October 24, 2002
volume 13, no. 123

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The Sacrament of Extreme Unction

    The following is taken from the excellent work My Catholic Faith by Bishop Louis LaRavoire Morrow in 1949 and is one of the most succinct, simple and concise explanations of the doctrines and practices of Roman Catholicism that both Catholic and non-Catholic can easily understand without any ambiguity or relativism. Pure, unadulterated facts and absolutes. Bolded sections and blue type within brackets are by editor for added emphasis.

    "By this holy anointing and His most loving mercy, may the Lord forgive you whatever wrong you have done by the use of your sign, hearing..."

    These are the beginning words of the holy anointing of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. Oh, it's not called that anymore since Paul VI tinkered with the sacraments, and that is truly tragic for thousands die every year without the benefit of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. Today it is merely called "the sacrament of the sick," but if our faith means anything to us, it should teach us that the moment of death is of supreme importance. The Hail Mary specifically asks the Blessed Virgin Mary to be with us - "now and at the hour of our death." The Sacraments may decide whether we shall be forever with God in Heaven, or whether we shall suffer eternally in hell. We should see to it that the very sick receive Extreme Unction, to help them face their Judge.

    Many ask what is Extreme Unction. It is the sacrament which, through the anointing with blessed oil by the priest, and through his prayer, gives health and strength to the soul, and sometimes to the body, when we are in danger of death from sickness, accident, or old age. It is often called the "Last Rites."

    It was to cure the sick and console the afflicted that Our Lord worked many of His miracles. The Gospels give us vivid pictures of Him as He went about doing good, preaching and "healing every disease and every sickness among the people" (Matthew 4: 23) It also in Luke 4:40 says, "Now when the sun was setting, all who had sick with various diseases, brought them to Him. And he laid His hands upon each of them and cured them." So today, Christ comes to us in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, and, if it be for the good of our soul, cures us of our sickness, saying to us, as He did to so many long ago, "Arise, be thou made whole."

    When Jesus first sent out the Apostles, they "cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many sick people, and healed them" (Mark 6: 13).

    These words from Holy Scripture imply the institution by Our Lord of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. Then, before His Ascension, He promised His disciples certain wonderful signs that should accompany and follow them that believed in Him: "In My name they shall cast out devils;...they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover."

    It is a certainty that the Apostles conferred Extreme Unction, as directly recommended and promulgated for the use of the faithful in the Epistle of Saint James. "Is any one among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord. And the prayer of the 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: 14-15). Yet Paul VI sought to change and modify what Christ established!

    The outward sign or ceremony is the anointing with the blessed oil, at the same time that the words are pronounced:

    "By this holy anointing and His most loving mercy, may the Lord forgive you whatever wrong you have done, by the use of your sight, hearing, smelling senses, speech, touch, etc...."
The priest anoints with consecrated oil in the form of a cross the five senses: eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, hands and feet. The anointing of the feet may be omitted, if there is any special reason. In case of urgent necessity, the anointing may be made on the forehead alone, and the words of the form made shorter. Unfortunately, after Vatican II the exception became the rule.

    Only a priest can administer Extreme Unction, ordinarily a parish priest. All Catholics whohave reached the use of reason, and are in danger of death from sickness, accident, or old age, should receive Extreme Unction.

    As the primary purpose of the sacrament is to restore the soul weakened by sin and temptation, those who have never been capable of sinning cannot receive it. Hence the severely mentally disabled and children under the age of reason cannot receive Extreme Unction for they would not be conscious of the actuality of sin and therefore not culpable.

    As the danger of death must arise from within, soldiers going to battle, prisoners about to be executed, passengers on a ship about to sink, etc. cannot receive the sacrament.

    The sacrament may be received only once in the same illness. If the person recovers, and falls seriously sick once more, he may receive the sacrament again, even if the illness be the same disease.

    The sacrament should be administered as soon as there is danger of death. Thoe attending sick persons should not wait till the person is actually dying before calling a priest. Generally, the restoration of health often worked by Extreme Unction is not produced miraculously, hence the reception of the sacrament must not be delayed.

    Extreme Unction is a sacrament of the living. Hence the person must be in the state of grace. Before its reception, therefore, it is customary to go to confession, unless unable to do so. Also, often times accompanying the sacrament is the reception of Holy Communion to the sick, called the Holy Viaticum. Because of the accompanying sacraments, it is another reason it is important for a priest to carry this out rather than the new novelty of "eucharistic ministers." Extreme Unction, which means "Last Anointing," is so called because it is the last of the sacramental anointings used by the Church, not because it is to be put off till the last moment when the sick are at the point of death.

    The effects of the sacrament of Extreme Unction are:

    1. An increase of sanctifying grace. Extreme Unction acts spiritually, as oil does materially: it strengthens, heals, and aids the soul. The effects of oil on the body are well known: oil is rubbed on athletes to give them greater energy and suppleness; oil has healing power for wounds.

    2. Comfort in sickness and strength against temptation. It gives one graces to console him and strengthen him against temptation. He obtains resignation to God's will, fortitude to suffer, and trust in God's mercy. This sacrament often effects a great change in the sick person: where he is previously impatient and difficult to please, he becomes resigned to the pains of his illness. It strengthens the dying.

    3. Preparation for entrance into Heaven by the remission of our venial sins and the cleansing of our souls from the remains of sin. When the person does not recover, if he receives the sacrament with perfect dispositions, part, and even the whole, of the temporal penalties may be forgiven him.

        It removes venial sins and unforgiven mortal sins that one is unable to confess, if he has attrition for them. It removes the remains of sin, which are: weakness of will and evil inclinations which are results of past sin.

    4. Health of the body when this is good for the soul. Extreme Unction frequently restores to health. Very often the peace of mind that follows confession, and the knowledge that Extreme Unction has reconciled one with God, react beneficially upon the body of a sick person and cause the restoration of his health.

    Extreme Unction takes away mortal sin when the sick person is unconscious or otherwise unaware that he is not properly disposed, but has made an act of imperfect contrition.

    An unconscious person may receive Extreme Unction. If he is guilty of mortal sin, and has attrition for it it, and falls unconscious before the arrival of the priest, Extreme Unction will restore him to sanctifying grace. However, should he recover, he is bound to confess his sins thus forgiven. 1. The prophesy of Simeon 2. The flight into Egypt. 3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple. 4. The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the way to the Cross. 5. The Crucifixion 6. The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross. 7. The burial of Jesus.

For previous installments, see APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH Archives

October 24, 2002
volume 13, no. 123
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