By Father Stephen Battey
At least once or twice a week I will be called to visit someone suffering from a serious illness. Upon my return from one such visit, a parishioner very matter-of-factly asked, “Father, what exactly does that sacrament do?” It’s a great question to ask really, because oftentimes family members can become discouraged when a priest comes to visit their loved one and things don’t seem to change at all.
The Apostolic Constitution “Sacram unctionem infirmorum” gives us a very concise overview of this sacrament. It tells us that, “The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is given to those who are seriously ill by anointing them on the forehead and hands with duly blessed oil…saying, only once ‘Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.’”
This definition is incredibly helpful in understanding what we actually receive when a priest anoints us. Put simply, it is God’s grace. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that this divine help from God bring peace and courage in the face of serious illness, helps us to unite any pain or suffering to Christ’s passion which benefits the whole People of God, and finally prepares us to make the final journey towards heaven — should the illness be grave enough.
While it is possible that some physical healings come about after this sacrament is administered, the effects are much more focused on spiritual realities as opposed to physical ones. This sacrament brings incredible grace which aids in the salvation of souls, most especially our own. We should not be discouraged then if someone does not recover after a visit from the priest. Truly, more good was accomplished than we can possibly imagine.
One final point of note, generally when the phone call comes in from a family member looking for a priest, they will still confuse this sacrament with “the last rites.” It is important to note that the Anointing of the Sick is not reserved only for those in the last hours of life. Rather, anyone who is seriously ill can request and benefit from this sacrament. As soon as the symptoms of serious illness begin to appear or a loved one gets moved to a hospital, be sure to call the priest to give him as much time to visit and administer this sacrament as possible.
“Ask the Newly Ordained” features Fathers Brian Morris, Joseph Brice and Stephen Battey — who respond to questions about the faith from Rhode Island Catholic readers. Have a question? Ask the Newly Ordained! Readers may submit questions by sending them to Editor@thericatholic.com.