For anointing within Mass, the rite provides a “reception of the sick,” rather than an instruction (PCS 117). This reception takes place after the ritual greeting at the start of Mass (The Lord be with you, etc.) Two texts are given, as well as the option for the priest to welcome the sick persons with “similar” words. I find these statements illuminating, as they place Church teaching in the context of the liturgy. While documents like the catechism or canon law are favored by many to get to the root of theological meaning, I find these “teachings” within the liturgy to be at least equally instructive.
We have come together to celebrate the sacraments of anointing and eucharist. Christ is always present when we gather in his name; today we welcome him especially as physician and healer. We pray that the sick may be restored to health by the gift of his mercy and made whole in his fullness.
Christ taught his disciples to be a community of love. In praying together, in sharing all things, and in caring for the sick, they recalled his words: “Insofar as you did this to one of these, you did it to me.” We gather today to witness to this teaching and to pray in the name of Jesus the healer that the sick may be restored to health. Through this eucharist and anointing we invoke his healing power.
The reception of the sick is the locus in liturgy to acknowledge the sick and the community. Note that Christ is central in each proclamation. Christ is the source of grace and power for which we pray. Note also that each option refers to the gathering of the praying assembly. What is the difference in these options? The second is more explicit in the ministry of the believing community. For the ritual Mass for anointing in a church, option B or something like it may be used. In a home or small-scale setting, perhaps option A is better.
The ritual Mass for anointing does not include either the Penitential Rite or the Gloria. The rubric is specific:
136. Afterward the priest, with hands joined, sings or says:
Father, you raised your Son’s cross as the sign of victory and life. May all who share in his suffering find in these sacraments a source of fresh courage and healing. We ask this through … for ever and ever. Amen.
God of compassion, you take every family under your care and know our physical and spiritual needs. Transform our weakness by the strength of your grace and confirm us in your covenant so that we may grow in faith and love. We ask this through … for ever and ever. Amen.
These opening prayers are straight-forward. They do not address the sick people in particular, but focus on the prayer to the Father offered by the entire community. They acknowledge that suffering and weakness are shared by all present. The petitions for courage, healing, strength of divine grace, faith, love: these are all appropriate for the sick persons as well as their loved ones, not to mention the faith community as a whole.
From the start, the ritual Mass sets the tone and purpose of the gathering, but expands the scope of celebration to include those who accompany the sick, either as family, friends, or a faith community. The focus sticks to the Lord Jesus, the source of healing grace. Any adaptation of the reception of the sick (PCS 135) should keep this in mind.
A final note about the Penitential Rite and the Gloria. If a parish celebrated anointing at Mass on a Sunday, would these still be omitted? If you were using elements of the anointing rite on a Sunday on which substitution of the ritual Mass wasn’t permitted, the answer is clearly no. If you were using the ritual Mass, the answer is clearly yes. Does that mean it would be wrong to include them at the ritual Mass? The answer must take into account the pastoral needs of the sick and the community.
The ritual Mass does not give explicit permission to include them. Given the nature of the reception of the sick as a ritual part of the introductory rites, anything that would overshadow it would be out of keeping with the spirit of this liturgy. The rite’s first choice is for the priest to sing the opening prayer. If the Kyrie and Gloria aren’t used, that option for singing could be taken.
My last comment on the reception of the sick is that it lacks a community acclamation. I think the pattern of entrance music, greeting, reception of the sick, brief acclamation, opening prayer, is one in keeping with the ideals of the rite and the style of Roman brevity.