Our mission as Church is to do what Jesus did. And on nearly every page of the Gospels we read of Jesus’ concern for the sick. Healing was essential to the mission of the disciples: “He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two…. They anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (see Mark 6:7-13).
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the Church continued to be a sacrament of healing: “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven” (James 5: 14-15).
In the course of time, the focus of the sacrament shifted from healing to forgiveness of sins and the time for receiving the sacrament was delayed to the deathbed when forgiveness of sins would also be the final preparation for heaven. “Over the centuries the Anointing of the Sick was conferred more and more exclusively on those at the point of death. Because of this it received the name ‘Extreme Unction” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1512). The Sacrament of the Sick had become the Last Anointing, the unction in extremis.
The Second Vatican Council wanted to remedy this situation. The Council reminded us that “the liturgy is made up of immutable elements, divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change.
These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #21). This was the case with Extreme Unction.
The Second Vatican Council placed the sacrament once again in the context of mutual prayer and concern described in the Epistle of James. Anointing “is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death” (Liturgy, #73) but is intended for all those who are seriously ill. Consequently, what we formerly called “Extreme Unction” is now more properly called “The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick” (see #73).
More has changed than the sacrament’s name. Our experience of the revised Sacrament of the Anointing has brought about a change in the way we think about the sacrament. For example: 1) This sacrament (like all sacraments) is a community celebration; 2) sickness involves more than bodily illness; and 3) anointing heals us through faith.
If you or someone you know are in the situation where Annoitment of the sick person is desired, please contact Rev Fr. Joseph McLoughlin.