It is noteworthy to reiterate the last paragraph of last week’s column that the sacrament of Anointing also has the power of enabling us to resist the unique temptations of the evil spirit. It is not uncommon for people who had lived a very good life to nevertheless be tried by the devil as they are ready to leave this valley of tears. As we know from the writings of the saints, the favorite tactic of the evil spirit is to try to seduce good people by temptations to discouragement and despair.
St. Francis de Sales is especially clear in this matter. There are two kinds of temptations, he explains. There are temptations that we are to openly resist and temptations that we should ignore. It is this latter kind of seduction which virtuous people must be able to resist as they face the dawn of eternity. The sacrament of Anointing provides us with the wisdom and fortitude to ignore the father of lies as he tries to beguile faithful souls by tempting them to despondency and the loss of hope in a loving God.
We have spoken in previous columns of Penance as the sacrament of peace. We could just as well identify Anointing as the giver of peace during the crucial days, hours or even minutes on the brink of eternity.
If there is one thing the evil spirit wants to take away from faithful souls before they leave this world it is peace of mind and peace of heart. That is why the sacrament of Anointing is such a precious treasure that insures us of dying in God’s peace. This means in peace of mind because we are sure of God’s mercy to us sinners. It means peace of heart because we are confident of being in God’s grace.
It is a defined article of the Catholic faith that Anointing sometimes produces the restoration of bodily health even in persons who were at the point of death. It is not coincidental that St. James distinguishes between two effects of this sacrament, one effect is to save a sick person and “raise him up.” The other effect is to forgive a sinner who is estranged from God.
Moreover, as we have seen, the new ritual for administering Anointing distinguishes between receiving grace from the Holy Spirit and being “raised up.” In other words, the primary purpose of Anointing is to receive divine grace. But another purpose is to heal the body.
Next week, we will pick-up the thread as to what is the Church’s teaching on the efficacy of this sacrament to heal the human body?
To be continued....
It is no exaggeration to say that the sacrament of Anointing is not well understood by most Catholics. This is partly due to the fact that, over the centuries, the sacrament was generally conferred only on persons who were fatally sick or injured and in close danger of death.
But more important, many of the faithful do not realize that this sacrament does not require what we call perfect contrition for its valid administration and remission of even grave sins.
True, anointing can be given only to people who are sorry for their sins. However, we must immediately distinguish. First of all the sorrow for our sin need not be present at the time a person is anointed. The sorrow for sin may go back even years before a person is in danger of death. Only one condition must be fulfilled. The now sick and dying person at least at some time between having gravely sinned and the time of Anointing had been sincerely sorry for having offended God by grave sin. Thus Anointing can be given to people who had sinned years before, it may be years before they had repented - had been sorry. Nevertheless, though years may have elapsed between the sorrow and the anointing, the sorrow is still effected for the valid administration of the sacrament of Anointing. To repeat, and re-emphasize, the sorrow necessary for the valid reception of Anointing need be only the fear of God’s punishments. In other words, the same basic sorrow which is necessary for the sacrament of Penance is necessary for the sacrament of Anointing.
As might be expected, the first merciful effect of the sacrament of Anointing is the removal of both guilt and penalty for sin. Guilt, as we know, is the loss of grace incurred by every sin. If the sin is mortal, then by definition the grace which is lost is sanctifying grace or that friendship with God which is necessary for entering heaven. If the sin is venial, then more or less of both the sanctifying grace and the title to actual graces are forfeited. Anointing restores sanctifying grace whenever the sacrament is received by a person in grave sin. The restoration of the degree of sanctifying grace and the title to actual graces depends on the spiritual dispositions of the person at the time of anointing.
To be stressed is that the eternal punishment due to unrepentant mortal sins is always removed by every valid reception of the sacrament of Anointing. To be re-stressed is the importance of anointing to receive before death to insure salvation, which means deliverance from the eternal punishment of hell.
To be continued....
For the past few months we have been examining the many aspects of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We now turn our gaze to the Sacrament of Anointing which is the sacrament of healing and mercy.
The sacrament of Anointing is the new name given by the Second Vatican Council to the sacrament of Extreme Unction. As might be expected, all the founders of Protestantism denied that Christ instituted this sacrament. At most, they would admit that Anointing of the Sick was a charism of bodily healing. That is why the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century issued no less than four infallible declarations defining both Christ’s institution of Anointing and its three-fold purpose of conferring grace, remitting sin, and giving strength of body and soul to the sick who receive this sacrament.
As Catholics, we believe that Christ personally instituted the sacrament of Anointing. As described by Saint Mark, the apostles “anointed with oil, many sick people, and healed them” (Mk 6:13). More specifically, the apostle James asks, “Is anyone among you sick?” Then he prescribes, “Let him bring in the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:15-16).
It is with some hesitation in quoting the long diatribe of John Calvin against the Catholic Church’s interpretation of this passage from St. James. Calvin’s language is positively vicious in rejecting the Church’s understanding that St. James is here referring to the conferral of the sacrament of Anointing.
Over the centuries, this sacrament was commonly called Extreme Unction. Whenever possible, all the senses were to be anointed, that is the eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, hands and feet. The words to be used by the priest were, “By this holy anointing and His most gracious mercy, may the Lord pardon you whatever sins you have committed by your sight, hearing, smell, taste, speech, touch and walk. Amen.”
Since the Second Vatican Council, the only senses that need be anointed are the forehead and the hands. In case of necessity, it can be just the forehead or, in fact, any part of the body.
A literal translation of the words of anointing now used in the Latin rite read, “Through this holy anointing and His most loving mercy, may the Lord assist you by the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that, freed from your sins, He may save you, and in His goodness raise you up.”
To be continued....