Anointing of the Sick (Catholic Church)

Anointing of the Sick (Catholic Church)

Anointing of the Sick is the ritual anointing of a sick person and is a Sacrament of the Catholic Church. It is also described, using the more archaic synonym "unction" in place of "anointing", as Unction of the Sick or Extreme Unction. [The Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, cap. i, De Extr. Unct.) in an English translation quoted in [ Catholic Encyclopedia] ; the Coptic Church ( [ Sacrament of Unction of the Sick] ); Old Catholic Church ( [ Unction of the Sick] ); etc.] Although less common, this sacrament is also referred to as the Administration to the sick by some ecclesial communities. [ [ Community of Christ: The Sacraments] ]

The early-twentieth-century [ Catholic Encyclopedia] states: "In previous ages the sacrament was known by a variety of names, e.g., the holy oil, or unction, of the sick; the unction or blessing of consecrated oil; the unction of God; the office of the unction; etc. In the Eastern Church the later technical name is euchelaion (i.e. prayer-oil); but other names have been and still are in use, e.g. elaion hagion (holy), or hegismenon (consecrated), elaion, elaiou Chrisis, chrisma, etc."

When these words were written, the official name of the sacrament in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church was Extreme Unction (meaning, Final Anointing), a name attached to it when it was administered, as one of the "Last Rites", only to people in "immediate" danger of death. To reflect the restored discipline whereby, in the Latin Church as in other ancient Christian Churches, the sacrament is to be conferred on those who are "dangerously ill", [ [ canon 997] of the Code of Canon Law] ; cf. apostolic constitution [ "Sacram Unctionem Infirmorum"] of 30 November 1972; and [ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1512-1513] ] this Church now always uses the name "Anointing of the Sick". "Extreme Unction" naturally continues in popular use, and is always used by those who prefer to keep the terminology that was customary before the Second Vatican Council (see Traditionalist Catholic).

The term "Last Rites" is not equivalent to "Anointing of the Sick", since it refers also to two other distinct rites: Penance and Eucharist, the last of which, when administered to the dying, is known as "Viaticum", a word whose original meaning in Latin was "provision for the journey". The normal order of administration is: first Penance (if the dying person is physically unable to confess, absolution, conditional on the existence of contrition, is given), then Anointing, then Viatecum.

Biblical text

The chief Biblical text concerning anointing of the sick is and are also quoted in this regard.

An extensive account of the teaching of the Catholic Church on Anointing of the Sick is given in [ "Catechism of the Catholic Church", 1499-1532] .


Anointing of the Sick is one of the seven Sacraments. Only a priest (bishop or presbyter) can administer it [cite web
title = Catechism of the Catholic Church
accessdate = 2003-06-03
] , because of its relationship to the forgiveness of sins. Canon 1004 of the "Code of Canon Law" indicates succinctly who may receive the sacrament: "The anointing of the sick can be administered to any member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger by reason of illness or old age." A new illness or a renewal or worsening of the first illness enables a person to receive the sacrament a further time. And "in the case of a person who is chronically ill, or elderly and in a weakened condition, the sacrament of anointing may be repeated when in the pastoral judgment of the priest the condition of the sick person warrants the repetition of the sacrament" ("Rite of Anointing of the Sick", 102).

The text of the "Rite" (97) also states that the sacrament of anointing can be administered to an individual whether at home, in a hospital or institution, or in church; and several sick persons may be anointed within the rite, especially if the celebration takes place in a church or hospital; the celebration may also take place within Mass.

As indicated in the "Code of Canon Law", it is illicit to administer indiscriminately to the sick and the healthy this sacrament, which, as its very name shows, is intended to benefit only the seriously ill.

Effects of the sacrament

The Catholic Church sees the effects of the sacrament as follows. As the sacrament of Marriage gives grace for the married state, the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick gives grace for the state into which people enter through sickness. Through the sacrament is given a gift of the Holy Spirit that renews confidence and faith in God and strengthens against temptations to discouragement and anguish at the thought of death and the struggle of death. It thus leads to spiritual healing with forgiveness of sins and, sometimes, to bodily healing as well.

Established form

The oil used in the sacrament is usually olive oil, though other vegetable oil may also be used ("Catechism of the Catholic Church", 1513). It is blessed by the bishop of the diocese at the Chrism Mass he celebrates on Holy Thursday or on a day close to it. In case of necessity, the priest administering the sacrament may bless the oil within the framework of the celebration ("Code of Canon Law", canon 999).

In the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the priest anoints the sick person's forehead with oil (usually in the form of a cross), saying: "Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit." He then anoints the hands, saying, "May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up." He may also, in accordance with local culture and traditions, and the needs of the sick person, anoint other parts of the body, but without repeating the sacramental formula.

This is the form established for the Roman Rite through the papal document "Sacram unctionem infirmorum" of 1972. The form used in the Roman Rite in the preceding period included anointing of seven parts of the body (though that of the loins was generally omitted in English-speaking countries), while saying (in Latin): "Through this holy anointing, may the Lord pardon you whatever sins/faults you have committed by..." The sense in question was then mentioned: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, walking, carnal delectation.

Liturgical rites of the Catholic Church, both Western and Eastern, other than the Roman, have a variety of other forms for celebrating the sacrament.

In popular culture

In "Constantine (film)", John Constantine reads Balthazar his last rites, but stops at the last moment.

In Giacomo Puccini's 1900 opera "Tosca", the secret policeman Spoletta speaks excerpts from the ritual in order to increase the pressure on the title character while her lover is being tortured.

Senses Fail's 2006 song "The Priest and the Matador" includes lyrics in which the singer, dying after a suicide attempt, is given the last rites by a priest. The singer refuses the sacrament.

Death metal band Necrophagist has a song called "Extreme Unction."

The priest reading a condemned man his last rites is a staple of prison films. In "Johnny Dangerously" the 'priest' is brought in to assist Johnny in his escape, and in "Top Secret!" the priest, after reading the "last rites" (which includes Pig Latin), is himself executed.


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