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The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick

sacrament of the sickThe sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Like the sacrament of reconciliation (confession), it is a sacrament of healing.

The Anointing of the Sick has its roots in the healing mission of Jesus Christ, whose word and his very touch brought healing and life to the sick and afflicted.
From its very beginnings, the Church has continued Christ's ministry of healing. "Is anyone among you sick?" the apostle James asked in the first century. "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" (James 5: 14-15).

Our understanding of this sacrament has changed with time. In the early Church it was seen as a sacrament of healing, but later it came to be known as "Extreme Unction" - literally, "last anointing" - and was not administered until death was imminent. With the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the Church has returned to the more ancient practice with regard to this sacrament.

Who can receive this sacrament?
Catholics, both children and adults, who are seriously ill, facing surgery, or experiencing the weakness that comes with old age should seek this sacrament.

What happens during the Rite of Anointing?
The Rite of Anointing can be celebrated in the context of Mass or separately, as part of a Liturgy of the Word. Ideally, the sacrament is celebrated in the presence of a community - whether in a church setting with the parish community, or in a smaller community of family, friends, or caregivers, in a home, hospital, or other institution.

sacrament of the sickWhat are the effects of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick?

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults explains: "When the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given, the hoped-for effect is that, if it be God's will, the person be physically healed of illness. But even if there is not physical healing, the primary effect of the Sacrament is a spiritual healing by which the sick person receives the Holy Spirit's gift of peace and courage to deal with the difficulties that accompany serious illness or the frailty of old age." The spiritual fruits of the sacrament are many:

What happened to "last rites"?

We no longer use the terms "last rites" or "extreme unction" in speaking of the Church's prayer with the dying. But even though the terms are no longer used, the Church retains her ancient custom of preparing people for death and praying with and over them in their last moments.

In addition to the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, the dying should receive Viaticum if they are able. Literally "food for the journey," Viaticum is the last Holy Communion of the dying person. While only a priest or bishop may confer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, a deacon or lay minister may give Viaticum and pray the Church's prayers for the dying when no priest is available.