Anointing of the sick

There is probably no sacrament more misunderstood than the Sacrament of Anointing
of the Sick. And it likely goes back to the time when it was called Extreme Unction—the
Last Anointing.

In their attempt to revitalize all seven sacraments, the Second Vatican Council not only
looked at the way each sacrament was celebrated, but the theology behind each
celebration. In the case of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, they renewed the
theology, gave it a new name, and revised the ritual. Let’s look at what they did and
why.

Moments of mental or physical illness can be times of crisis. They can mean a time of
loss and pain, a time of insight and growth, or anything in between. Regardless, our
loving God wants to be a part of our experience. He wants to share our lives with us, the
bad and the good. But his presence and support often comes in and through the
Church—our faith community. The kind words and help that we receive from others are
a part of this, for God works through human means. We need to pay attention
to how God works through them.

The Church can officially support us through the sacraments. In the case of an illness,
that support comes in the form of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. And, as the
ritual clearly states, the focus is life, health, and well-being. But we must remember that
a part of the fullness of life is our spiritual lives with God, which begun at Baptism and
will inevitably lead to death and resurrection.

Clearly recognizing that human frailty is a part of the reality of life, our loving God is with
us through this sacrament to strengthen us when our minds or bodies grow weak. Thus,
a person facing a significant surgery is encouraged to avail themselves of this
sacrament, as well as the aged or seriously ill.

The bishops at Vatican II were realistic in recognizing human illness and frailty. If death
should be the result of the illness, God and his Church assist the journey into new life by
offering the Eucharist as Viaticum. Just as the Eucharist nourished us throughout life, so
it is nourishment for our travels into new life.

This sacrament, then, is not to be viewed as the kiss of death, but one of healing and
life.

In the Church's Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, through the ministry of the priest, it
is Jesus who touches the sick to heal them from sin – and sometimes even from
physical ailment. His cures were signs of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The core
message of his healing tells us of his plan to conquer sin and death by his dying and
rising.

The Rite of Anointing tells us there is no need to wait until a person is at the point of
death to receive the Sacrament. A careful judgment about the serious nature of the
illness is sufficient.
 
When the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given, the hoped-for effect is that, if it be
God's will, the person be physically healed of illness. But even if there is no physical
healing, the primary effect of the Sacrament is a spiritual healing by which the sick
person receives the Holy Spirit's gift of peace and courage to deal with the difficulties
that accompany serious illness or the frailty of old age.