The Anointing of the Sick: Comfort and
The Anointing of the Sick is a
remarkable sign of God's great love for us. In his merciful efforts
to bring us safely to himself in heaven, God seems to have gone to
the very limit.
Jesus has given us the sacrament of Baptism, in which original sin
and all pre-Baptismal sins are cleansed from the soul. Allowing for
mankind's spiritual weakness, Jesus also gave us the sacrament of
Penance, by which post-Baptismal sins could be forgiven. As though
he were impatient lest a soul be delayed a single instant from its
entry into heaven, Jesus gave to his Church the power to remit the
temporal punishment due to sin, a power which the Church exercises
in the granting of indulgences.
Finally, as though to make doubly sure that no one, except through
their own deliberate fault, would lose heaven or even spend time in
purgatory, Jesus instituted the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
A special sacrament for the sick & suffering
In his Gospel St. Mark (6:12-13) gives us an indication of this
sacrament of the sick when he tells us that the apostles, going
forth, "preached that men should repent, and they cast out many
devils, and anointed with oil many sick people, and healed them."
However, the classical description which the Bible gives of the
sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is found in the Epistle of St.
Is any one among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters [priests]
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 be in sins, they
shall be forgiven him.
The Oil of the Sick
The oil used in administering the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick
is called Oil of the Sick. It is one of the three Holy oils blessed
by the bishop of the diocese at his cathedral on Holy Thursday
morning, the other two Holy Oils being Holy Chrism and the Oil of
Catechumens, which is used in Baptism.
Oil of the Sick is pure olive oil—nothing being added except the
blessing of the bishop. Its appropriateness as part of the outward
sign of Anointing of the Sick is evident from the healing and
strengthening effects which are characteristic of olive oil.
The essence of the sacrament lies in the actual anointing and the
short prayer which accompanies the anointing.
In giving the sacrament, the priest anoints the sick person on the
forehead and hands. During this anointing, the priest says: "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."
Graces of the sacrament
In common with all the sacraments, Anointing of the Sick confers
It is an increase in sanctifying grace that Anointing of the Sick
gives, since it presupposes that the recipient already is free from
mortal sin. Thus there is intensified in the soul that supernatural
life, that oneness with God, which is the source of all spiritual
strength as it is also the measure of our capacity for the happiness
Besides this increase in sanctifying grace, Anointing of the Sick
gives its own special sacramental grace.
The primary purpose of the special grace of Anointing of the Sick is
to comfort and to strengthen the soul of the sick person.
This spiritual tranquility and strength is further increased by the
second effect of Anointing of the Sick. This is the preparation of
the soul for entrance into heaven by the forgiveness of venial sins
and the cleansing of the soul from the remains of sin.
If we are so blessed as to receive the sacrament of Anointing of the
Sick in our last illness, we may have every confidence that we shall
enter into the happiness of heaven immediately after death. We hope
that our friends still will continue to pray for us after death,
since we never can be sure of the adequacy of our own dispositions
in receiving this sacrament; and if we do not need the prayers,
someone else will profit by them.
Yet we should have a high degree of confidence, once we have
received Anointing of the Sick, that we shall look upon the face of
God moments after our soul leaves our body. The soul has been
cleansed from all that might hold it back from God, from venial sins
and from the temporal punishment due to sin.
The "remains of sin" from which Anointing of the Sick cleanses the
soul include that moral weakness of soul which is the result of sin,
both of original sin and our own sins. This weakness—even to the
point of spiritual indifference—is likely to afflict that person
especially who has been a habitual sinner.
Here again, the soul of the sick person is tempered and prepared
against the possibility of any last-moment conflict with the world,
the flesh, and the devil.
The Anointing of the Sick Complements Confession
Since Penance (Confession) is the sacrament by which God intends our
mortal sins to be forgiven, a sick person who has mortal sins to
confess must receive the sacrament of Penance before he receives the
sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
However, it is a comfort to know that Anointing of the Sick does
forgive mortal sin also if the critically ill person is unable to
receive the sacrament of Penance. This could happen, for example, if
Anointing of the Sick were administered to an unconscious person who
had made an act of imperfect contrition for his mortal sins before
Healing the sick
It is plain that the principal purpose of the sacrament of Anointing
of the Sick is a spiritual one: to prepare the soul for death, if
death is to eventuate.
However, there is a secondary and conditional effect of Anointing of
the Sick: the recovery of bodily health by the sick or injured
person. The condition under which this secondary effect can be
expected to operate is stated by the Council of Trent: "When it is
expedient for the soul's salvation."
In other words, if it will be spiritually good for the sick person
to recover, then their recovery can with certainty be expected.
The recovery, however, will not be a sudden miraculous recovery.
God does not multiply marvels unnecessarily. Whenever possible he
works through natural causes. In this instance, recovery will be the
result of the powers of nature, stimulated by the graces of the
By eliminating anxiety, abolishing fear, inspiring confidence in God
with resignation to his will, Anointing of the Sick reacts upon the
bodily processes for the physical betterment of the patient. It is
evident that we have no right to expect this physical result from
Anointing of the Sick if the priest is not called until the body is
hopelessly ravaged by disease.