Over the past two years in these almost-weekly morceaux I’ve been dealing with the Mass. I hope it’s been helpful explaining, step by step, the various parts of ours Eucharistic celebration.
Now I’d like to begin considering one of our “Sacraments of Healing”: the Anointing of the Sick. This is probably the least understood liturgical rite of the Church, probably because it’s not frequently received. It’s not administered to healthy people but to those who are seriously ill or endangered from sickness, injury, or age. And fortunately most of us are pretty healthy most of the time!
Yet the Anointing of the Sick actually is one Sacrament which very clearly reflects the earthly ministry of Jesus Himself. When you stop to think about it and consult the Gospels, apparently “healing” was very prominent within Jesus’ earthly ministry. Ailments and weaknesses of all kinds are overcome and banished by His power: I just grabbed my Bible and just in the 1st chapter of the Gospel of Mark alone I quickly spotted healings and exorcisms mentioned in Mk 1:23-26; 1:31; 1:32-34; and 1:40-42! And that’s just one chapter!
And anointing the sick is one of the explicit activities which Jesus’ disciples also did when He first sent them out on mission: “So they went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mk 6:12-13).
So even today, in apostolic imitation of her Lord and Master, the Catholic Church continues to anoint the sick with holy oil. It’s a way of making Christ present in our world, and bring His grace precisely to the ones He is closest to: the ones who in their own bodies’ sickness and suffering are imitating Him and His holy Passion. Even before the effects of the sacrament are considered, the mere fact of the Anointing of the Sick is a personal encounter with the Lord Himself.