On Anointing of the Sick

The following appeared in my parish bulletin (St John the Baptist) for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (21 December 2008). It bugged the heck out of me, and I wanted to complain to the pastor, seeing as how heterodoxy is being taught in his bulletin. But then I figured, he may well not care. He did allow it in the bulletin, after all. An upcoming post will further demonstrate why talking to him would do no good. A couple of friends weren't pushing me towards making a big deal out of it, and then I talked to my confessor about it last week when there wasn't a line, and he said to pray over it to discern whether or not I should talk to the pastor about it. I didn't get a sense I should, and since my rash judgement sees every hill worth dying on (and so obviously that can't be trusted), I decided not to talk to the pastor about it.

Instead, I'm going to bug all of you about it. This way I can complain, and do everything I want to, and receive the satisfaction of doing so, without battling the pastor. And I can even hope that Providence will guide him to this post, so that I can have my passive-aggressive dream fulfilled. :P

The text follows, treated by me a la Fr Z:

Q: Can you explain the sacrament of healing? Who can receive it? How often? Is it for physical ailments only or can anyone who is hurting mentally or emotionally receive it?

A: "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders (presbyters) 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..." St. James [emphasis in the original]

Anointing of the Sick is today's name for the sacrament many of you might remember as "Extreme Unction." Ah, so we're starting with the hermeneutic of rupture. Nevermind that it is still called extreme unction; while SC 73 says that it might be "more fittingly be called" anointing of the sick, it does not abrogate this name of the sacrament. Since the Medieval Ages it was a bad sign if the priest was called to administer this sacrament because it meant death was imminent. I do agree that the Middle Ages idea that if someone received the sacrament but recovered then they would be "a sort of animated corpse" (Duffy, Stripping of the Altars pp 313) was a serious catechetical problem. However, as a result of Vatican II, the Church began to see "anointing" in a new light. Today it is seen as a means of bringing strength to those whose health is compromised by illness or age. The sacrament is available to anyone seeking physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual healing. It is? Odd, CIC 1004 indicates that persons eligible to receive it are "the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age." It can be received more than once as the grace it imparts is a gift of the Holy Spirit that can help those suffering regain peace, courage, comfort, and strength. The first clause is valid, but "as" is not the proper word here; all the sacraments impart a gift of the Holy Spirit; irrepeatable sacraments confer an indelible mark, and that is why they cannot be received more than once. Anointing of the Sick can does--remember, ex opere operato bring healing to the soul, and, if it is God's will, healing to the body.

The sacrament is administered by a priest and generally is comprised of three ritual elements: prayer, laying on of hands, and an anointing with sacred oil on the forehead and hands of the person receiving the sacrament. Loved ones are encouraged to be present as an anointing takes place to lend their prayers and support to the one being anointed.

St. John the Baptist Church has scheduled this important sacrament as opposed to the unimportant sacraments? at regular intervals so that people can take advantage of the grace it imparts.

Anointing of the Sick is available to those who need it on the second Saturday of every month immediately following the 5:00 p.m. Mass.
Essentially, my problem with this text is the sentence I bolded. This is not what the Magisterium tells us about who can receive the sacrament. Much of the rest is objectionable to one degree or another, but is not nearly so egregious as this sentence. It really seems to have been written off the top of the writer's head, with no reference to Magisterial documents. So here I offer my own piece, a response to the questions asked:

Anointing of the sick is that sacrament "by which the Church commends the faithful who are dangerously ill to the suffering and glorified Lord in order that he relieve and save them".CIC 998The Council of Trent gave the effects of the sacrament as: anointing with the Holy Spirit, which takes away sins and their remnants; relieving and strengthening the soul, arousing confidence in God's mercy; and sometimes to restoring bodily health.Sacram Unctione Infirmorum, quoting the Council of Trent It invites the sick by associating themselves, in their suffering, with Christ's Passion and death. The Catechism gives the effects of the sacrament as: a particular gift of the Holy Spirit (including strength, peace, courage, faith, strength against the devil's temptation, forgiveness of sin); union with the passion of Christ; ecclesial grace (contributing to the sanctification of the Church); and preparation for the final journey, of death.CCC 1520-23

Anointing of the sick may be administered by a priest or bishop, using oil blessed by the bishop (or priest in case of emergency); the priest is to administer anointing to the forehead and hands (or one location, if necessary) and say once the words from the liturgical books.canons 999-1003 The matter of the sacrament is the blessed oil, and the form are the words from the liturgical books: "PER ISTAM SANCTAM UNCTIONEM ET SUAM PIISSIMAM MISERICORDIAM ADIUVET TE DOMINUS GRATIA SPIRITUS SANCTI, UT A PECCATIS LIBERATUM TE SALVET ATQUE PROPITIUS ALLEVIET."Sacram Unctione Infirmorum

This sacrament make be administered to "a member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age."CIC 1004 If there is doubt as to whether the person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead, the sacrament is to be administered. If the sick no longer have their faculties, the sacrament is to be administered if they at least implicitly requested it when they maintained their faculties. Naturally, it is not to be given to those who persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin.

This sacrament is for only those suffering physical ailments; it is for those who are "dangerously ill",Sacram Unctione Infirmorum those "being tried by illness".CCC 1511 Mental and emotional hurt are not grounds for reception of the sacrament. The sacraments likely to be appropriate in those occasions are Confession and Communion. This sacrament is about commending the dying to God. This can be seen in canon 1004's use of the language "begins to be in danger". This danger is the danger of death. This can be seen more clearly in the sacrament's other names: extreme unction, and the sacrament of those departing. The pastoral handbook for our archdiocese affirms that "Only those whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age are proper subjects for the sacrament."Pastoral Handbook of the Archdiocese of Denver 5.6.4. Again, in our own diocese, "Ordinarily, those who are recovering from any form of chemical dependency do not qualify as subjects for this sacrament. The spiritual help and sacramental nourishment most appropriate to such persons are: prayer, the sacrament of Penance, and frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist."Pastoral Handbook of the Archdiocese of Denver

It was once widely thought that this sacrament was reserved for the deathbed, as it were. Sacrosanctum Concilium 73 says it "is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death." However, this is not to say that anyone with any hurt at all may receive the sacrament. SC goes on to say, "Hence, as soon as any one 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." Though the recipient need not be at death's door, imminent death need be a concern for the one anointed. The medieval English view that "reception of this sacrament effectively constituted a death sentence"Duffy, Eamon. "The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c. 1400-c. 1580" (Yale University Press: New Haven, 2005): 313 is too far in one extreme, but to administer the sacrament to anyone, regardless of physical health, is an abuse in the other extreme.

Aside from illness, other grounds for receiving the sacrament are a serious operation, or particularly pronounced frailty due to old age.CCC 1515 In practise, many pastors regard operations in which general anesthesia is used as "serious".

Since the sacrament does not leave an indelible mark on the soul of the recipient, it may be repeated, as often as is necessary, even multiple times during the same bout of illness.CIC 1004

St John the Baptist has scheduled this sacrament at regular intervals so that the faithful may receive the grace it imparts. Anointing of the Sick is available to those sick or elderly who need it on the second Saturday of every month, immediately following the 1700 Mass. In accordance with the norms of our beloved archbishop, at each of these regularly scheduled celebrations of this sacrament, we announce the requisites to be a subject for the sacrament, so that the gravity of the sacrament is not diminished. If the sacrament is needed outside this time, call the parish at 303.776.0737.

So, to summarize: anointing of the sick is the sacrament in which God strengthens those in danger of death by anointing with oil; it may be received only by those in danger of death; it may be received as often as is fitting; and those hurting mentally or emotionally who are not in danger of death may not receive this sacrament.
My response is a bit long, and so it may need to be cut down to be included in the bulletin, but I submit that it is true to the Magisterium and answers the questions in full.

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