An older generation spoke of ‘the Last Rites,’ referring to the sacraments of Confession, Anointing (Extreme Unction) and the Eucharist received by someone close to death. It may well be that Anointing is received at the same time as the other two sacraments, but it is a sacrament in its own right, the Sacrament of the Sick, and not just for those at the very moment of death.
As the sacrament is generally received privately, many people will not have witnessed it. The ceremony is simple. The priest lays his hands in prayer on the sick person’s head and anoints their forehead and hands with holy oil, whilst at the same time praying. Christ instituted the sacrament to give the human soul the grace required at its hour of need. In His Providence, God may wish to heal the sick person in this life, or He may be preparing them for that journey into eternal life. In both circumstances, the sacrament brings great peace and comfort to the sick person. It is something, therefore, that should be asked for by every Catholic at the appropriate moment.
When is ‘the appropriate moment’? Anointing is not the equivalent of a couple of pills to be taken when we are mildly indisposed. It for those who are in some serious danger due to sickness or old age. Yet we should not hesitate in asking if someone is in a grave condition or facing the prospect of serious surgery. I will always be happy to answer your request. Just as many Catholics have mistakenly abandoned the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so some refuse Anointing on the basis of the mistaken idea that it is only for those at the point of death. In doing so they reject what Christ has to offer.
Privacy regulations can make it difficult for priests to discover when a Catholic is seriously ill in hospital. Family and friends are urged to notify the Catholic chaplain at the hospital. If circumstances permit, it might be possible for the Anointing to be celebrated before entry to hospital. In any event, we should not hold back from the spiritual help Christ wishes to give us.
Is any among you sick? Let him call for the priests 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 any sins, he will be forgiven,’