The sacrament of anointing of the sick

By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of the priests the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them. And indeed, she exhorts them to contribute to the good of the People of God by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ.”  (CCC 1499)

Other terms for this sacrament is Extreme Unction or Sacrament of the Sick. It is the last sacrament given before a person departs from this world.  Unction in the Bible means the act of anointing as a consecration or healing.  In the Anointing of the Sick, the priest prays over the sick and dying person and anoints him or her with holy oil (chrism) on the hands and head.

The scriptural basis of this sacrament is from the gospel of St. Mark when Christ sent out the apostles to preach and heal, as a training for them in their future ministry, “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”  (Mark 6:13)

In the Church there is a sacrament from birth to death or from womb to tomb for the spiritual life resembles the bodily life. As humans we get born, grow to adulthood, would need food, would get sick, get married and produce children, live under an authority in society and finally dies.   The same thing happens in the spiritual life, as we are born the sacrament right after birth is Baptism, the sacrament for spiritual maturity or adulthood is Confirmation, the sacrament for spiritual illness or sins is Confession, the sacrament for the nourishment of the spiritual life is the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament for the government of the Church is the Holy Orders or Priesthood and the sacrament for the government in a domestic church and upbringing of children is Matrimony, and upon death the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

When a person is in the danger of dying from sickness, accident or old age and at least at the age of reason or seven years old, he or she should receive this sacrament.  Children below seven need not receive it because of lack of awareness of the sacrament since it involves consent for it.

When this sacrament is given to the sick and dying, it is usually accompanied with the sacrament of confession.  The priest would hear the confession of the sick or dying person and then do the anointing.

If the sick person is not conscious anymore, only the anointing is administered but only if this same person expressed his or her willingness to receive it before consciousness was lost. The anointing would then include the forgiveness of sins as if that person went to confession. To respect the freedom of the person, the sacrament is not given if there is no consent for it because otherwise it will just be useless.  The grace of God in the sacraments are gifts, and we have to say yes to the gifts before we can receive it.

The benefits that the dying person would receive from this sacrament are increase in sanctifying grace or state of grace (God’s presence in our soul); forgiveness of venial sins and mortal sins if the sick person is unable to confess them; remission of the temporal punishment (in purgatory) still due for unremitted sins; strength to suffer sickness with patience and resist temptations; recovery of bodily health when God wills it.

The last moments of a person’s life here on earth are crucial.  No matter how holy the person might be, the devil will exert all his might and effort to tempt the person to sin especially the sin of despair or hopelessness in the last moments of life.  The devil would make an assault of reminding the sick person of his or her past sins and make those sins appear too grave and too many that God could not forgive them.  We need the graces of this sacrament to counter those demonic attacks and strengthen us in this final battle.

And lastly, there is an erroneous belief among us Filipinos and I have heard this many times in my catechism classes, that if we request for a priest to attend to our sick and dying relatives, it will somehow hasten the death of the person. This is one of those ignorant beliefs reeking with superstitions.  On the contrary, the sacrament of anointing of the sick can even heal a sick and dying person if God wills it, because it is also sacrament of bodily healing. I can attest to this personally because my mother who was very sick, got healed and was able to extend her life for a good number of years after receiving this marvelous sacrament, until she went to meet our Lord in 2016.