or Anointing of the Sick
And [the twelve apostles] cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them. -- Mark 6:13
Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. -- James 5:14-15
At S. Stephen’s, the Sacrament of Unction, also known as Anointing of the Sick, is usually available from a priest upon request. When the clergy visit parishioners in hospital or ill at home they will generally offer to administer Unction along with Holy Communion.
Unction is ideally administered in cases of serious illness or before a major operation or surgical procedure. It is not normally given more than once for the same illness or injury. But if in doubt, ask! More Christians should take advantage of the opportunity to receive this wonderful Sacrament of healing.
During his earthly life and ministry, one of Jesus’ signature activities was healing the sick. He commissioned his disciples to continue this ministry. During the early centuries of Church history, healings and other miracles often accompanied the preaching of the Gospel by Christian missionaries, confirming the truth of their message and helping to spread the faith. Even today, miraculous cures can and do still take place. Some Christians have a personal gift for healing prayer; certain Christian holy places, such as Lourdes in France, are known for their healings. We do well not to reject the miraculous out of hand.
The Sacrament of Unction belongs, however, to a different category: it is a Sacrament of the Church. It consists of an anointing administered by a priest with holy oil blessed for this purpose by the bishop. Unction reliably conveys the grace of healing that it signifies, but that healing may or may not take the form of a physical cure. Most often, it does not. Nonetheless, the healing it confers is necessary and real.
Sickness reminds us of our mortality. When we are unwell, we can become grumpy with those around us and rebellious against God. At such times the healing we need above all is the healing of our relationships – with God and one another. In these circumstances, the grace of Unction is balm for our souls: a comfort and help in times of affliction and in the hour of death.
This does not mean, however, that we should postpone receiving Unction until we are on our deathbeds – a practice that prevailed for centuries when it came to be known as “Extreme Unction,” for those in extremis. One of the undisputable gains of the liturgical movement of the twentieth century was the recovery of Unction or Anointing of the Sick as a Sacrament for use in all times of sickness or injury, at any stage of life.