Anointing of the Sick in the Catholic Church

"Extreme Unction", part of The Seven Sacraments, by Rogier van der Weyden (1445).

Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of the Catholic Church that is administered to a Catholic "who, having reached the age of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age",[1] except in the case of those who "persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin".[2] Proximate danger of death, the occasion for the administration of Viaticum, is not required, but only the onset of a medical condition of serious illness or injury or simply old age: "It 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.".[3]

Anointing of the Sick has often been postponed until someone is on the point of dying, so much so that, in spite of the fact that, in all celebrations of this sacrament, the liturgy prays for recovery of the health of the sick person if that would be conducive to his salvation, Anointing of the Sick has been thought to be exclusively for the dying and has been called Extreme Unction (Final Anointing).[4]

The sacrament is administered by a priest, who uses olive oil or another pure plant oil to anoint the patient's forehead and perhaps other parts of the body while reciting certain prayers. It is believed to give comfort, peace, courage and, if the sick person is unable to make a confession, even forgiveness of sins.[5][6][7] Several other churches and ecclesial communities have similar ceremonies (see Anointing of the Sick for a more general discussion).

Introduction

Sacramental graces

The Catholic Church sees the effects of the sacrament as follows: As the sacrament of Marriage gives grace for the married state, the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick gives grace for the state into which people enter through sickness. Through the sacrament a gift of the Holy Spirit is given, that renews confidence and faith in God and strengthens against temptations to discouragement, despair and anguish at the thought of death and the struggle of death; it prevents the believer from losing Christian hope in God's justice, truth and salvation. Because one of the effects of the sacrament is to absolve the recipient of any sins not previously absolved through the sacrament of penance, only an ordained priest or bishop may administer the sacrament.[8][9]

"The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects:

  • the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church;
  • the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age;
  • the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of penance;
  • the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul;
  • the preparation for passing over to eternal life."[10]

An extensive account of the teaching of the Catholic Church on Anointing of the Sick is given in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1499–1532.

Biblical references

The chief Mark 6:13 are also quoted in this regard.

Names for the sacrament

In the past, the usual name of the sacrament in official documents of the Catholic Church was Extreme Unction (meaning, Final Anointing), a name attached to it when it was administered only to those on the point of death. Peter Lombard (died 1160) is the first writer known to have used the term,[11] which did not become the usual name in the West till towards the end of the twelfth century, and never became current in the East.[12] The word "extreme" (final) indicated either that it was the last of the sacramental unctions (after the anointings at Baptism, Confirmation and, if received, Holy Orders) or because at that time it was normally administered only when a patient was in extremis (at the point of death).[11] In the early 1970s the official name was changed to Anointing of the Sick to reflect Church teaching that the sacrament is to be conferred on those who are "dangerously ill".[13] "Extreme Unction" continues in popular use among those who prefer to keep the terminology that was customary in the period immediately before the Second Vatican Council (see Traditionalist Catholic).

The sacrament has also been known by various other names in Western Christianity throughout the years, including: the holy oil or unction of the sick; the unction or blessing of consecrated oil; the unction of God; the officeM of the unction. In the Eastern Church it is technically known as euchelaion (i.e., prayer-oil); other names used include: elaion hagion (holy oil), hegismenon elaion (consecrated oil), elaiou chrisis (anointing with oil), chrisma (anointing).[12]