The Sacraments: Anointing of the Sick

Posted on April 11, 2023 by Published by

The second Sacrament of Healing is Anointing of the Sick. An often-asked question is if this is the same as Last Rites. While Anointing of the Sick can take place prior to death, it could also be considered Last Rites if the person is actively dying – however this is a term we don’t really use anymore.

Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament that is given for healing of the body (if it’s God’s will) and spirit of someone who is very ill. This person may not be dying but may be at serious risk of dying. There are three distinct and integral aspects to the celebration of this sacrament.

The Prayer of Faith – This is the community asking for God’s help for the sick. The community is defined as the entire church and represented by the priest, family, friends, and any others gathered during the anointing.

Laying on of Hands – With this action, the priest indicates that this person is the object of the church’s prayer of faith. It is a sign of blessing – praying for the power of God’s healing grace, and it is also an invocation – praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Anointing with the Oil of the Sick – Use of this oil is meant to be a comfort to the sick and, through the presence, power and grace of the Holy Spirit – provides strength to fight the physical and spiritual effects of illness.

This sacrament can be repeated when the sick person recovers, and then becomes sick again or when during the same illness, their condition becomes more serious. A sick person who recovers after being anointed should be encouraged to give thanks for the favors received. It’s important to note that this sacrament is no longer seen as the primary rite associated with dying, but a dying person should be anointed if he or she has not been anointed earlier.

Pastoral Care of the Dying is the set of prayers and sacramental activities that take place when it’s clear that the person is dying and preparing for their next life. The emphasis here is trust in the

Lord’s promise of eternal life rather than on the struggle against illness. The core of this sacrament is receiving Eucharist Viaticum – which is receiving the Body of Christ for the last time. This is often referred to as “food for the journey home.”

The Celebration of Viaticum is the completion and crown of our Christian life on this earth. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Eucharist should always be the last sacrament of the earthly journey, the ‘viaticum’ for ‘passing over’ to eternal life” (No. 1517). It also says: “Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of ‘passing over’ to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day’ [Jn 6:54].

Viaticum is complemented by the Commendation of the Dying – some of the most beautiful and powerful prayers in the Church’s repertoire. These should be said at the time of death or when death is clearly imminent. Then there are the Prayers for the Dead, which are intended for use after the person has died. These are meant to send the dead person on his or her way and to comfort those who are present.

There is a cultural difficulty with this sacrament. When a loved one makes the transition from being ill to actively dying – too often we are reluctant to face this fact or perhaps are not told honestly about the state of our loved one. As a result, pastoral care of the one dying comes too late to provide a compassionate and peaceful accompaniment to the dying and those who love them. While difficult, we must not deprive our loved ones of the full healing of mind and soul that will help ease their transition to eternal life. If you are ever in doubt about whether you or a loved one should receive this sacrament, please contact the parish.

Here are some commonly asked questions about Anointing of the Sick: 

Who can confer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick?

Only priests (presbyters and bishops) can give the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, using oil blessed by the bishop, or if necessary, by the celebrating presbyter himself. (CCC 1530). This is not always feasible – in the absence of a priest or deacon, the Commendation of the Dying and the Prayers for the Dead may be said by one of those present.

Where does anointing of the sick take place?

This Sacrament may be celebrated in the home, in a hospital or institution or in a church.

What is Extreme Unction?

Extreme Unction is another term not really used anymore, but is the same as Anointing of the Sick.

This is the sixth installment in a series of articles about the Seven Sacraments, contributed by Deacon Peter LeTourneau, Director of Parish Ministry and Evangelization at Our Lady of the Wayside Parish. Please feel free to reach out to Deacon Peter with questions or comments at

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