The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick was known for generations as Extreme Unction (Last Rites) to the Anointing of the Sick. With this was an understanding that the anointing was only for those whose death was very imminent.
With Vatican II and new scholarly study on recently found early church documents, we returned to a biblical understanding of anointing as found in the Letter of James:
Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. (James 5:14-15).
It simply refers to the sick. So why did the sacrament become only for those about to die? The confusion arose in the early church because, as this is a sacrament, one had to be in a state of grace to receive it. The rules for the Rite of Penance (Confession) were very strict. Often, people waited until they were on their deathbed to go to Confession. Thus, they were not in a state of grace and could not receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
We know understand that the Anointing of the Sick is for anyone with a serious illness. So, if you or your loved one have any serious illness, the time to ask for the Anointing of the Sick is now. If the illness progresses (or a new illness develops) over a long period of time, you or your loved one can be anointed again.
While Jesus (and the Apostles) performed miraculous healings, the Anointing of the Sick should not be seen as simply asking for physical healing. When we are sick, we may suffer physically and spiritually. The act of anointing with oil is a sign of strengthening. In this understanding, the Anointing of the Sick – while our prayers may include asking for a miracle – is about strengthening and knowing that God is with us granting us peace, love, and grace.
So, if you or your loved face a serious illness, please call our parish office, and Fr. Jeff would be happy to celebrate the Anointing of the Sick with you.
For more on this sacrament, read Fr. Jeff’s article on his website “Anointing of the Sick”.