The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, once known as Extreme Unction, is, as St. James tells us, for the sick and infirmed. This sacrament is a sacrament of healing as the Church reaches out with the healing hand of the Lord to the young or old, to one who is seriously ill, about to undergo surgery, or weakened by old age. This is a time of prayer with Christ the healer. This sacrament is meant to help those anointed to live well, to suffer patiently, maybe to become better, and hopefully to die without fear. It is a healing sign. It is a peaceful sign.
With renewed understanding of this sacrament, we should approach it as a sacrament of the sick. And so a person growing weak with illness, an older person experiencing declining health, a shut-in, a person undergoing serious surgery, a person dealing with an emotional or mental problem should celebrate this sacrament to let them know that God loves them, is still with them and will strengthen them – in other words, to be healed by the Lord. This renewed understanding of the sacrament will give more meaning to the sick and to their families. Prayer, confession, communion, and anointing should be ready and accessible to one of the faithful who grows sick. The priest and ministers of the sick will be seen as important to strengthen the faith and trust of those who are ill. The priest should be seen as the messenger of healing peace, inspiring courage and hope in new life. The Church wishes us to see the Sacrament of the Sick as bringing us strength, peace, forgiveness of sin, and even physical health.
A person who is dying should celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, be anointed, and be given communion which is called Viaticum – “food for the journey” – a special sign of this participation in the death of the Lord and His passage to the Father.
It is good to take part in the communal anointing of the sick occasionally, not only because of the healing, forgiveness, and peace that comes with the sacrament, but also because it give each of us in the community a chance to share in the celebration of the sacrament together. It is a time when the young can share their gifts of new life, new hope with the elderly. It is a time when the elderly can share their gifts of patience, wisdom, maturity, and their love for Christ with the young. It is a time when the elderly can minister to each other through presence and mutual support and encouragement.
The Sacrament of the Sick, the Sacrament of Anointing, is a sacrament of hope, of comfort, of healing, of strengthening, and above all, is a time of faith and trust in the Risen Lord and His healing power. It is a time when we look forward in faith to our complete healing – the Resurrection.