In the last morceau I described how the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is celebrated: after a sharing of God’s holy Word, a priest anoints the sick person on the forehead and hands with holy oil. That’s how it’s done. But what does it do?
Like any sacrament, the Anointing of the Sick imparts special grace to the one who receives it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (in nos. 1520 and 1532) notes that this is a special gift of the Holy Spirit, with several distinct aspects.
The first is the most important. The Anointing of the Sick strengthens the sick person with an increase of faith, giving greater interior peace and courage to deal with illness and weakness, and even death. This is a real spiritual asset, and is sometimes called “healing of the soul.” There’s no more important thing to receive from God when faced with our basic human frailty and finitude.
The Church also affirms that the holy Anointing also can mysteriously aid in the healing of the body, if this is part of God’s ultimate plan for our salvation. This might be a miraculous thing, of course B but not always. Most physicians will tell you quite frankly that a patient’s attitude plays an immensely important role in the healing process. Whenever a sick person is anointed and “soothed in soul” it stands to reason that this will affect that weakened body too in a helpful way.
Finally, if the sick person is not able to obtain God’s pardon in the Sacrament of Penance – for example, if unconscious or unable to speak – the Anointing of the Sick imparts His forgiveness of sin. This also is a great consolation for the individual who cannot go to confession but can be anointed, and for the entire Church community, for the sanctification of all men and women is the Church’s principal purpose. Don’t we all rejoice when any “lost sheep” is finally found by the Good Shepherd?