Anointing – Not Just for the Dying

A few weeks ago Sr. Mary Ann Walsh gave us 10 Good Reasons to Go to Confession (and they were good ‘uns, too!).

Today Sister gives us a brief ten-point look at what many call the most misunderstood of the sacraments:

The Sacrament of the Sick may be the most misunderstood of the seven sacraments, probably because of its informal name from years past, “Last Rites.” When you hear “Last Rites’ you see a movie scene of a somber priest who made it just in time standing beside someone gasping his last breath. It’s scary.

However, the Sacrament of the Sick is not just the emergency sacrament, though the dying should not hesitate to call a priest. Contemporary theology suggests more emphasis on sick than dying. It also stresses spiritual, psychological and emotional consolation as well as health in mind and body. It’s appropriate before someone goes into the hospital for surgery, for example. It is for serious illness, but not just when one is in the throes of one. It can be administered at the onset of illness or when the elderly indicate failing health.

Here are some suggestions for understanding the sacrament:

1. Concentrate on what it is, a sacrament to offer comfort not to foreshadow the grim reaper. Pope Benedict XVI spoke most humanly when he said that this sacrament that emphasizes “God’s unlimited goodness, must first of all bring healing to broken hearts.”

2. Make it a community experience. Even if the sacrament is administered somewhere other than at a service at church, others, such as family and friends, can be present. Allow those present to be part of the ceremony, offering some way to connect those present in their prayer for the sick person. Common prayer comforts everyone. Knowing people are praying with you and for you is a source of strength.

You’ll want to read it all. Sister is very right about community, as I shared here about my own anointing a few years back.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    I’m so glad that you posted this… It is totally misunderstood and I know that from direct experience through my job. People often call at the last moment, fearing that requesting the sacrament is to invite death.

    Last year when I was in the hospital for 12 days, my boss came by to give me this sacrament and it was an amazing experience. I am not glad that I was ill, I am glad that he gave it to me.

    We try to publicize it in our bulletin and through other venues, that he can offer the Sacrament of the Sick to anyone in need of healing.

    My boss also does a lot of home visits in coordination with our pastoral care area and he goes to the hospital weekly just to visit, bring communion, hear confession and anoint. (And as needed when called!)

    We also have the most moving healing mass twice a year. All of our parish elderly are invited, most come plus anyone in need of healing mass (who isn’t?)… by car, medivan… volunteers bring many of them, a few local nursing homes bus people. We are seated with an empty row in between each pew and the two priests come to each person individually to anoint them (the reason for the empty rows). They also bring communion to each person. It is so hard for many of the older folks to walk… It is the most moving thing to see and moving to be privileged to be a part of.

    As you can see, I am very passionate about this sacrament and you can tell why I love my work.

  • Greta

    I had missed the post on 10 best reasons to go to confession. good list. However, in number one, it said “He can’t even hint at it. Now that’s confidentiality.” One of the things I hear most from those who come into various programs at our parish and confession comes up in a negative way is how some priests talk about confession and their experience with a man or woman who came to confession and said “xyz”. I know that they are not revealing someone’s name and hopefully are not even talking about an actual confession. However, I have to agree with them that the sacrament should not be abused in this way by those Christ has given the gift of holding sin or forgiving sin. As I read the above statement, I remembered these statements from many who would not go to confession because they see this from too many priests. One even used the confession to make jokes over beer at the parish festival to loud laughter, but I wonder how many were turned away in the process. Why do Catholics so often make jokes about confession when it is a sacrament? I know priests get bashed a lot for everything under the sun, but I wish more of them would be sensitive to the fact that someone might think that he is revealing their confession in a sermon to make a point or that he might in the future. It is already the butt of jokes in way to many Hollywood movies. Just a bit of a sore spot with me.

  • Mary

    Once upon a time, I arrived at Mass to find they were administering this sacrament as well. The doctor had decided that my first round of antibiotics hadn’t worked, and we would try another round of different stuff before he went to IV adminstration.

    I received it.

  • Mary

    For Lyme disease, BTW. Really should have mentioned that.

  • Arnobius of Sicca

    I had an anointing before going in for surgery. It brought me peace of mind when it came to thinking of the “worst case” scenario (If I should die before I wake…).

  • Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    FWIW, confession remains pretty popular at both the parish where I work and where I worship. I am always at church for some ministerial duties about an hour before the Saturday vigil mass and people are always there, awaiting and having confessions heard in a steady stream. Same thing where I work apparently and many call for an appointment or just try to see Father before daily mass begins. During Lent we have extended times and offerings for confession and they are always very busy.

  • Kris, in New England

    Our parish does an annual Healing Mass where every parishioner who wants to, receives this sacrament. I received it for the first time this past June and it was – powerful.

    I will be facing some major surgery in a few years and fully plan to request this sacrament at that time. Such comfort.

  • Alexandrag

    In the Eastern Orthodox Church, anointing is done of all at a service on the Wednesday night immediately preceding Easter. At my church, it is a well attended service, and many parents make sure they bring their kids. We all are “sick” and in need of the Divine Physician in some way or another. Anointing also is available for any other times of illness, whether or not life threatening.