Liturgy Matters — Sacrament of the sick

What is the sacrament for the sick?

The sacrament given to those who are seriously ill, in danger of death from sickness or old age, is called the anointing of the sick. This sacrament may also be given to those facing surgery as a result of serious illness. Although once called “extreme unction,” the Second Vatican Council clarified that it is not for those who are at the point of death but rather a sacrament focused on healing.

There are three main parts to this sacrament: The priest lays hands on the head of the sick person, anoints the sick person on the forehead and on the hands with blessed oil, and prays a prayer asking God to heal the sick person.

Who is the minister of this sacrament?

Even though deacons or laypersons that serve as Communion ministers may bring holy Communion to the sick, only a priest is the minister of the anointing of the sick.

What is anointing and what oil is used for this sacrament?

Anointing is done by daubing a small amount of oil on the forehead and on the hands. Oil is used to confer this sacrament since anointing is a symbol of the blessing of the Holy Spirit and signifies the medicinal qualities of anointing with oil.

The oil of the sick is made of olive oil or oil made from plants. This oil, along with the oil of the catechumens and oil of Chrism is blessed or consecrated each year at the archdiocesan celebration of the chrism Mass which takes place at the Cathedral of the Assumption during Holy Week.

Where may the sacrament of the sick be celebrated?

The anointing of the sick may be celebrated in the home of the sick person, in a hospital or nursing facility or in the church. The church encourages the celebration of the sacrament of anointing during the Mass in order that a greater number of the seriously ill may receive this sacrament at one time and the parish community may take part in it. Celebrating it with the Christian community gathered for liturgy is a testimony to our faith in the healing power of Christ and a strong symbol of support for suffering members of our community.

What is the sacrament for the dying?

For those at the point of death, viaticum, a rite that includes reception of holy Communion, is the “last rite” given to the Christian. In the introduction to the Rite of Viaticum we hear, “When in their passage from this life Christians are strengthened by the Body and Blood of Christ in Viaticum, they have the pledge of the resurrection that the Lord promised.”

The usual minister of viaticum is the pastor or another priest. In case of need, a deacon or a duly appointed lay person may administer viaticum. However, since the sacrament of reconciliation or penance and the sacrament of anointing may also be needed, which may only be administered by a priest, he is the preferred minister for this rite.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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