Two recent articles have discussed the consolation of faith in the midst of human suffering. Building upon this theme, it is fitting to conclude our discussion of the sacraments with a description of the final sacrament that Christ gave His Church, Anointing of the Sick. As with all the sacraments, Jesus Christ inaugurated this sacrament during His public ministry. From an early time, He called for His disciples to pray for and cure the sick as part of their proclamation of the kingdom of God. See Luke 9:1-2, 10:8-9. And, just before ascending into heaven, Jesus told His disciples to lay hands on the sick for their recovery. See Mark 16:18. Building upon this instruction, the letter of James says, “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the priests of the church, and them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” James 5:14. Although the precise manner has changed over time, the Church has ever since conferred the sacrament of anointing upon those who are gravely ill for the purifying and strengthening of the soul, the consolation of the mind, and curing of the body.
This sacrament is conferred by a priest upon a member of the faithful who, because of illness or age, is in danger of death, even if that result is not probable or imminent. It is available to Catholics who are at least at the age of reason; and it can also be received by any baptized Christians who are in danger of death and believe in its efficacy. The same person can receive the sacrament again if the situation has gotten worse or if there is a relapse after recovery.
As described in the Catechism, there are two guaranteed effects for anyone open to them. First, the sacrament unites the recipient more to Jesus Christ and thus makes his struggles a source of holiness for himself and the whole Church. Second, it gives consolation and courage to deal with infirmities, with a particular experience of Christ at our side. Furthermore, if someone is contrite but unable to receive Confession, Anointing of the Sick confers forgiveness of sins. The sacrament can also lead to recovery from the illness if that is conductive to salvation. On the other hand, if death is imminent, the recipient becomes stronger and more open to divine light for the final passage to the greater kingdom.
The next article will describe the symbols used in this sacrament.