In continuing our ongoing considerations about the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, I haven’t yet dealt with who receives this special sacrament. Now before you make fun of me, saying “Duh!” and then shouting “Sick people!”, stop and think about how complicated an issue this can be.
I’m frequently amazed how many people suppose that this sacrament is only for those who are dying. That’s not true. The Anointing of the Sick is not only for those who are at the point of death. Sure that’s a good time to receive the Sacrament, but Church canon law says that any 7-year-old or older Catholic whose health is endangered by reason of illness or old age can and should be anointed (can. 1004), excepting only those who persist in some clearly grave sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes even farther, noting that “It is fitting to receive the Anointing of the Sick just prior to a serious operation,” and that “the elderly whose frailty becomes more pronounced” are also candidates for this special moment of grace (no. 1515).
Sure, just because you wake up with a headache or have a summer cold doesn’t mean you’re sick enough to be anointed. But I honestly think that more people should ask for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick when dealing with serious illness or surgery, or when infirmity due to old age becomes a significant burden. And the Sacrament can be repeated periodically while the situation of illness persists.
In fact, waiting until someone is on their deathbed for an anointing is definitely the wrong thing to do. To do this would be to deprive the sick person of the healing strength of the Sacrament! As a general rule of thumb, I suggest that whenever a person has to be hospitalized for some acute condition or inpatient surgery they invite a priest to share with them this important ritual of our Christian faith.