Guidelines For The Sacrament Of Anointing Of The Sick
Revised August 1996
Suffering and illness have always been among the greatest problems that trouble the human spirit. Although closely linked with the human condition, sickness cannot as a general rule be regarded as a punishment inflicted on each individual for personal sins (John 9.3). Part of the plan laid out by God’s providence is that we should fight strenuously against all sickness and carefully seek out the blessings of good health.
At the same time, the Church encourages the sick to intercede for all God’s People by freely uniting their sufferings to the Passion and death of Christ. (CCC 1499)
The Lord himself showed great concern for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the sick and commanded his followers to do likewise. This is clear from the gospels and above all from the existence of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, which he instituted and which is made known in the Letter of James.
Those who are seriously ill need the special help of God’s grace in this time of anxiety, lest they be broken in spirit and, under the pressure of temptation, perhaps weakened in their faith. This is why, through the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, Christ strengthens the faithful who are afflicted by illness, providing them with the strongest means of support. (PCS nn.1-5)
- The Only Proper Minister of the Anointing of the Sick is the priest or bishop (PCS nn.16-17).
- The Sacrament of the Sick May Be Celebrated:
- with those whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age.
- before surgery, if the surgery is caused by a serious illness.
- with elderly people who have become notably weakened, even though no serious illness is present.
- with seriously ill children who have sufficient use of reason to be strengthened by the sacrament.
- with those who have been anointed if they relapse after recovery or if the condition becomes more serious.
- with those who are unconscious or who have lost the use of reason if there is probability they would have asked for the sacrament were they in control of their faculties.
- with those who are judged to have a serious mental illness.
Judgment on the suitability of a candidate for anointing should be made prudently and without scruple. (PCS nn. 8-12, 14, 53)
- After Death: The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is not to be administered to those who are already dead. The minister should, instead, pray for the deceased. (PCS 15)
- The Proper Matter for the Sacrament is oil of the sick (olea infirmorum), blessed by the bishop each Lent. If this is not available, the priest may bless any plant oil according to the rite, but this should be burned following the anointing. (PCS nn.20-22)
- Anointing and Penance: If one who is ill wishes to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance as well as the Anointing of the Sick, Penance should be celebrated during a prior visit or prior to the actual anointing. The anointing should not be viewed as a substitute for Penance, especially if the individual is in serious sin. (PCS 101)
- Catechesis: The faithful should receive a thorough and ongoing catechesis related to the Anointing of the Sick. This catechesis may be incorporated into Sunday homilies when the Scriptures are about sickness, healing, etc. It should include the following:
- The sacrament should be requested as soon as a serious illness is apparent.
- The sacrament should not be delayed, particularly to the moment of death.
- The sacrament should, whenever possible, be celebrated within the context of the community of faith in the parish or institution, with family and/or those providing health care to the individual present.
- Whenever possible, individuals should celebrate the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick in their home parishes before entering the hospital.
- Regular communal celebrations of the Anointing of the Sick, with adequate catechesis to deter abuse, should be celebrated in parishes. During communal celebrations of the Anointing of the Sick, care must be taken that only those eligible be permitted to approach the sacrament. (DCD Prot. N. 273/89; C 921).
- Parish bulletins, sacramental packets, and other modes of communication should reflect this catechesis.
- Priests, deacons, directors of religious education, ministers to the sick, and others who serve in ministry to the sick and in catechesis, should be thoroughly grounded in the meaning and celebration of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. (PCS 13,99-100)
- The communal celebration of the anointing of the sick is a good practice in that it unites the community to pray for its sick members and provides a convenient opportunity for the seriously ill to receive the sacrament. However, at the Sunday Mass there is a greater possibility of indiscriminate reception of the sacrament, and so a proper and clear catechesis must precede anointing at any Sunday Mass.