Anointing of the Sick
There is an important line from last Sunday’s Gospel which I didn’t want to let pass without comment. “So they [the Twelve] set off to preach repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them (Mark 6:13). This is a reference to what would later become known as the Anointing of the Sick which is one of the Seven Sacraments. As with all the Sacraments, the Anointing of the Sick was personally instituted by Christ. He Himself cured many while on this earth, and the healings were always connected with the forgiveness of sins. Our Lord then handed on this healing ministry to the Apostles. St James writes in his Epistle, “Is any among you sick? Let them call for the priests of the Church, and let them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up; and if they have committed sins, they will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).
To receive the Sacrament validly, there does not have to be a fatal illness, but it should be grave. A person about to have surgery may be anointed too, and the elderly may be anointed even if there is no immediate danger of death. The Church encourages us to receive the Sacrament long before there is an imminent danger of death. And God often uses this Sacrament to restore people to bodily health who have been expected to die, although this is not its primary purpose.
The Anointing of the Sick forgives venial (less serious) sins. More importantly, it also forgives mortal (grave) sins, but the person has to be sorry for them. However, the sorrow for the sin does not have to be present at the time of anointing. The sorrow may go back even years before a person is in danger of death. Just one condition must be fulfilled – the now sick and dying person, at least at some time between having gravely sinned and the time of Anointing, must have been sincerely sorry for having offended God by grave sin. Then the grace lost by mortal sin is restored to the soul. What a gift! How great is God’s mercy! This Anointing can ensure salvation and save someone from the eternal punishment of Hell. It is also possible for this Sacrament to remove all temporal punishment and thereby a person may completely bypass Purgatory.
PLEASE do not delay to call a priest to anoint someone if there is a danger of death – even if it is in the middle of the night! And let us never cease to pray for vocations, because ONLY a priest can administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
Fr Paul Gillham IC