Anointing of the Sick
By Fr. Jim Turner
I was just ordained a couple of weeks when I was called upon to celebrate the Anointing of the Sick for the first time. I was on vacation at Lake Powell with family and friends when my older brother was injured in a diving accident. After Ed was transported to the ER in critical condition I decided that the sacrament was in order. When I told my younger brother, he looked at me in horror, blocked the door and cried out, “No! Don’t give up on him!”
I had to engage in some quick catechesis and tried to get my younger brother to understand that this was not the Last Rites, but rather a sacrament for the sick and injured. He slowly backed away from the door and let me pray with Ed. The prayer must have “worked” because Ed went on to live another 25 years, albeit as a respirator-dependent quadriplegic. He lived a fulfilling and successful life – disability and all.
Far too many Catholics still look at the Anointing of the Sick with fear and confusion, thinking that it is, indeed, the Last Rites, to be administered when all else has failed. They wait until their loved one is comatose and unresponsive before calling in the priest. The problem with this approach is that the patient is often unable to participate in the prayer and it is often not possible to find a priest at the last minute.
Along with the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession), the Anointing of the Sick is very much a part of the Church’s healing ministry. As we know, much of what Jesus did during his earthly ministry revolved around healing. As he traveled through the towns and villages of the Holy Land people were constantly bringing the sick, the crippled, the deaf, the mute and the possessed so that he might pray over them and assure them of God’s presence. Many did experience physical cures, but all experienced spiritual healing.
In the Anointing of the Sick we invoke the Holy Spirit to strengthen, encourage and bring new hope to the one who is suffering, and to his or her family. In a very dramatic way we are letting the person know that he or she is not alone, but held tightly in the arms of Christ and his Church.
Over the course of my 33 years as a priest I have anointed many hundreds, if not thousands, of men, women and children. We have celebrated this sacrament in hospitals, homes, care centers, here in the church and in many other places. From time-to-time we have a communal anointing during Sunday mass. Almost always there is a certain peace that comes over the one anointed, leading to a deeper trust in God’s care for them.
The Anointing of the Sick is for anyone dealing with serious illness or injury, before surgery, and for those struggling with the effects of advancing age. It may be repeated as needed. Please call the parish office to arrange for a priest to celebrate this sacrament with you or your loved one. And don’t wait for the last minute!!October 19, 2017