TOPIC 24: ANOINTING OF THE SICK
1. Anointing of the Sick, sacrament of purification and salvation
Nature of this sacrament The Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ, implied as such in St. Mark’s Gospel (Mk 6:13), and recommended to the faithful by the apostle St. James: 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 (Jas 5:14-15). The Church’s living tradition, reflected in texts of the Magisterium, has seen in this rite, especially dedicated to comforting the sick and purifying them from sin and its consequences, one of the seven sacraments of the New Law.1
Christian meaning of suffering, death and preparing for a good death In the Ritual for the Anointing of the Sick, the meaning of human suffering and death is explained in the light of God’s salvific plan, and more specifically in the light of the salvific value of the sufferings undergone by Christ, the Incarnate Word, in the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection.2 As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion” (CCC, 1505). “Christ invites his disciples to follow him by taking up their cross in their turn (cf. Mt 10:38). By following him they acquire a new outlook on illness and the sick” (CCC, 1506).
Cf, DZ 216; 1324-1325; 1695-1696; 1716-1717; CCC, 1511-1513. Cf. Ritual for the Anointing of the Sick, Introduction, 1-2.
Sacred Scripture points to a close relationship between sickness and death, and sin.3 But it would be a mistake to think of sickness as a punishment for personal sins (Jn 9:3). The meaning of innocent suffering can only be understood by the light of faith, believing firmly in the Goodness and Wisdom of God, in his loving Providence, and contemplating the mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, thanks to which the Redemption of the world became possible.4 Our Lord taught us the positive value of suffering for carrying out the Redemption, but at the same time he wanted to cure many sick people, showing his power over suffering and illness and, above all, his power to forgive sins (cf. Mt 9:2-7). After the Resurrection he sent out his apostles: In my name … they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mk 16: 17-18) (cf. CCC, 1507).5 For a Christian sickness and death can and should be a means to seek holiness and to redeem with Christ. The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick helps us to live these sorrowful realities of human life with a Christian sense. “In the Anointing of the Sick, as Extreme Unction is now called, we find a loving preparation for the journey which ends in the Father’s house.”6
2. Structure of the sacramental sign and celebration of the sacrament
Cf. Deut 28:15; Deut 28:21-22; Deut. 28:27; Ps 37 (38): 2-12; Ps 38 (39): 9-12; Ps 106 (107): 17; Wis 2:24; Rom 5:12; Rom 5:14-15. 4 “Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases (Mt 8:17, cf. Is 53:4) … On the cross Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil (cf. Is 53:4-5) and took away the ‘sin of the world’ (Jn 1:29), of which illness is only a consequence” (CCC, 1505). 5 Of itself suffering does not save or redeem. Only illness accepted with faith, hope and love for God, in union with Christ, purifies and redeems. It is Christ who saves us, not through suffering but by suffering transformed into prayer as a ‘spiritual sacrifice’ (Rom 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:4-5), which we can offer to God, uniting ourselves to Christ’s Redemptive Sacrifice, made present in each celebration of the Eucharist so that we can...
Bibliography: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1499-1532 Recommended Reading John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris, 11 February 1984
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