By Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel
Special to The Texas Catholic
We encounter the living Jesus Christ in each of the seven sacraments. This is also true in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. Formerly called extreme unction, the anointing of the sick unites us with Christ in sickness, suffering and when we pass from this life to eternity. Sickness, suffering and death are part of our human condition. The Lord Jesus who shared in our human nature also experienced this part of our human existence. He also cured and conquered it by his own resurrection in a glorified and transformed body no longer subject to suffering, pain and death. In this way, he transformed this ancient fear for us into a pathway to true and lasting life.
Throughout his life on earth, Jesus showed compassion for the sick and suffering. In his many miracles of giving sight to the blind, curing the leper and making the crippled walk, Jesus showed that all the imperfections of human life are made whole and complete in him. This continues when we are united with him in the sacrament of the sick. Any baptized person who has reached the age of reason may and should receive the sacrament of the sick when needed. St. James tells the early Christians, “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters 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 save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed any sin, he will be forgiven.” (James 5; 14-15)
When a person is seriously ill from accident, sickness or the frailty of old age he or she should receive the sacrament of the sick. A priest, who alone can administer the sacrament, anoints the person with oil blessed usually by the Bishop at the chrism mass. Oil is an ancient element for healing. Open wounds were treated with oil to keep infection from developing. Burns and scrapes were rubbed with oil to soothe the wound. The person is anointed with the sign of the cross on the forehead and hands with the words, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up.” A person may receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick again if their condition worsens or if after recovering they become seriously ill again.
In the sacrament of the sick, we are united with Christ who also experienced suffering and death. Following him through suffering and death, we also follow him to resurrection to eternal life. The sacrament brings with it spiritual healing and peace as we lose our fear in the unknown and place ourselves confidently in the hands of our savior. Physical healing can also result if it would be the cause of conversion and deepening our spiritual lives.
As soon as we experience serious illness all of us should avail ourselves of this sacrament by calling a priest to administer it. If we are caretakers of someone who is seriously ill, it is a supreme act of charity to arrange for the sacrament to be administered to the one for whom we are caring.
The Most Rev. J. Douglas Deshotel is an auxiliary bishop, vicar general and Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Dallas.