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The Effects And Fruits Of Anointing Of The Sick

September 16, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By DON FIER

The proper time for receiving the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick for a baptized Catholic “has certainly arrived when the believer begins to be in danger of death because of illness or old age” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], n. 1528).
However, as we saw last week, the sacrament is not exclusively for those who are facing the last moments of life on this Earth. Elderly people may be anointed when there is a notable weakening in their native powers (even though serious illness is not present and death does not appear to be imminent) as can a person who is facing serious surgery. Children who are dangerously ill may be anointed if they have attained the age of reason.
Furthermore, the sacrament can be repeated if a person’s condition takes a turn for the worse or if he recovers and subsequently becomes seriously ill again.
Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of the living; that is, under normal circumstances a person must be in the state of grace to receive it fruitfully. If the person is in the state of mortal sin, he must first receive the Sacrament of Penance unless he has lapsed into unconsciousness or otherwise lost the use of his faculties. If that person has at least imperfect contrition for his sins, Anointing will remove the eternal penalty for all repented but unconfessed mortal sins.
However, if he subsequently recovers, he is obliged to seek absolution in sacramental Confession. Even though the unconfessed sin or sins have been forgiven, a deliberate refusal to auricularly confess after recovery is to commit another mortal sin. Important to also note is that Anointing “is to be administered in a case of doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead” (1983 Code of Canon Law [CIC], canon 1005).
As we also saw last week, only bishops and priests can validly administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick (cf. CIC, canon 1003 § 1). The proper matter for the sacrament is olive oil consecrated by the diocesan bishop (or oil derived from another plant in case of necessity). In an emergency, any priest is able to bless the oil but only during the actual celebration of the sacrament. In conferring Anointing of the Sick, the minister lays hands on the sick person and prays over him, and then anoints him on the forehead and hands while saying the following prayer (form of the sacrament), “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit” (Pastoral Care of the Sick [PCS], n. 124).
The Catechism now launches into a fairly comprehensive discussion of the manifold effects and fruits — spiritual and physical — of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. It is yet another example of the great love and mercy that God bestows on us through His Church as we come face to face with the inevitable reality of bodily death.
Indeed, “those who are seriously ill need the special help of God’s grace at this time of anxiety, lest they be broken in spirit and, under the pressure of temptation, perhaps weakened in their faith. This is why, through the sacrament of anointing, Christ strengthens the faithful who are afflicted by illness, providing them with the strongest means of support” (PCS, n. 5).
Before enumerating these effects, I would like to share a personal experience that testifies to the great power of this sacrament. Even though it occurred more than 20 years ago, I vividly recall events surrounding the short illness and death of my mother. This mother of 11 who raised her children on a farm in southwestern Minnesota experienced acute abdominal pain and was rushed to a major hospital in Minneapolis.
Surgery was performed almost immediately and the diagnosis was not good. Mom was stitched right back up and advised that she suffered from advanced and inoperable gastric cancer — she had only a few short days or weeks to live.
I recall her concern and a certain level of fear and apprehension at this unexpected and unwelcome news. I believe it was the next day that I brought my parish priest to visit her at the hospital. She received the Last Sacraments (Penance, Anointing of the Sick, and the Holy Eucharist) and the transformation was amazing. Mom later privately confided to me what she experienced. She said it was as if a dark curtain was lifted and light flooded in. A great sense of peace and tranquility enveloped her — all fear and anxiety evaporated.
From diagnosis to death, only three or four short weeks passed. Mom died peacefully in the presence of Dad and all 11 children, the last who arrived from a distant city and state just hours before she died. It was as if she could not depart this life until she spoke to each of us one last time. A few minutes before lapsing into a final state of unconsciousness, she gazed upward and said, “Just hold on a minute; I’m not quite ready yet.”
She continued to converse with us for a few more minutes, giving everyone words of consolation and encouragement before entering into eternal life. One can only marvel at this manifestation of God’s great love and mercy!
“The first grace of this sacrament,” says the Catechism, “is one of strengthening, peace, and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age” (CCC, n. 1520). This particular gift of the Holy Spirit seems to be precisely what my mother was granted as an immediate effect of the sacrament. She received the necessary strength to overcome “the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death” (ibid.).
The second effect listed by the Catechism is that we are given the grace to mystically unite ourselves with the Passion of Christ. “By the grace of this sacrament the sick person receives the strength and the gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ’s Passion: in a certain way he is consecrated to bear fruit by configuration to the Savior’s redemptive Passion” (CCC, n. 1521).
Pain and suffering, inescapable in our fallen human condition, take on new meaning. A fruit of the sacrament, then, is that we are given the grace to make the words of St. Paul our own: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24).
In a very real sense, we become participants in Christ’s saving work. This particular grace, as such, has an ecclesial dimension in that “the sick person . . . contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suffers” (CCC, n. 1522).
Another effect of the Sacrament of Anointing, as taught by the Council of Florence in 1439, is healing of the body itself insofar as it is expedient (cf. Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, n. 1325). In other words, should it be for the good of the salvation of a person’s soul, physical health will be restored. For those, however, who are soon to depart this world, it is a preparation for that final journey.
Referred to as the sacramentum exeuntium (the sacrament of those departing), “Anointing of the Sick completes our conformity to the death and Resurrection of Christ, just as Baptism began it….This last anointing fortifies the end of our earthly life like a solid rampart for the final struggles before entering the Father’s house” (CCC, n. 1523).
It was mentioned earlier that Anointing forgives sins and restores a person to the state of grace if he had contrition and was unable to receive the Sacrament of Penance before lapsing into unconsciousness. Likewise, another effect of the sacrament is to remit part or all of the temporal punishment still due to forgiven sins. As stated by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, in his Basic Catholic Catechism Course, “the Church’s entire liturgy for this Sacrament assumes that, with proper dispositions in the dying person, he can sincerely hope to enter Heaven immediately without any stay in Purgatory” (p. 199).
In other words, if one is granted the blessing of receiving the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick on his deathbed, he may have every confidence that he will enter into the happiness of Heaven immediately after death.
This glorious outcome, however, should not be presumed — only God knows the adequacy of our final dispositions. We should earnestly implore others to pray for us after death (and we should pray for those who have preceded us in death) with the sure knowledge that someone else will profit by them if we are not in need.

Viaticum

The Catechism closes its treatment of Anointing of the Sick by discussing the Holy Eucharist received as Viaticum (Latin word for “traveling companion”). It is defined by the Catechism as “communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of ‘passing over’ to the Father…[and] the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection” (CCC, n. 1524).
It is “the completion and crown of the Christian life on this earth, signifying that the Christian follows the Lord to eternal glory and the banquet of the heavenly kingdom” (PCS, n. 175).
“Those who have the care of souls,” instructs the Code of Canon Law, “are to be zealous and vigilant that the sick are nourished by Viaticum” (canon 922).

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a consecrated Marian catechist.)

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