The Sacrament's Institution
Like all the sacraments, holy anointing was instituted
by Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry. The Catechism explains,
"This sacred anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ our Lord as
a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament. It is alluded to indeed
by Mark, but is recommended to the faithful and promulgated by James the
apostle and brother of the Lord" (CCC 1511; Mark 6:13; Jas. 5:14-15).
The anointing of the sick conveys several graces
and imparts gifts of strengthening in the Holy Spirit against anxiety,
discouragement, and temptation, and conveys peace and fortitude (CCC 1520).
These graces flow from the atoning death of Jesus Christ, for "this was
to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities
and bore our diseases’" (Matt. 8:17).
Mark refers to the sacrament when he recounts how
Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to preach, and "they cast out many
demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them" (Mark
6:13). In his epistle, James says, "Is any among you sick? Let him call
for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him
with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the
sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins,
he will be forgiven" (Jas. 5:14–15).
The early Church Fathers recognized this sacrament’s
role in the life of the Church. Around A.D. 250, Origen wrote that the
penitent Christian "does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest
of the Lord and from seeking medicine . . . [of] which the apostle James
says: ‘If then there is anyone sick, let him call the presbyters of the
Church, and let them impose hands upon him, anointing him with oil in the
name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and if
he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him’" (Homilies on Leviticus 2:4).
In the year 350, Bishop Serapion wrote, "We beseech
you, Savior of all men, you that have all virtue and power, Father of our
Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we pray that you send down from heaven
the healing power of the only-begotten [Son] upon this oil, so that for
those who are anointed . . . it may be effected for the casting out of
every disease and every bodily infirmity . . . for good grace and remission
of sins . . . " (The Sacramentary of Serapion 29:1).
The Sacrament's Effects
"The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing
of the Sick has as its effects: the uniting of the sick person to the passion
of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church; the strengthening,
peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness
or old age; the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to
obtain it through the sacrament of penance; the restoration of health,
if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul; the preparation for passing
over to eternal life" (CCC 1532).
Does a person have to be dying to receive this
sacrament? No. The Catechism says, "The anointing of the sick is
not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as
soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness
or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly
already arrived" (CCC 1514).
Does God Always Heal
Today some Christians go to extremes in their expectation
of divine healing. On one hand, some say that if a Christian is not healed
of all his diseases, this reflects his lack of faith. Others claim that
divine healings were only for the apostolic age, when all diseases were
healed instantly and automatically. Both extremes are wrong.
God does not always heal the physical infirmities
that afflict us. Paul preached to the Galatians while he was afflicted
by a "bodily ailment" (Gal. 4:13– 14). He also mentions that he had to
leave his companion Trophimus in the town of Miletus because he was too
sick to travel (2 Tim. 4:20). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul urges
his young protégé to "no longer drink only water, but to
use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments"
(1 Tim. 5:23).
The last passage is especially informative. Not
only does it reveal that illnesses were not always healed in the apostolic
age, but it also shows an apostle’s practical advice to a fellow Christian
on how to deal with an illness. Notice that Paul does not tell Timothy
to pray harder and have more faith that God will heal him from his stomach
ailment. Rather, he tells him how to manage the illness through medicinal
Some argue that healings were always instantaneous
and were only for those living during the apostolic age, but that afterward
the gift of healing disappeared. The problem with that theory is that the
Bible tells us otherwise. For example, when Jesus healed the blind man
at Bethsaida, he laid his hands upon him twice before the man was fully
healed (Mark 8:22–26).
Finally, we have a standing command of the New
Testament in James 5:14–15, cited earlier. This command is never revoked
anywhere in the Bible, and there are no statements anywhere that God will
cease to heal. Thus the command is in effect to this very day.
Of course, our healing, like all things, is subject
to God’s will. As James pointed out just a chapter earlier, "You do not
know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears
for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the
Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that’" (Jas. 4:14–15,
emphasis added). We have a promise of healing, but not an unqualified one.
It is conditional on the will of God.
I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004
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