I’m continuing our consideration of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Probably the first thing we should do is recall how this sacrament is celebrated.
Only a priest administers the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. This continues the practice which dates back to what is written about in the Letter of St. James in the Bible, chapter 5, verses 14-15: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord . . . .”
In more formal settings, it’s celebrated just like the other sacraments: once the faithful have gathered for the celebration of the sacrament, a “Liturgy of the Word” takes place, when readings from the Bible are proclaimed and a homily is preached. In this way the eternal Word of God is recalled and applied to the particular situation of weakness or illness before us. (I often use that short reading from St. James’ letter in the New Testament as one of the Scriptural texts.) A profoundly moving part of the ritual is the “laying on of hands”: this is done by the priest but the ceremony also calls for the laity present to do the same if possible. As you might imagine, this can be specially moving when a family is gathered around someone’s sickbed, for example.
Next the priest recalls God’s blessing upon the special Oil of the Sick, one of the oils specially blessed by the bishop each year during Holy Week. The sick person is then anointed on the forehead and hands with this special oil, as the priest says these words: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in His love and mercy help with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” Everyone present, and especially the anointed person, respond with “Amen.”
Have you ever witnessed or taken part in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick? It can be done communally at Mass, and here at the Cathedral is administered to sick or aged parishioners and visitors after our 12 noon Mass on the last Sunday of each month. I recommend you come and witness it if you can. But frankly it’s usually much more “special” for the sick person and his/her family and friends when it’s celebrated in a personal – sometimes small and intimate – setting. Shared around a sickbed on earth, the liturgy of anointing can bring a sense of heavenly peace and divine love that’s overwhelming.