We see the institution of this sacrament in Jesus’ own day, when He sends out His disciples and we hear, “so they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them” (Mark 6.12-13). Furthermore this mission of anointing the sick is something that we hear of in the Epistle of St. James, “is there anyone ill 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 person and if they have committed any sins their sins will be forgiven them” (James 5.14-15).
It is important to see in both of these citations that the use of oil was a part of the celebration of this sacrament from the very beginning. As was mentioned previously, this oil of the infirm is blessed by the bishop (though in case of need can be blessed by any priest) once a year at the Chrism Mass. The oil is the matter of the sacrament and combined with the ritual prayer (the form) that goes along with the administration of the oil on the forehead and palms of the sick person. We will turn in our next article to the looking at the administration of the sacrament itself, but before we do, we need to take a look at the effects and graces which flow from its celebration.
The Anointing of the Sick offers the sick person strength, peace, comfort and courage in the midst of their illness. It also unites the person who is ill with the Passion of Our Lord. Flowing from this union of the person’s suffering with Christ’s own suffering the entire Church benefits as she is sanctified by this offering up of the suffering as is the soul of the person who is sick. Finally, the sacrament can help prepare the person for the final journey through death, granting them graces for a peaceful death.
In our next article focusing on the sacrament we will review the ritual for the celebration of the sacrament and then also briefly look at Viaticum and then discuss when it is appropriate to receive this sacrament.
(This article is part of a series of articles on The Sacraments which will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)