St. John The Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Newark NJ

The Rite of the Anointing of the Sick

Very often we priests visit the sick and administer the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick. Unfortunately, many people have an improper understanding of this Holy Sacrament. For some reason people feel that when a priest visits the sick, this is a sign that this sick person will soon be parting for eternity and so they call a priest when a person is literally dying. This is a false assumption! A priest comes to pray for healing and recovery and not for the “death” of a person. It is exactly this that has compelled me to write this article.

The Holy Church, like a good mother, gives its children the best it can – the Holy Sacraments. We know that there are 7 Holy Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation, the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony and Holy Orders. The main goal of the Holy Sacraments is to help people in their spiritual growth. But there is one sacrament, the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick, which also helps in the physical sufferings of a person.

Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to love our neighbors not only in words but also through His actions and that is why He Himself performed many good deeds: miraculously healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, returned sight to the blind and resurrected the dead. So the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick, as well as the other sacraments, was established by Jesus Christ Himself. We can clearly read about this in the Gospel of Mark: “He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them the authority over unclean spirits...” (Mark 6,7) “So they went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons and they anointed with oils many who were sick and cured them.” (Mark 6, 12-13) But we hear about this same Rite of the Anointing of the Sick more precisely from the Apostle Jacob who in his epistle (5, 14-15) writes: “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.”

There is a very common understanding among people that the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick is the last sacrament, meaning that whoever received it will die. One time I had an unpleasant situation where I was asked to go visit someone who was sick and unfortunately by the time I got there, the patient died. They called me too late…

I will try to explain the nature of this sacrament and also to explain why the above mentioned way of thinking is incorrect.

We see both in the Gospel and in the epistle of James that the sick were anointed with oil. Nowhere is there mention of death. On the contrary, “… and healing…” these are words from the Gospel and in the writing of James we read “…will save the sick and the Lord will raise him.” As we see, these words are opposites of the word “death”. In two cases it is said that, thanks to prayer over the sick and to the anointing with oil, the sick became well. What is important is that the sick person recovered not only spiritually but also physically. By spiritual illness I mean being weighed down with sin. Of course in this case we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but there are cases where a person can no longer go to Confession. And that is why after the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick a person’s sins are forgiven.

And besides that we should know that Rite of the Anointing of the Sick can be given only to the person who really needs this sacrament. The Holy Church can help in this through the service of a priest. In the Gospel of Luke 17,11-19 we read: “One time ten lepers met Jesus Christ. They stood at a distance from Him and raised their voice saying “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And Jesus said to them: “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing that he had been healed, returned, glorifying God with a loud voice; and he feel at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

During the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick a priest uses oil for the anointing. Since ancient times oil has been used as a successful remedy. But this oil is a symbol of supernatural remedies, which cleanse the soul of sins and lessen bodily pain and sometimes, if God wills it, return health to the body.

Using blessed oil, the priest anoints the eyes, the mouth, the ears, the nails, the hands, the chest and the feet of the person who is sick and using the words, the order and the matter prescribed in the liturgical books he recites the following prayer (or form of this sacrament): “Holy Father, physician of souls and bodies, You sent your only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who heals every sickness and rescues from death. HEAL WITH THIS ANOINTING this servant from all infirmity of both body and soul, and revive him/her with the grace of Christ, the prayers of our Holy Lady, Mother of God, ever virgin Mary and all of Your saints.”

Often while they are sick, people cannot manage their own life. So it is up to the family of the one who is sick to make sure that the sick person has an opportunity to partake in the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick. It is often asked: how often can one be anointed? The answer is clear – whenever there is a need for this. One can receive this Holy Sacrament many times, particularly during a serious illness.

Let us take advantage of the spiritual treasures which the Holy Church offers – of the Holy Sacraments, particularly the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick.

Father Mykola Bychok, CSsR