Anointing of the Sick
Anointing of the Sick
Healing was a key element in the ministry of Jesus during his life on earth. It was an expression of the compassion of God. The healing ministry of Jesus was not just about “fixing broken bodies.” It was also about making it possible for people to be, once again, fully integrated into the life of the community.
In the anointing of the sick, we use oil as a visible sign of the healing presence of Jesus. This is not some form of magic. We believe that Jesus is alive now, and that he continues to care for the sick. He wants us, his disciples, to be the ministers of his healing presence, through the power of his Holy Spirit. In the letter of St. James we read:
“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.”
In many cases the healing that people experience in the Sacrament comes in the form of freedom from fear, inner peace, or a greater capacity to live positively with the limitations of ill health. Healing can often be experienced as a growth of trust in God; a growth in faith. For some, of course, the healing received in the Sacrament actually has physical consequences. As with all our prayer, our prayer for the person who is sick, is a prayer for whatever they need most. We entrust the person who is sick into God’s care, knowing that we can trust him.
The anointing of the sick may be celebrated in the family home, in the hospital or nursing home, or in the parish Church. Ideally, there should be some kind of community gathered around the person who is to be anointed, even if there is only one other person, to join in the prayers, a family member, carer or friend.
Anointing is not a “remedy” for coughs and colds; nor is it like Vitamin “C” to be taken regularly. It is generally celebrated with those who struggle with serious or long-term ill health, or the frailty due to old age. It should normally be offered to those who are scheduled for surgery. It should not, of course, be regarded as just an emergency intervention when there is nothing more that the ambulance crew can do.
It is not specifically the job of doctors, nurses and carers to provide spiritual care for their patients, but they do have a general responsibility of care for the “whole person”. This includes being sensitive to the spiritual needs of a person, which may not always be expressed in words. It makes an enormous difference when healthcare professionals facilitate and affirm the ministry of the chaplain or the visiting priest who comes to provide sacramental care.
The Community as Healer
At another level, of course, the healing presence of Jesus is mediated through the family and the community. Each one of us can be the visible sign of Jesus’ healing presence to those among us who are sick or frail due to old age. We do this by keeping them warm and well-nourished and by helping them with some of the things they can no longer do for themselves; most of all by our readiness to spend time with them and to listen to them. Part of that ministry of healing is about practical physical things. But it is also about simply making sure, just as Jesus did, that those who are sick are not forgotten or isolated.