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Amen Corner - May 30, 2021

This weekend, we celebrate the Rite of Anointing of the Sick following all Masses. Those whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age, or those facing impending surgery are encouraged to celebrate this sacrament.

Anointing of the sick has its origins in the person of Jesus, who healed the sick. The early Church carried on this healing ministry as seen in the Letter of James:

“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.” James 14-15

This passage illustrates the rite of anointing as we know it today. When someone is ill, they call a priest—the only person permitted to anoint the sick. The priest prays over them for healing and strength, and anoints their forehead and their hands with the oil of the sick, one of the three oils blessed by the bishop during Holy Week.

Many of us were formed to reserve the anointing of the sick until just before death. In fact, the anointing was part of what we used to call “the last rites.” That is no longer the case. When a person becomes ill, there is no need to wait until they are near death to request an anointing. The anointing is appropriate at the onset of serious illness as a petition for healing and strength. The human touch, the prayers, and the soothing oil bring great peace to the sick. This sacrament may be repeated when there is a further need for healing and strength.

While the priest alone can anoint the sick and forgive sins, anyone can visit the sick and pray for their healing. Visiting the sick is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy. The U.S. Bishops offer several ways to reach out to those who are ill:

  • Give blood
  • Spend time volunteering at a nursing home – Get creative and make use of your talents (e.g. sing, read, paint, call Bingo, etc.)!
  • Take time on a Saturday to stop and visit with an elderly neighbor.
  • Offer to assist caregivers of chronically sick family members on a one-time or periodic basis. Give caregivers time off from their caregiving responsibilities so they can rest, complete personal chores, or enjoy a relaxing break.
  • Next time you make a meal that can be easily frozen, make a double batch and give it to a family in your parish who has a sick loved one.

Lay persons can also offer Viaticum, the Eucharist given to someone who is near death. Viaticum is a Latin word that means “provision for a journey.” It is food to carry a person on the journey from this life to the next. Viaticum may be given with or without the anointing of the sick. Thanks to the development of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, Viaticum can be brought by a deacon, a family member, or by a lay minister of Holy Communion.  


Visiting the sick and praying for their healing and comfort, praying for the strength of caregivers, celebrating the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum are many ways the community of believers continue the care and compassion of Jesus for those who suffer.


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