom
of God. See, e.g., Luke 9:1, 10:8-9; Mark 16:18. The Apostles
began showing the power of the faith by cures, see Acts 3:1-26, 9:36-43.
C. The letter of
James ends with instructions for the Church, including a special call
to anoint the sick. See James 5:13-15.
D. Healing of sickness
is a natural image for healing from sin, for Jesus is the Divine Physician
healing us from spiritual ills. See, e.g. Mark 2:17; Is. 53:4-5.
II. On a natural level, there is a special need for strength in the midst of grave illness and a desire for healing for both body and soul.
A. Illness that could
lead to death are particularly important, both because they could be
the end of the earthly journey and because such illness can lead to
either spiritual reawakening, strength and witness to faith, on the
one hand, or despair and sin on the other. See Catechism 1501.
B. God is not the author of sin and death, but does permit them for His own purposes, for He can bring good out of them. Among other things, God can use illnesses to: (1) train the soul, chisling the body that it might become more fit for the heavenly kingdom; (2) detach us from earthly things, that we might seek more the things of heaven; (3) enable us to make a greater offering to God, from their want and not just their surplus; (4) cleanse us from sins and prevent us from other sins; and (5) join us more to Christ and enable us to be a greater witness to Him. See St. Gregory the Great, Rule of Pastoral Care, Book III, ch. 12.
- A primary effect of Anointing of
the Sick is to bring forth such effects, enabling the recipient to become
more noble, at peace with God, and a more glorious witness to the Kingdom.
C. But we should seek to preserve our health, for as St. Gregory says, the body is the "harp of the soul," through which we can learn to play music to God forever. And so we should try to develop this harp, which is a gift from God. Epistle to Archbishop Leander of Seville, Chapter V of Letters of St. Gregory.
- Thus, the sacrament of Anointing does often give healing, and always gives the ability to resist sins such as impatience and despair that illness can tempt one to.
II. The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given by a priest to one who is suffering from an illness or age that poses a significant danger of death. See Catechism 1515.
A. If the persons
wishes to go to Confession, that sacrament fittingly precedes the anointing.
But, if Confession is not feasible, the anointing confers forgiveness
of sins as Confession would. See James 5:15; Instructions
for Anointing of the Sick, paragraph 6.
B. As with the other
sacrament, this Sacrament begins with the invocation of the Trinity
and then a call to enter into the cleansing presence of Christ by recalling
to mind one's sins and asking God for forgiveness.
C. There is then ideally a reading from Scripture. As with the Mass and other sacraments, the written word of God prepares one to receive the divine Word of God made man.
- The Scriptural
reading can be followed by a homily, but in practice that is rare for
individual anointings. It is more common for liturgies in which
a larger number of people are anointed.
D. There are then
ideally intercessions for the one to be anointed and for all the sick.
These intercessions bring the whole people of God into that realm of
Providence. Only a priest can confer the sacrament, but the healing
presence of God is meant to be in the context of the whole People of
E. The priest then gives the sacrament itself, which consists of two parts.
1. First, the
priest lays hands on the sick person in silence. As with
Baptism (where it can be a preliminary symbol for the sacrament), Confirmation
and Holy Orders, the laying on of hands indicates a conferral of the
strength of God. In addition, as with those sacraments and the
Mass, the laying on of hands invokes the Holy Spirit and His grace of
calling. See Acts 13:3.
2. Then, often after a Trinitarian prayer, the priest anoints the person's head and hands (representing thought and action) with an oil blessed for the purpose. Here, the oil of the infirm symbolizes the healing power of God, for in ancient times oil was often used for the healing of injuries or wounds.
- When anointing
the head, the priest says, "Through this holy anointing, may the Lord
help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit." This aspect represents
more grace coming in from heaven.
anointing the hands, the priest says, "May the Lord who frees you
from sin save you and raise you up." This aspect, with the words
taken from the Letter of James, reflects the idea of rising up from
earthly infirmities, of body, mind and spirit.
Then all people together pray the Our Father, the perfect prayer taught
by Jesus Himself.
There is then a closing prayer, which can be taken from several options
depending on the circumstances (e.g., old age, grave illness, surgery.)
H. The recipient
of this sacrament and all present who are able to do so would then usually
receive the Eucharist.
III. The sacrament confers, above all else, healing and strength of mind and spirit, but also can confer physical healing.
A. The primary focus
of the sacrament is a healing of spirit and ability to deal with the
illness in a positive fashion, allowing it to lead one more to holiness.
This effect includes forgiveness of sins when Confession is not feasible.
It is this strengthening of spirit that is most important. When
Christ cured the sick, He emphasized this aspect most of all.
See, e.g., Mark 2:5.
B. Second, the sick
person is consecrated to be more like Christ, who bore our infirmities
and heal our illnesses. Innocent suffering, when borne with grace,
takes evil out of the world and transforms it into faith, hope, and
charity. See Col. 1:24-26.
C. On a related point,
the anointing gives the sick person a special status in the Church,
as one able to pray all the more for the Church and to be a more glorious
witness to the faith. See, e.g., Col. 1:24.
D. If the sick person is going to die, the sacrament prepares him for this final journey, giving him a special sense of Christ's presence with Him at the end.
- If a person
is likely to die very soon, the sacrament is called Extreme Unction,
popularly known as Last Rites. There are special prayers involved,
asking God to forgive the recipient of all the temporal punishments
due to sin and help him to eternal life. The recipient preferably
also receives Holy Communion, which is called Viaticum, reflecting the
prayer that the Lord will be with him.
E. The sacrament may also
confer physical healing if that would be helpful to the recipient's
salvation or that of others. It should be noted that physical
healings are perhaps more likely in the case of people who are more
sinful, for they are often in more need of time to repent.
F. As with the other sacraments, in order for the Anointing of the Sick to be effective, it must be received in faith.
1. In the case
of a person who is unconscious or unable to respond, this desire to
receive the sacrament and faith in it can be presumed to continue from
a previous time.