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Anointing of the Sick

Anointing of the Sick is the sacrament that is given to the sick, often, but not always, near the time of death, for the purpose of physical and spiritual healing. The sacrament used to be known as extreme unction. It gives to the sick special graces–the strength to endure illness, the forgiveness of sins, and physical healing.

Like other sacraments, Jesus instituted the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. So Mark says about the disciples whom Jesus sent: "They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them" (Mark 6:13). James testifies to the practice of the sacrament in the early church: "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (James 5:14-15).

Some Christians do experience healing after receiving the sacrament, while others do not. So why is this? Is it a lack of faith, or were healings restricted to the apostolic age alone? God still heals, but he does not always heal, even those whose faith is great. Paul was stricken with a "bodily ailment" (Gal 4:13-14). At one point he could not travel because of his illness (2 Tim. 4:20). Paul also tells Timothy to "no longer drink only water, but to use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (1 Tim. 5:23). This not only proves that the sick believers were not automatically healed in the Apostolic age, it also proves that Christians were not to pray and rely on God's divine powers of direct healing alone, but they were to use medicine, for God might choose to heal by medicinal means.

So why does God sometimes choose not to heal when He has the power to wipe out all illness? Because "‘the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives'. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:5-11). Sickness can be used for discipline and training in the way of righteousness, but the grace to endure all suffering is always sufficient (2 Cor. 12:7-9).

Our sufferings can also be beneficial to others. Paul was able to speak to the Galatians only because he became sick: "You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first" (Gal 4:13). We should look for ways in which our illnesses can become a benefit to others. We must also remember that our sufferings are a powerful means of grace to ourselves and others, so we should patiently bear our sufferings and offer them up for the souls in purgatory and for other intentions.

Hippolytus (Apostolic Traditon 5:2 [A.D. 215])"O God who sanctifiest this oil as Thou dost grant unto all who are anointed and receive of it the hallowing wherewith Thou didst anoint kings and priests and prophets, so grant that it may give strength to all that taste of it and health to all that use it."

Serapion (The Sacramentary of Serapion 29:1 [A.D. 350])"We beseech you, Savior of all men, you that have all virtue and power, Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we pray that you send down from heaven the healing power of the only-begotten [Son] upon this oil, so that for those who are anointed . . . it may be effected for the casting out of every disease and every bodily infirmity . . . for good grace and remission of sins" .

Catholic Tracts


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