Anointing the Sick

Over the course of the past several weeks it seems that there has hardly been a day gone by where a person has not called to request the “Last Rites of the Catholic Church” or “Extreme Unction” for a family member whose death is imminent.  The terms “Last Rites of the Catholic Church” or “Extreme Unction” were updated to “The Sacrament of the Sick” shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council (well over 50 years ago). Unfortunately, the thinking has endured for over half a century that the reception of this Sacrament is limited to those who are knocking on death’s door.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Any person who is seriously ill, or weakened by old age, is a candidate to receive the Sacrament of the Sick.  The pastoral care of the sick today emphasizes that this Sacrament should be offered long before the final stages of death. It is important to keep in mind that the Catholic Church prohibits administering Sacraments once a person is deceased. Sacraments are for the living. To anoint a person whose earthly life has concluded and is, hopefully, returning to the Lord, is forbidden by the Code of Canon (Church) Law. A priest can no more anoint a person who has already died any more than he can validly place the Body of Christ (Communion) on the tongue of the deceased.  


Oftentimes when I am called to a hospital, nursing home, or even a family home to anoint, the family will state that the person has been under hospice care for some time. When I ask why the request for this Sacrament was not made sooner, it seems that the answer always follows along the lines of “we didn’t want to upset the person by calling for a priest.” There is a real danger in waiting this long to make the call. For starters, there are far fewer priests available today than there were 50 years ago. Growing up there are many of us who can remember when the parish we grew up in had had as many as three priests in residence. Those days are long gone. Additionally, fewer and fewer hospitals have a full-time, or even a part-time chaplain available for pastoral care. That leaves it to the priest in the parish to attend to the dying.  


While the anointing of the sick has always been, and will always be a priority, there are just times when it is not possible to drop things at a moment’s notice. There have been times when the urgent request was made when I was doing a funeral, wedding, Sunday or weekday Mass. There are other times when I am in the mid-dle of an appointment or meeting with a person who is in crisis. There are also times when I am away from the parish, on a day off or on vacation, and simply not able to accommodate an immediate request. Repeatedly when I arrive to anoint the person who is ill, he or she is frequently unconscious, or in such a state of poor health that they are totally unaware that they are receiving a Sacrament. For those who say that they “didn’t want to upset the person by calling for a priest” I wonder if, instead of being upset, it would have given the person a real sense of peace to know they have been anointed, their sins have been forgiven, and that they are one with the Lord. Sometimes, the reception of this Sacrament gives the person permission to “let go” and to, hopefully, return to God. In other situations, a person can even rally, because they know they have one less reason to fear death.  


The teaching of the Catholic Church holds that the Sacrament of the Sick helps unite those who are suffering with Jesus’ saving power, love and forgiveness of sins. Suffering is a part of life, but we are reminded that Jesus unites our suffering with His passion and death. We know that those who suffer and die with Christ will also rise with Him to new and eternal life.  


The goal is for each and every Catholic to be “up-to-date” on their Sacraments long before death or the danger of death ensues. All this is written as a sincere and earnest plea not to wait until a person is ready to take their final breath to call for a priest. If you are contemplating surgery, or have any type of chronic or serious condition, please call the parish office and schedule a time to receive the Sacrament of the Sick. The only way that a parish can know if someone is in need of the Sacrament of the Sick is for you to call the parish office. The anointing can take place in church, at home, or a nursing home or hospital. It just makes so much more sense not to run the risk of waiting until it is too late to make sure that a loved one’s spiritual needs are addressed at such an important time in that person’s life.  
Fr. Jerry Slowinski 

 

He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by twoThey anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. (Mark 6:7, 13)


Contact the Parish Office at 586-228-1210 to inquire about how to schedule the acrament of the "Annointing of the Sick"