Like all the sacraments, holy anointing was instituted by Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry. The Catechism explains, “This sacred anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ our Lord as a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament. It is alluded to indeed by Mark, but is recommended to the faithful and promulgated by James the apostle and brother of the Lord”. (CCC 1511; Mark 6:13; Jas. 5:14-15)
The anointing of the sick conveys several graces and imparts gifts of strengthening in the Holy Spirit against anxiety, discouragement, and temptation, and conveys peace and fortitude. (CCC 1520) These graces flow from the atoning death of Jesus Christ, for “this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases’”. (Matt. 8:17)
Mark refers to the sacrament when he recounts how Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to preach, and “they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them”. (Mark 6:13) In his epistle, James says, “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 early Church Fathers recognized this sacrament’s role in the life of the Church. Around A.D. 250, Origen wrote that the penitent Christian “does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine . . . [of] which the apostle James says: ‘If then there is anyone sick, let him call the presbyters of the Church, and let them impose hands upon him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him’”. (Homilies on Leviticus 2:4)
In the year 350, Bishop Serapion wrote, “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 . . . “. (The Sacramentary of Serapion 29:1)
About the Sacrament
The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick powerfully demonstrates Jesus’ presence among us as our Healer and Comforter. It is by the anointing and the prayers of the Church that all those who are ill, face surgery or any disability come into contact with Jesus, the Divine Physician. Because of the special nature of the Sacrament, it may be received as often as needed. If you are going to be admitted to the hospital and wish to receive the Anointing of the Sick, please notify the parish office. The Sacrament can be celebrated after a weekday or Sunday Mass by making arrangements with the Pastor prior to the Mass.
The Sacrament’s Effects
“The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects: the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church; the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age; the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of reconciliation; the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul; the preparation for passing over to eternal life”. (CCC 1532)
Does a person have to be dying to receive this sacrament? No. The Catechism says, “The anointing of the sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived”. (CCC 1514)
Does God Always Heal?
Today some Christians go to extremes in their expectation of divine healing. On one hand, some say that if a Christian is not healed of all his diseases, this reflects his lack of faith. Others claim that divine healings were only for the apostolic age, when all diseases were healed instantly and automatically. Both extremes are wrong.
God does not always heal the physical infirmities that afflict us. Paul preached to the Galatians while he was afflicted by a “bodily ailment”. (Gal. 4:13-14) He also mentions that he had to leave his companion Trophimus in the town of Miletus because he was too sick to travel. (2 Tim. 4:20) In his first letter to Timothy, Paul urges his young protégé 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)
The last passage is especially informative. Not only does it reveal that illnesses were not always healed in the apostolic age, but it also shows an apostle’s practical advice to a fellow Christian on how to deal with an illness. Notice that Paul does not tell Timothy to pray harder and have more faith that God will heal him from his stomach ailment. Rather, he tells him how to manage the illness through medicinal means.
Some argue that healings were always instantaneous and were only for those living during the apostolic age, but that afterward the gift of healing disappeared. The problem with that theory is that the Bible tells us otherwise. For example, when Jesus healed the blind man at Bethsaida, he laid his hands upon him twice before the man was fully healed. (Mark 8:22–26)
Finally, we have a standing command of the New Testament in James 5:14-15, which reads “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”. This command is never revoked anywhere in the Bible, and there are no statements anywhere that God will cease to heal. Thus the command is in effect to this very day.
Of course, our healing, like all things, is subject to God’s will. As James pointed out just a chapter earlier, “You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that'”. (Jas. 4:14-15) We have a promise of healing, but not an unqualified one. It is conditional on the will of God.