The anointing of the sick just like all sacraments, is one way that the church goes on with the ministry of Jesus. Through it, Christ continues to touch, heal, and comfort his people. The anointing of the sick was established from the letter of James and it attests that the practice has always been part of ministry. And it says, “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the elders of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (5:14). While the sacrament is administered individually most times, the church encourages to celebrate it within Mass. Many parishes make the celebrations on one or more Sundays every year.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1514), sacrament can be received by a baptized person who begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age and seriously ill. The communal celebration get to remind us that suffering is part of our human condition and may bring us to look on each other with the compassion of Christ the healer. When we celebrate this sacrament during Mass, it helps us to unite our sufferings with Christ’s as we recall his body broken and his blood poured out for us.
The sacrament of anointing the sick was called extreme unction (meaning final anointing) because it had, over time, come to be meant for the dying only. But the Second Vatican Council renamed it as anointing of the sick to describe its appropriate place in the life of the Christian faithful and also to provide strength and healing in time of serious illness. In the case of anointing a dying person, it is often followed by the sacraments of reconciliation (if possible) and viaticum (holy communion for the dying).
Most times, people may ask if the sacrament heals? And if the healing is physical? Actually, this is certainly what we hope for when we celebrate this sacrament, but we cannot approach it with this expectation. Jesus Christ, during his ministry on earth had a particular concern for sick people, he healed them not just with a word of power, but also with a human and compassionate touch.
We pray and hope that with this sacrament, the Holy Spirit may give strength, peace, and courage to the sick to help them face the difficulties of illness and age with faith and hope.
Sometimes some inner healing may result in a physical cure, sometimes it allows medical treatment to be effective, and sometimes it helps someone witness death calmly and hopefully. But in each case we are grateful for the compassion of our God.