Understanding Our Faith

Anointing of the Sick

Before the Second Vatican Council, the Anointing of the Sick was kept until the time when death was approaching.  Research by scholars before the Council had shown that the sacrament was originally a sacrament for the sick rather than for the dying.

In our days the sacrament is used quite broadly.  It can be used for individual sick people or it can also be used within Mass for a gathering of sick people either in a hospital, a Nursing Home, a Retirement Village or a hostel.  It can also be a parish celebration with a larger number of people participating.  Such communal celebrations have helped to change the mentality behind the sacrament.  It becomes obvious in such celebrations that the sacrament is for the sick and not the dying.  Parishes often comment on how effective these celebrations prove to be.

The basic rite of the Anointing is as follows:

  • Greeting and Introduction
  • Penitential Rite (similar to those at Mass)
  • Liturgy of the Word: one reading from Scripture
  • Liturgy of Anointing: Litany of Prayer (like Prayer of Faithful at Mass)
  • Laying on of Hands: priest lays hands on the head of the sick person.  (Others who are present may also be invited to touch the person).
  • Prayer over the Blessed Oil
  • Anointing: on the head and on the hands with the words:
    • On the forehead:
      Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
    • On the hands:
      May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.
  • Prayer after Anointing
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • Blessing

The Anointing is done on the head and the hands; the head being seen as symbolic of the person and the hands as symbolic of their actions.

Notice also that there is a double meaning to the words used in anointing the hands: “save you and raise you up”.  These words apply to the situation of illness that the Lord might save them and raise them out of their illness.  These words echo words of the healings of Jesus in the gospels: in Mark 1.31 when Jesus is healing Simon’s mother-in-law, the gospel says: “He went to her, took her by the hand and raised her up.”  And in Mark 5.41-3, at the healing of Jairus’ daughter, the gospel has: “Little girl, I tell you to get up.  And at once the little girl got up”.

The same words also refer to our ultimate healing in the salvation of the resurrection which Jesus has won for us and gives to us.  If the person desires confession that is done in place of the Penitential Rite, and if there is to be holy communion that takes place after the Lord’s Prayer.

The oil that is used is normally blessed by the Archbishop at the Mass of the Oils in Holy Week.  But if this is not available, for some reason, the priest can bless oil in place of praying over the blessed oil.

Anointing of the Sick can be repeated during a longer illness or in successive illnesses and can be made available to those who desire it on a regular basis.  Many parishes have communal celebrations before Easter and Christmas and some on a more regular basis.

This Sacrament of the Sick is a beautiful celebration of the Lord’s healing and saving presence among us.  Its strongest scriptural reference is in the Letter of St James where we read: “Are there any who are sick among you?  Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up; and if they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them” (James 5.14-16).


By Fr Frank O’Loughlin


Faith Reflections


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