August 18, 2019 – Ruminations by Fr. Pat

In the Gospels we read of Jesus’ concern for bodily and spiritual welfare of the Sick. We constantly read that He healed people and were concerned for their emotions. In the Letter of St. James, chapter 5, this concern was pre-served and was a focus for the Church. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.

Through the Sacrament of anointing Christ strengthens, through the Ministry of the Priesthood, the Faithful who are afflicted by illness, providing them with the strongest means of support (from the Instruction for the Anointing of the Sick). The person is able to bear the suffering and unite himself/herself to the death and resurrection of Christ. The Sign of the Sacrament is the Laying on of hands, just as Jesus did, and the anointing with Oil, a sign of strength. If a per-son is near death and able to participate, Viaticum (Holy Communion) is given, as Food for the Last Journey.

Many people see the Sacrament as the “Last Rites.” They see the Sacrament as being received only at the point of Death. This type of thinking developed during the Middle Ages, especially when the Black Plague spread across Europe. In an earlier time, the Sacrament focused on bodily healing. But with so much death, a shift in thinking occurred. The ‘healing’ being sought turned to a spiritual one – the forgiveness of sins mentioned in the second half of James 5:15. Life was short, medicine had little to offer, and serious illness or injury quickly and almost inevitably ended in death. When one looks at the times, this shift was understandable. Healing only occurred rarely. Praying for a physical healing accomplished nothing but to harm the faith of the believer.

Vatican II brought back the earlier notion of physical healing, along with preserving the Spiritual welfare of the per-son. No longer should the Sacrament be a Sacrament of “embalming.” It should be seen in the light of Life with Christ in the Church. The Sacrament is seen as a prayer of the believing community for its members in need of healing. Please do not think of the Sacrament only for the dead; it is for us all. It is better to Celebrate the Sacrament when participation is available. Please do not wait until the last moment.

Comments are closed.