The Anointing of the Sick

We read in the Letter of James:

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 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. They prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven” (5: 13-15).

            By the holy sacraments, Jesus comes again to us to show us God’s love and bring us salvation. Christianity is a way of life, in which God is forever present to us to bring us his salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. This is our belief that we proclaim again and again in all the articles of our Creed. During his life, Jesus showed God’s love to all people and especially to the sick by healing them. He also sent his disciples to do the same work. “So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast our many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mark 6:12-13).

            The Church, in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, perpetuates what Jesus did during his life and what the Apostles did after him.

            The holy sacraments are a point of encounter between us and God. They give us the opportunity to meet God in the different conditions of our life from birth to death. They help us to live in all these conditions the life of God’s children, realizing in us the image of Christ. Christians who become Sod’s children by Baptism are called to imitate Jesus, the Son of God, in all the moments of their lives, in joy and pain, in health and sickness, from their birth to their death.

            In this perspective, the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick gives the sick a special grace to be united in their suffering with Christ who endured suffering and death in love for all people and though death reached the Resurrection.

            The Christian, during his sickness, asks himself: if God is love, why does he allow this suffering? Is he still the heavenly loving Father? The mystery of the Anointing of the Sick is the answer to this painful question. Christ comes close to him and assures him that his sickness does not mean that God has abandoned him. God remains the God of love. Sickness and death are but the result of the weakness of the human condition. But they are not the end of the human life. They are rather a way to the eternal life.

            The grace of this sacrament is therefore God’s love manifested in Jesus Christ, which is revealed to the sick, allowing them to live, in spite of their sickness, a life of faith in God’s love and of hope in the eternal life.

            The holy mystery also is to be lived in the spirit of the mystery of Baptism. Baptism is a participation in Christ’s death and Resurrection. During his whole life, and in the various conditions of his life, the Christian is called to actualize this participation in Christ’s death and Resurrection. Jesus calls us to “take up (our) cross daily and follow him” (Luke 9:23).

            “The prayer of fait” says James, “will save the sick”. Salvation is not only healing of the body. Salvation means the entering into a relationship of faith, of love and of hope between the sick and God. Sickness, in this perspective and through this sacrament, is no more lived as a time of despair but as a time of faith in God, of love of him and of hope in the eternal life after death. United with Christ on the cross, the sick surrenders himself to God’s love. And even though, in his distress, he cries to God like Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34), he does not lose his confidence in God and ends up saying also with Jesus: “Father, into my hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

            Christianity is not a religion of magic. And the sacraments are not a kind of magic tricks. They are signs of God’s love and means Christ has left us to enter into a relationship of faith in the love of God.

            We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, under the title, “A preparation for the final journey”

            “If the sacrament of anointing of the sick is given to all who suffer from serious illness and infirmity, even more rightly is it given to those at the point of departing this life, so it is also called sacramentum exeuntiun (the sacrament of those departing). The anointing of the sick competes our conformity to the death and Resurrection of Christ, just as Baptism began it. It completes the holy anointing that mark the whole Christian life: that of Baptism which sealed the new life in us, and that of Confirmation which strengthened us for the combat of this life. This last anointing fortifies the end of our earthly life like a solid rampart for the final struggles before entering the Father’s house”.