ANOINTING OF THE SICK – PART II

Last week, this article described the background and effects of the sacrament Anointing of the Sick.  This article will focus on how this sacrament is administered.

To begin with, if it is feasible and the recipient has not done so recently, it is preferable for him to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation just before receiving Anointing.  For, as with the cure of the paralyzed man in Capernaum, the curing of the soul is primary to health of the body.  See Mark 2:1-12.  The priest then leads the liturgy with prayers and readings.  As with all sacraments and most Catholic prayers, we begin with the sign of the Cross.  Through this sign, we invoke God by name, for we know Him personally, and recall the cross through which Jesus won for us salvation.  There is then a reading from Scripture; for, as with Mass, the written word proclaims the personal Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Again as with Mass, there are usually intercessions, for we join our common prayers with the sacraments that Christ instituted.

At this point, the priests administers the sacrament by the laying on of hands and anointing with blessed oil.  Assuming that the oil has already been blessed by the bishop he gives thanks for the blessed oil with prayers that invoke God’s compassion for us and the refrain, “Blessed be God who heals us in Christ.”  (If the oil has not been blessed by the bishop, he blesses the oil at this point.)  The priest then lays hands in silence on the head of the person to be anointed.  After this laying on of hands, the priest anoints the recipient, usually on the forehead and the hands, reflecting the desire for cleansing in mind and work.  During this anointing he prays, “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit” and “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”  These prayers reflect pouring forth of grace from heaven, giving cleansing and restoration in body and soul. These two gestures, the laying on of hands and anointing with blessed oil, along with the prayers, are the essence of the sacrament.

Next week this article will conclude the discussion with a description of the symbolism behind the laying on of hands and the oil, as well as an outline of the rest of the anointing liturgy.

ANOINTING OF THE SICK – PART I

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.

TEMPLES OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Last week’s article discussed the power of baptism to cleanse us of original sin and give us a fresh start in life. This article will describe another effect of baptism, our consecration as Temples of the Holy Spirit.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul described the faithful as temples of the Holy Spirit. See 1 Cor. 3:16-18, 6:19. In ancient Israel, there was one Temple on earth; and it was the dwelling place of God’s glory among us. When Solomon dedicated the Temple in 957 B.C., the wondrous majesty of God filled it with such glory that at first no one dared enter. Due to the sins of the people, the glory of God left the Temple; and the Babylonians destroyed it in 586. But, when the people of God repented and returned from exile, they rebuilt the Temple; and the glory of God returned. In the early second century B.C., a Greek tyrant desecrated the Temple as a part of his effort to suppress the Jewish faith. But the people fought back, regained the Temple and dedicated it again to God. By the time of Christ, not only Jews but God fearers from around the Roman Empire came to worship at the Temple, knowing that they were with God as much as possible on this earth.

The Temple was thus central to the Jewish faith and to presenting this faith to the world. And so, Jesus loved the Temple greatly and visited it often. Because of this love for the Temple, He drove out the merchants and money changers who marred its glory. Through baptism, we receive more than the glory of the ancient Temple, for Jesus shares His life with us. Through Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit and are able to be a people of heroic and supernatural virtue, able to bring the divine presence into the world. When we commit sins, we mar this glory as the money changers did of old; and mortal sin forfeits this glory altogether as the glory of God left the Temple because of the grave sins of the people.

But through repentance and the sacrament of Reconciliation, God is always willing to purify our souls once again. And, if we cooperate with Christ, then when the journey of this life is over, we, with all the faithful, will receive permanent temples of unimaginable light and joy in heaven, where we will be in God’s presence forever.

THE CLEANSING OF BAPTISM

Last week’s article outlined the overall background and effects of baptism. This article will describe the first of those effects, the purification from original sin.
People sometimes wonder why the Church uses the word sin for a fallen condition that we are born with, and thus are not to blame for. A distinction between three Latin terms, mala, peccata and culpa, is helpful here. In Latin, mala means any evil, that is, the absence of a good that ought to exist, regardless of whether there is any sin involved. Thus, blindness, poverty and early death is a mala even if there is no sin involved.

Peccata, by contrast, is sin, that is something in a free agent (most commonly actions, words, or desires) that is an offense against reason, truth and right judgment, contrary to the law and love of God, even if the person involved is not to blame for it. Thus, a desire can be sinful even if it is involuntary and not blameworthy. A child raised to think that something immoral (e.g., impurity or violence against infidels) is right may not be at fault for his views; but such views, and actions based upon them, are still peccata, sinful and destructive of human nature. And then, if something is sinful and blameworthy, the Latin term is culpa, from which we derive our word culpable.

Original sin is peccata, for it is that deep flaw in human nature, the separation from God caused by the sin of our first parents and handed on as a sort of spiritual genetic defect to all of humanity. From original sin come many effects, including: concupiscence, the tendency toward evil and difficulty at doing what is right; struggle at prayer; darkness of the intellect and difficulty of work; divisions among people even when they are of good will; damage to creation itself; and death. Original sin, in addition to personal sins committed since the fall of Man, created a barrier between God and man, and blocked the path to heaven, for nothing impure enter those glorious realms.

Baptism removes original sin, but not all the effects of original sin. And thus, even after baptism, there are still struggles with concupiscence, difficulty at prayer, weakness in thinking and work, divisions among people, a world that is often against us, and death itself. But, with Christ at our side, we can fight these obstacles and open a path through the wilderness to the realms of everlasting life.

THE FIRST SACRAMENT

Over the last few months, this article has described five of the seven sacraments. During the next few weeks, this article will discuss first baptism and then anointing of the sick, the sacraments that begin the Christian life and ensure the presence of Christ in illness and eventually at the end of this earthly journey. John the Baptist and other Jewish teachers prepared the way for the sacrament of baptism by baptizing people with water to show their repentance of sins and desire for cleansing from heaven. See Matt. 3:11-12; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:15-17; John 1:25-27, 33.

Those first baptisms were not the sacrament, for they were not instituted by Christ and could not of themselves confer this divine forgiveness. Rather, they reflected a longing for the spiritual healing long promised by the prophets and psalmists. See Ez. 36:25-27. Ps. 51:1, 9. Then, as His public ministry was beginning, Jesus came to John the Baptist to receive the ritual from him. John understandably wondered why Jesus came to him, for it was Jesus who would confer the grace and healing that John’s baptism only symbolized.

But Jesus told him that it was fitting to confer baptism and that it would result in true righteousness. See Matt. 3:13-16. And so, John baptized Jesus and three events followed: (1) the heavens were opened; (2) the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove; and (3) the Father said from the heavens, “You are My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” See Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22. Jesus then instructed His disciples to baptize the people in Israel. See John 3:22-24. And, just before ascending in heaven, He commissioned them, “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Matt. 28:19.

From that time on, the Christian leaders intuitively understood that, through baptism, we begin the Christians life. See Acts. 2:38, 8:12-13, 9:18, 10:48, 16:15; Rom. 6:3-4, 1 Cor. 1:13-16, 12:13; Gal. 3:27. The three events that occurred at the baptism of Jesus reflect the three most central effects of baptism. First, the heavens are opened to us as we are cleansed of original sin. Second, the Holy Spirit comes to us as new temples of the Lord. Third, we become adopted sons and daughters of God. See Catechism 1263-65.

The next two articles will discuss these wondrous gifts conferred in baptism.

THE DOMESTIC CHURCH

Last week’s article described the natural order of marriage.  This article will focus on why we call marriage a sacrament.  For marriage is unique among the sacraments insofar as it was already a sacred institution before the time of Christ and remains so outside of the Christian faith.  What did Jesus Christ add to marriage that made it one of the seven sacraments in the order of grace?

We begin with the fact that John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the groom, an image that Jesus Himself later affirmed.  See Matt. 9:14-15; Mark 2:19-20; John 3:29.  The letter to the Ephesians and the Book of Revelation describe the Church as the bride of Christ.  See Eph. 5:21-33; Rev. 19:6-9, 21:1-3, 9-11.  As a hymn says, “From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride.  With His own blood He bought her.  And for her life He died.”  Their wedding feast is celebrated under symbols at each Mass and will be celebrated in fullness of glory at the end of earthly time.

And thus, every Christian married couple is meant to be a living example of the love between Christ and His Church.  And every Christian family is meant to be what the Vatican II Council calls a “domestic church,” a second Nazareth in which Jesus, Mary and Joseph are welcomed, and the kingdom of God is shown to the world.  See Lumen Gentium (1965) 11; Catechism 1655-58.   As with the Church throughout the world, there will still be struggles, sacrifices and shortcomings.  But, as Jesus said to His people “I will be with you always to the end of the world,” Matt. 28:20, so He promises each Christian couple that He will be with them always, in all the mountains and valleys, the sunshine and the storms of life together.

Thus, every couple married in Christ receives a commissioning and a promise.  The commissioning is to build up God’s kingdom on earth, starting in the home.  A couple is meant to help each other grow in holiness, to teach their children the faith by both word and practice, and to give an example of love, life and faith to a world very much in need of that witness.  And Christ promises that, if they will welcome Him and the Church into their lives, the offerings of married life will, like the seed that falls upon good ground in the famous parable, bear great fruit on earth and make them worthy of eternal life.

THE FIRST SOCIETY

The last two articles have focused upon American society and her historic defense of the rights given by God.  This article and the next will return to a discussion of the sacraments and describe what the Vatican II Council calls, “the primordial society,” that is, marriage and the family.

In recent years, there has been much doubt about the essence of marriage and family; and this confusion has led to many of the attacks on religious liberty.  For many people claim that the historic defense of Judeo-Christian principles of marriage and family (and by extension the historic principles of the other great religious traditions) are somehow unfair or intolerant.  But we do not hold that a doctor is being unfair or intolerant when he distinguishes between what leads to good health and sickness, nor an engineer when he distinguishes between what will cause structures to be stable or unstable.  Even more so, defending the natural and supernatural laws that provide the basis for healthy and stable families and societies is simply a matter of truth and charity.

With regard to marriage, Genesis 1 and 2 use a lot of symbolism, but they describe very important realities.  And one of these realities is that God Himself created marriage from the beginning.  We then developed schools, businesses, governments, sports, and the like.  And we can change the rules for the things we created as the situations change, although even in those fields there are enduring principles such as those of justice and natural rights.  However, God Himself created certain structures to give a solid foundation for everything else.  And among those structures are marriage, the ancient Chosen People, the Church and the sacramental system.  Each of these institutions has a crucial role in salvation history.

As Genesis 1 states, “God created man in His own image. . . . male and female He created them.”  Gen. 1:27.  There is a complementarity of masculinity and femininity in humanity, as there is by analogy a complementarity between harmony and melody in music, primary and pastel colors in art, rhyme and meter in poetry, and nouns and verbs in prose.  Marriage brings together this complementarity in a commitment of lifelong and total love.  And this loving union then gives children a father and mother, along with grandfathers and grandmothers one generation up.  This permanent, faithful and complementary love between man and woman and among generations then enables individuals and societies to appreciate the love of God who guides onward to everlasting life.

 WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS

With Independence Day approaching, and in the midst of the Fortnight for Freedom, the two weeks set aside by the American bishops to pray for religious liberty, it is helpful to reflect upon a great classic of American political thought that has unfortunately been largely neglected in recent years.  In 1960, Fr. John Courtney Murray published We Hold These Truths, which argued that America was founded upon certain propositions that have sustained the national spirit throughout the centuries.  He warned that those propositions were under threat by the pessimism, relativism and decadence of the modern era, but that the Church was in an excellent position to defend them.

In particular, Fr. Murray outlined five propositions that were behind the new political realms that the Revolution created.  First, nations and governments are under the law of God.  Second, that law can be ascertained by reason, and is thus available to people of all faiths, or even no particular faith.  Third, this law of God includes fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, freedom of speech and religion, human dignity, and parents’ ability to raise their children with their values.  Fourth, all people should be able to participate, not only in government, but in all of society.  And fifth, the continuing freedom of a people depends upon it remaining a virtuous people.

As Fr. Murray pointed out, even though few of America’s founders were Catholic (with the notable exception of the great businessman Charles Carrol, who helped finance the Revolution), the Catholic faith is in an excellent position now to uphold these great propositions of our country.  In particular, the Church maintains a great tradition about natural law, that is to say laws discernible by reason that govern human nature and society.  And, with her social teaching, particularly developed from Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Rovarum onwards, the Church has strongly upheld a society guided by the law of God and a focus of human dignity, family and social responsibility.  Furthermore, the Church’s belief that there is a universal call to holiness and that God pours forth wisdom even into the simplest person is a strong basis for allowing all people to participate in society.  And finally, the Christian faith maintains that truth and freedom from sin is essential to any authentic idea of liberty.  In this way, faithfulness to Christ and loyalty to this nation’s heritage of virtuous liberty are joined together.  As Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32.

THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Celebrating the Confirmation of five of our fellow parishioners, last week’s article described this glorious sacrament in which we receive in fullness the gifts of the Holy Spirit and are commissioned as prophetic witnesses of the Gospel.  This celebration is also a good occasion to discuss what we mean by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.  This description of the gifts comes from Isaiah chapter 11, in which the prophet says that the future king will be filled with these gifts through the Spirit of the Lord.  These gifts were to be those of the Messiah; and at His baptism, Jesus in His human nature received this Spirit in fullness.  See Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22.  However, Jesus also promised a number of times to send the Spirit in fullness upon His disciples.  See, e.g., John 14:26, 15:26-27, 16:7, 13-15; Acts 1:8.  At Pentecost, that promise was fulfilled for the early Christians, and the Spirit guided them to proclaim the Gospel to many nations gathered in Jerusalem, and then to be witnesses of Christ and His Church throughout the world

That glory continues on to this day, for we receive these gifts of the Holy Spirit at baptism, and they are completed at Confirmation.  Paragraphs 1830 and 1831 of the Catechism describe them as completing and perfecting the virtues and making us open to the inspirations of the Spirit.  St. Thomas Aquinas compares their influence to effect of a strong, but benevolent wind upon the sails of a ship.  One can move a ship to a certain degree by rowing; but a ship will move more swiftly and easily by catching the wind in sails.  The gifts are like sails along this earthly journey.  They allow us to catch the inspirations of the Spirit and soar above even ordinary goodness to a level that is “heroic, indeed divine.”  See Summa Theologica Part II-I, question 68, article 1.  As Pope Leo XIII said in his 1897 encyclical on the Holy Spirit Divinum Illud Munus (That Divine Office), we “need those seven gifts which are properly attributed to the Holy Spirit.  . . . By means of these gifts the soul is excited and encouraged to attain the evangelical beatitudes which, like the flowers that come forth in the spring time are the signs and harbingers of eternal beatitude.”

MOSES, PENTECOST AND CONFIRMATION

MOSES, PENTECOST AND CONFIRMATION

When the Chosen People were soon to leave Mount Sinai, God told Moses to appoint seventy elders who would assist him in governing the people.  All of those seventy received a portion of the prophetic spirit given to Moses.  But his friend and assistant Joshua objected that two of them should not have received the spirit as the others had.  Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake?  Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His spirit upon them.”  Numbers 11:29.  In later centuries, the prophets spoke of a day to come when God would answer this prayer.  For example, the prophet Joel declared God’s promise, “In those days to come, I will pour out my spirit upon all mankind; Your sons and daughters shall prophesy.” Joel 2:28.  Jeremiah spoke of the new covenant in which, “all from least to greatest shall know” the Almighty God. Jer. 31:34.  The Book of Wisdom describes the image of Lady Wisdom who makes of holy souls, “friends of God and prophets.”  Wis. 7:28.

Just before ascending into heaven, Jesus promised His Apostles that He would send them the Holy Spirit to be His prophetic witnesses unto the ends of the world, confirming similar promises made at the Last Supper.  See John 14:16-17, 14:25-26, 15:26-27, 16:7-11; Acts 1:8.  But this promised was not reserved only to the Apostles.  For at Pentecost ten days later, the Holy Spirit come down upon all of the 110 Christians gathered in the upper room.  And they went forth immediately to proclaim the Good News in Jerusalem and then throughout the Roman Empire.  Before that time, they were well intentioned, but often limited by misunderstandings, fear and bickering.  With the Holy Spirit they formed a strong, united band able to bring about a new springtime of faith.

Pentecost did not end 2000 years ago, but rather continues to thunder throughout the ages as the faithful bring the light of Christ to all nations.  On Sunday, Bishop Burbidge confers the sacrament of Confirmation upon five of our young parishioners.  Through that sacrament the Holy Spirit unites us more strongly to Christ and gives us the graces to become His faithful and wise messengers for the world around us.  If we respond to that calling with generosity and courage, God will fulfill in us the ancient prayer of Moses that all of God’s people would receive the Holy Spirt, that we would all be prophets.