Anointing of the Sick

Question from charles rose on 1/6/2008:

Dear Doctor,

What exactly does the Anointing of the SIck do? Is it similar to the last rites? I have received the Anointing several times and still feel the same way. Does this Anointing take sins away? Is the apostolic blesing still given at death? I do not understand what the Anointingf is suppose to do. I have mental problems and I thought for sure this anointing would help--so far, nothing has changed. Thank you.

Answer by Matthew Bunson on 1/16/2008:

The Second Vatican Council declared about the Sacrament of the Sick: “By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of her priests, the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, asking that he may lighten their suffering and save them (cf. Jas. 5:14-16). She exhorts them, moreover, to contribute to the welfare of the whole People of God by associating themselves freely with the passion and death of Christ (cf. Rom. 8:17; Col. 1:24; 2 Tm. 2:11-12; 1 Pt. 4:13).”

A few more details might also help to extend your understanding. The sacrament, promulgated by St. James the Apostle (Jas. 5:13-15), can be administered to the faithful after reaching the age of reason who are in danger because of illness or old age. By the anointing with blessed oil and the prayer of a priest, the sacrament confers on the person comforting grace; the remission of venial sins and inculpably unconfessed mortal sins, together with at least some of the temporal punishment due for sins; and, sometimes, results in an improved state of health.

The matter of this sacrament is the anointing with blessed oil (olive oil, or vegetable oil if necessary) of the forehead and hands; in cases of necessity, a single anointing of another portion of the body suffices. The form is: “Through this holy anointing and his most loving mercy, may the Lord assist you by the grace of the Holy Spirit so that, when you have been freed from your sins, he may save you and in his goodness raise you up.”

Anointing of the sick, formerly called extreme unction, may be received more than once, e.g., in new or continuing stages of serious illness. Ideally, the sacrament should be administered while the recipient is conscious and in conjunction with the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. It should be administered in cases of doubt as to whether the person has reached the age of reason, is dangerously ill or dead. The sacrament can be administered during a communal celebration in some circumstances, as in a home for the aged.

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