Sacrosanctum Concilium 73

This is one aspect of Vatican II I remember parishes hammering away at during the 70’s and 80’s:

“Extreme unction,” which may also and more fittingly be called “anointing of the sick,” is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as any one of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him (or her) to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.

How do you think the laity are considering anointing of the sick these days? I still encourage people to celebrate that sacrament before going to the hospital. Some are still surprised.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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7 Responses to Sacrosanctum Concilium 73

  1. Talmida says:

    I think it’s one of the church’s most well kept secrets, and that’s a shame. It can be used for help in overcoming addictions, depression, and other mental and emotional sickness (as well as physical ones, of course), and should be OFFERED, the way reconciliation services are, on a regular basis.

    In my former parish, it was offered after morning reconciliation services (to which members of local seniors’ residences were bussed). I went to keep my mother company one Lent and ended up going to receive the sacrament myself. I credit it with helping me break a 28 year addiction to cigarettes.

    It didn’t “work” right away, but I know that it strengthened me, and that analogy helped me a great deal in understanding how the Sacrament of Reconciliation (the other sacrament of healing) can work in the same way (gradually strengthening us to resist sin).

    Most of the laity I know understand being annointed in the hospital, but are unaware of the other cases of sickness where the Sacrament can be of great help.

  2. Brigid says:

    Wonderful example, Talmida. Thanks for sharing.

    My sister was also *surprised* when parish members told her about the sacrament before she went in for cancer surgery. She found it to be one of the most comforting moments of her life from the Church.

    Again, a well-kept secret for many parishes

  3. Liam says:

    One problem is that the this passage and canon law are worded in a way that appears more restrictive than the liturgical books (the Book of Rites is my reference), so that many still place more emphasis on the imminent danger of death than the liturgical books indicate is necessary. IIRC, the Book of Rites places less emphasis on that and moreover directly warns the minister and recipient not to scruple over the matter.

    Furthermore, there are still plenty of people (ministers and laity) who are surprised at the notion that mental illness (such as severe depression) could qualify, as it were.

    At least we’ve moved past the day where priests had to stand under gallows to be ready to provide extreme unction to capital convicts only after they dropped through the floor….

  4. Anne says:

    I wonder how much of this lack of encouragement (for the Anointing of the Sick) stems from the fact that many parishes are fortunate if they have at least one priest, who is probably over burdened with all aspects of parish life.

  5. Naturally, a liturgist would look to the liturgical books first, not canon law. Canon law, despite what canon lawyers or rubricists would want us to believe, is not absolute.

  6. The liturgical norms for this sacrament use the term “periculosum” (if memory serves–I couldn’t find it just now), which is variously translated “serious” or “dangerous” in relation to the illness. I.e., it isn’t merely canon law that raises the issue.

    Agreed, one is to interpret this generously, rather than restrictively.

    One time, as a new priest, I offered the anointing during a weekday Mass; I thought I made clear the “serious” aspect, only to have all but six of the 70-plus people present line up for the sacrament — including a mother with several children, two in her arms!

    My point is, the misunderstanding goes both ways.

    (By the way, the parishes I’ve been associated with have offered it on a regular basis–usually once or twice a year, after a Sunday Mass, and on request. We list it in the bulletin in the same section as baptism, Mass, confessions, and weddings.)

  7. Anne says:

    Farther Martin, I don’t think that I have ever seen it listed in any bulletin in my area, north of Boston. I could be wrong. That’s a great way to promote and encourage this sacrament. I will make that suggestion.

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