ANOINTING OF THE SICK
PASTORAL NOTES FOR PARISH CELEBRATIONS
- These notes touch briefly on some of the pastoral issues arising in the celebration of this sacrament. More comprehensive notes are found in Pastoral Care of the Sick and highly recommended.
- The name ‘extreme unction’ associated with this sacrament tends to emphasise a connection with the moment of death. The Second Vatican Council however said that the name ‘Anointing of the Sick’ is preferable and that the sacrament for the dying is in fact the Eucharist, received as Viaticum. It seems preferable therefore that the sick be anointed at the onset of serious illness rather than postponing the sacrament to the end of their illness. The sacrament should not be confined to the ‘emergency’ situation. As an illness progresses, the sacrament may well be celebrated again.
- As with all the sacraments, the communal dimension is important. Thus, and in the light of the above, the ideal place for the celebration of this sacrament is in fact the parish, outside the emergency situation of the hospital. It will of course be celebrated in hospital as well, and occasionally in emergency situations in the home.
- Many parishes have a communal celebration of this sacrament once a year or more often. This is highly recommended as it locates the sacrament in its proper ecclesial context.
- While the minister of anointing is an ordained priest, the rites locate this ministry within a network of other ministers concerned with the sick: doctors, nurses, family members, neighbours and other carers. If at all possible the presence of these ministries should be acknowledged in sacramental celebrations of the sick.
- Some extreme situations necessitate a very short celebration, where the rite is reduced to a minimum. There is a danger however of the minimum becoming the norm. it is useful to remember that very ill patients who are unable to speak or acknowledge the presence of others may well hear what is being said and understand what is happening. Even if a rite has to be somewhat adapted to particular situations, it is useful to try to retain something of the following in each celebration: the presence and involvement of family members and/or other carers or ministers – sharing in the word of God – prayer in faith – laying on of hands and anointing.
- The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is for the sick and dying, but should not be celebrated once it is certain that a person has in fact died. Relatives sometimes request the anointing of a dead body out of an understandable desire to do the best for a loved one. Here the best thing is to point out sensitively that the Church has other rites specially for the situation for someone who has just died. The use of Holy Water and making the sign of the Cross on the body during these rites may also be pastorally helpful as they speak the language of sacrament. Suitable rites are found in Pastoral Care of the Sick and in Order of Christian Funerals.
- While it is true that all of us are in need of healing in various ways, the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is intended for those who are seriously ill. During communal celebrations those who are not seriously ill should be encouraged to participate in the sacrament in other ways, for example by praying, singing, and ministering to the sick.
- Many Catholics need catechesis about the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The annual World Day of Prayer for the Sick, as well as those Sundays, in which the themes of sickness and healing appear in the readings, might provide a suitable context for catechesis. Useful material can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (art. 1499ff).
- Special Ministers of the Eucharist are now prepared to bring Holy Communion to the sick in an increasing number of parishes. Thought might well be given to training them for the celebration of Viaticum as well.
Helpful notes for the communal celebration of the Anointing of the Sick can be found in the Jubilee Resource Book no. 4: Respecting Creation