By Vic Scaravilli

Like the sacrament of reconciliation, anointing of the sick is another healing sacrament of the Church that carries on Jesus’ own ministry of healing. While Reconciliation focuses on healing sin and its effects, this sacrament calls on God’s healing for those with physical ills.

The scriptural roots of Anointing of the Sick are very clear. Jesus healed the sick and commanded and empowered his disciples to do the same. Two readings that show us this are Mk. 6:13, “…and they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.”; and in James 5:15-16 the priests in the early church continued this practice, “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders (priests) of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

This sacrament has been practiced from the earliest days of the Church, but its focus has been modified over time. Until recently, the emphasis was on preparation for death so the term Last Rites has been used in the past. The Second Vatican Council restored an emphasis on prayer for physical and spiritual healing for all those seriously ill and also changed the name to Anointing of the Sick.

The effects of this sacrament are threefold. First, as in all sacraments, it gives sanctifying grace that allows the Holy Spirit to live within us and to give us the grace to live in the love of God. Second, it forgives all of your sins so that one may have the comfort of knowing that your soul is cleansed. Lastly, it provides spiritual healing. This sacrament does not guarantee every person will be physically healed each time but it does promise that on a spiritual level, one is given an internal healing of the soul.

God’s ways are above our ways and often God will allow sickness or suffering to continue, yet will work on a deeper level in the person. Many texts in the New Testament exhort Christians to rejoice in their sufferings and to consider them a sharing in the suffering of Christ (Rom. 8:16-17; Col. 1:24; 2Tim. 1:11-12; 1Pt. 4:13; 2Cor. 4:16-18). Yet our God is a healing God and will always spiritually heal us and will also physically heal those who he wills.

This sacrament is not just for those only who are at the point of death. It is also for those who are seriously ill or who are elderly. Once a person recovers from medical condition, he may receive this sacrament again at the time of another grave illness. Anointing can be repeated if a person’s condition becomes more serious. Also, this sacrament can be obtained prior to a serious operation. Any baptized person can be anointed.

Only a bishop or a priest can administer this sacrament because it involves the forgiveness of sins. Oil, blessed by the bishop during Holy Week, is the sign used and is used to anoint the forehead and hands of the sick person. This sacrament can be celebrated in a hospital, at home, or during a special Mass of Anointing.

The three elements of this rite are the prayer for the sick person, the laying of hands by the priest, and the anointing with oil. The priest is Christ’s messenger in administering this sacrament. It is God who does the healing.