There is probably no sacrament more misunderstood than the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. And it likely goes back to the time when it was called Extreme Unction—the Last Anointing. The bishops of Vatican II not only looked at the way each sacrament was celebrated, but the theology behind each celebration. In the case of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, they renewed the theology, gave it a new name, and revised the ritual. Let’s look at what they did and why.
Moments of mental or physical illness can be times of crisis. They can mean a time of loss and pain, a time of insight and growth, or anything in between (cf. CCC 1501). Regardless, our loving God wants to be a part of our experience. He wants to share our lives with us, the bad and the good (cf. CCC 1503). But his presence and support often comes in and through the Church—our faith community. The kind words and help that we receive from others are a part of this, for God works through human means. We need to pay attention to how God works through them.
The Church can officially support us through the sacraments. In the case of an illness, that support comes in the form of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick (cf. CCC 1511). And, as the ritual clearly states, the focus is life, health, and well-being. But we must remember that a part of the fullness of life is our spiritual lives with God, which begun at Baptism and will inevitably lead to death and resurrection (cf. CCC 1523).
Clearly recognizing that human frailty is a part of the reality of life, our loving God is with us through this sacrament to strengthen us when our minds or bodies grow weak. Thus, a person facing a significant surgery is encouraged to avail themselves of this sacrament (cf. CCC 1515), as well as the aged or seriously ill (cf. CCC 1513).
The bishops at Vatican II were realistic in recognizing human illness and frailty. If death should be the result of the illness, God and his Church assist the journey into new life by offering the Eucharist as Viaticum. Just as the Eucharist nourished us throughout life, so it is nourishment for our travels into new life.
This sacrament, then, is not to be viewed as the kiss of death, but one of healing and life.
If you or someone you know is in need of this Sacrament, please call the rectory 718-282-7162.