Celebrating Anointing of the Sick
Ever since the national church census in May this year – where we became aware that 52% of our worshiping parish is over 70 years old, and a cumulative 76% is over 50 – I’ve been thinking about the opportunity for healing that is afforded when we celebrate the Anointing of the Sick. Time and again, I’ve experienced first-hand with OLR parishioners what this sacrament offers to those who receive the healing balm of oil, prayer and physical contact with another human being. It’s a privilege that’s not lost on me.
Would you be surprised to know, however, that the Anointing of the Sick is not just for those in danger of death? Rather, only the onset of a medical condition of serious illness, or injury, or simply old age is required to validate the administration of this sacrament. Our very own Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “It 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/her to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived” (1512).
Unfortunately, sometimes the Anointing of the Sick is still postponed until someone is on the point of dying. While the sacrament certainly remains valid as a form of Last Rites (now called Viaticum where a person receives Holy Communion for the last time – bread for the journey), the current liturgy prays for recovery and healing – both spiritual and physical. In essence, Anointing of the Sick is an outpouring of God’s grace for a person’s healing and includes but is not limited to:
- the uniting of the sick person to Jesus’ own passion, for their own good and that of the whole Church;
- the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure the sufferings of illness or old age in a Christian manner;
- 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 their soul;
- and finally, the preparation for passing over to eternal life.
While the administration of this sacrament is restricted to a priest due to its penitential nature, pastoral care of the sick is something which every person is able to engage. In fact, it’s one of the seven corporal works of mercy and comes straight from Jesus’ influential Parable of the Sheep and Goats: “Whatever you did to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me” (see Mt 25:31-46). In 1980 Pope Saint John Paul II declared “Jesus Christ taught that [we] not only receive and experience the mercy of God, but that [we] are also called to practice mercy towards others” (Dives in misericordia, §14).
Our first reading and Gospel this Sunday both tell the story of people outside normal circles engaging in pastoral ministry. In both instances, their ministry extended the limited means of Moses’, Jesus’ and the disciples’ ministry. Perhaps it’s providential that these readings are offered to us this Sunday in light of the debate in the Queensland Parliament these past weeks of voluntary assisted dying. Increasing our collective engagement of pastoral ministry to the sick and dying is absolutely vital at this time. Call to Action: if you are able to give some time each week – even 30 mins as there is much need – to visit someone in our parish, please call or email the parish office between 9am-1pm, Mon-Fri.