What is the Anointing of the Sick?

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One of seven sacraments of the church, the Anointing of the Sick is a liturgy that recalls the healing presence and power of Jesus in times when human beings touch their mortality most vulnerably, like during a serious illness, when facing surgery, in the infirmity of advanced age, in recognition of mental or physical debility, and at the hour when death is near.

From ancient times, anointing has implied ritual contact with a substance (oil, water, blood, or even mud) to affect change, according to Jesuit Father John Endres, S.J. Oil anointings were generally joyful occasions: athletic events, civil ceremonies, cleansing rites, initiations, and consecrations. Kings and priests assumed their roles through anointing rites. After the anointing, it was understood that a person’s life and purpose had been transformed. Oil was also used for its healing and beautifying properties, and for preparing bodies for burial.

In the same way, the church draws on holy oils at many rites of passage from one state to another, including baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and in the consecration of new churches and altars—all of which enhances the dignity of the ritual use of oil in circumstances of weakness, illness, and dying as well. By this sign the sick person testifies to the whole community that it puts its faith in the seen and unseen, the bodily life of the present and the life of the world to come, the forgiveness of sins, and the authority of physical and spiritual healing available in Christ. In the 
Anointing of the Sick
Anointing of the Sick, we acknowledge the vulnerable or endangered person as one who essentially ministers to the community with his or her proclamation of faith in word and witness.

The ordinary minister of the sacrament is the priest, although it’s presumed that a community of faith gathers to share the event: family, friends, and caregivers. Various elements of the ritual include prayers, scripture, laying hands on the head of the recipient, and the anointing of their head and hands. There may be a water sprinkling rite of all present, and specifically affected areas of the sick person’s bodye may also be anointed with the oil. Children or young people may receive the sacrament if they are old enough to appreciate its meaning or if by their reception the family or community may receive the benefit of its effect. When a person is in danger of death the additional sacraments of reconciliation and communion (viaticum, or “on the way with you”) are also celebrated.

Leviticus 8; Psalm 23:5; 45:8-9; Isaiah 61:1-3; Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 4:18; 7:36-50; 10:34; John 12:1-8; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; James 5:14-15

Prophetic Anointing: God’s Call to the Sick, the Elderly, and the Dying by James L. Empereur (Liturgical Press, 1982)
And You Visited Me: Sacramental Ministry to the Sick and the Dying, revised ed., by Charles W. Gusmer (Liturgical Press)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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