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Fifth Sunday of Lent—April 7, 2019

Updated: Jan 9, 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

This weekend we are reflecting on the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. As I think about that sacrament I am immediately drawn to thoughts of health institutions calling at the last moments of a person’s life asking for a priest for “Last Rites.” But this Sacrament is so much more than simply last rights. The teaching on this Sacrament used to be that one could only receive this Anointing once, hence the terminology that became popular was “Last Rites.” Now the Church teaches that the sacrament can be received more than once. Let’s look at this sacrament in a bit more detail.

If you have ever been sick, then you know what it is like to want to recover and feel better. If you have ever been so sick that recovery might not be possible, then you know what it is like to want to be at peace. Every moment in the span between both of these situations and conditions is taken into consideration as the Roman Catholic Church offers the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to those who are ill or suffering.

Sickness is a fact of human life and experience. Like death itself, it makes no distinction among persons confronted by its grasp. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Lord Jesus Christ reached out to those who were sick in his day and offered them courage, healing, strength and peace. We read many such occasions in the pages of the Gospels. He likewise invited and directed his Apostles to do the same; a practice that continues in the Roman Catholic Church to the present day through the successors of the Apostles, that is, our bishops, and through our priests who minister to us in the name of our bishops.

The ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles to the sick and suffering is the foundation and origin of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick finds its most specific foundation in the Letter of James which is read during the Rite itself when the priest says, “My dear friends, we are gathered here in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who is present among us. As the gospels relate, the sick came to him for healing; moreover, he loves us so much that he died for our sake. Through the apostle James, he has commanded us: ‘Are there any who are sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up; and if they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them.’ Let us therefore commend our sick brother/sister N. to the grace and power of Christ, that he may save him/her and raise him/her up.”