Every month, we suggest a Faith Practice which you and your home, school or parish community might like to take on as part of your commitment for the Year of Faith. It is our hope that these simple practices will stir in us the ‘renewed conversion of the Lord’ that Pope Benedict XVI calls for in Porta Fidei (n. 6).
Faith Practice of the Month for September: Understanding the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick
Of the seven sacraments of the Church, two are recognised as Sacraments of Healing: the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Earlier on in the Year of Faith, ‘Celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation’ was suggested as an important faith practice. This month, focus on learning more about the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, and then consider how you can benefit from or contribute to the celebration of this sacrament in your own life.
The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick
When and Who?
In the past this sacrament was known as Extreme Unction, the word ‘unction’ meaning ‘anointing’. The name Extreme Unction reflects the Church’s past practice of administering this sacrament only in the extreme moment when the faithful were near death. After the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) the Church reclaimed the Apostolic Church’s practice of celebrating this sacrament with the faithful who were seriously ill. While ‘the proper time for receiving this holy anointing has certainly arrived when the believer begins to be in danger of death because of illness or old age’ (CCC, no. 1528), a person need not wait until that ‘extreme’ moment of his or her life. Wherever the Church celebrates this sacrament, it is best celebrated, whenever possible, with a community of the faithful.
For example, if it is celebrated in the family home, hospice or hospital, the family and other caregivers should be invited to participate. In the sacrament the person who is anointed encounters Christ the Physician. This is why the Church now recommends that anyone who is seriously ill and elderly people ‘in a weak condition though no dangerous illness is present’ may receive this sacrament. It is not necessary to wait until one is near death.
The Church celebrates this sacrament wherever the seriously ill person may be. Anointing of the Sick may be celebrated in the person’s family home, in a hospital, in a hospice or at the scene of an accident. Several people who are sick may be anointed when the Rite of Anointing of the Sick takes place in a home or hospital or other heathcare facility. The Church also celebrates this sacrament in the parish church. The parish church invites those suffering from illness or from the weakness of old age to come together. Sometimes the celebration of this sacrament in a church takes place during Mass; at other times it takes place outside of Mass, in a celebration that is often called a healing service.
The Church’s Rite of Anointing Outside of Mass can be used in a hospital in the presence of the sick person’s family and caregivers. In preparation, the parish priest may talk to family about the person who is ill. Upon his arrival, the priest places the Blessed Sacrament and the Oil of the Sick, each of which is in a special container, on a side table. Wearing a purple stole, he may celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with the person who is ill, if he/she is able to do so.
The Liturgy of the Word is then celebrated, during which the priest proclaims the gospel and reminds everyone of the healing presence of God that they will encounter in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The priest next begins the Liturgy of Anointing. He will invite all present to join in a prayer of faith to express their trust in God. Then he will lay his hands on the head of the person who is ill. This gesture recalls Jesus laying hands on or touching sick people (see Luke 4:40) and is a sign of the calling of the Holy Spirit upon the sick person.
Next the priest prays over the Oil of the Sick. The essential elements of the rite of the sacrament now take place. The priest first lays his hand on and anoints the forehead of the ill person with the Oil of the Sick, saying aloud:
Through this holy anointing
may the Lord in his love and mercy help you
with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
All present join in responding, ‘Amen’. The priest then anoints the hands of the person who is ill, saying:
May the Lord who frees you from sin
save you and raise you up.
Again, all join in responding, ‘Amen’.
In Churches of the East, other parts of the body may also be anointed in the celebration of the Rite of Anointing; for example, the area of pain or injury may be anointed. This pastoral custom may sometimes be followed in the Roman Rite. But should such an anointing take place, the priest does not repeat the words of the prayer essential to the rite.
The priest concludes the Liturgy of Anointing with an appropriate prayer asking God to be with and support the person who is ill during his/her suffering. The priest then invites that person, his/her family and all who are present to join in praying the Our Father. Depending on the circumstances, the distribution of Communion may then take place. Holy Communion received by those in danger of death is called Viaticum. The celebration concludes with the blessing of all present.
Previous Faith Practices of the Month:
August 2013: Seeing God in All Things
July 2013: Encouraging Yound Adults in the Life of the Church
June 2013: Praying with the Scriptures Daily
May 2013: Pilgrimage
April 2013: Supporting Catholic Education
March 2013: Celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation
February 2013: Lenten Practices
January 2013: Performing Corporal Works of Mercy
December 2012: Enthroning the Christmas Crib
November 2012: Praying for those who have died
October 2012: Pray part of the Rosary every day