Anointing of the Sick
God always involves other people in His plan of salvation. He called prophets like Amos in the First Reading to preach His word (Amos 7:12-15). And in today’s Gospel He sent out the Twelve to preach, to cast out devils and to anoint the sick with oil so as they could be healed (Mark 6:7-13). Similarly today He calls other men to minister to our spiritual needs now. These are the Bishops and Priests of the Catholic Church. Anointing with oil or the Sacrament of the Sick is one of the Seven Sacraments instituted by Christ and it can be very powerful.
A newly ordained priest was called out to anoint a dying man in hospital. The man was breathing heavily and looked very pale and didn’t have long for this world. The priest gave the man the Last Rites and also the Apostolic Pardon, thus forgiving all sins and removing all punishment due to them. While there the priest was called to visit another dying person on the other side of town, and so he left without knowing what had happened to the first man. When he returned to the hospital two days later to see how things were, he looked into the room where the man had been and nobody was there. But in the room next door he found two people laughing and he realised one of them was the same dying man he had anointed just two days before who was now in good health. The nurse came in and said to the priest, “I don’t know what you did to him Father, but after you left he completely turned round and is now in good health.” Then the man himself speaking to the priest said, “Father, I think I had a warning to get my life in order.” This is the supernatural power of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The Sacrament will sometimes restore the body to health if it be for the good of a person’s soul, as seemed to be the case here. But the primary reason for this Sacrament is to cure the person of the sickness of sin. Ideally a person being anointed should make their confession just before so as they are in a state of grace when they receive the anointing. But if through no fault of their own, the person is unable to confess, and provided they have sorrow for all their sins, even mortal sins are forgiven in this Sacrament, thus restoring the person to Sanctifying Grace, should they have lost it, enabling them to enter Heaven. A priest should never, ever refuse to anoint a dying person. His presence can mean the difference between eternal salvation and eternal damnation if someone is in a state of grave sin. Any baptised person who is seriously ill, in poor health due to old age, or about to undergo serious surgery, qualifies to receive this Sacrament.
Only a Priest or Bishop may administer the Anointing of the Sick. While doing so he anoints the person on the forehead with olive oil blessed by the Bishop saying, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Then anointing them on the palms of the hand he says, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up. Amen.”
The Sacrament of Anointing can bring a dying person tremendous peace. I have seen this with my own eyes on many occasions. It brings peace of mind because we are sure of God’s mercy to us sinners, and it means peace of heart because we are confident of being in God’s grace. Don’t leave it to the last minute to call the Priest. He may be out on another call.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC