Scripture for the Sick or Dying: James 5:13-16

We looked at this reading years ago in the series on the Reconciliation Lectionary. From New Testament times, the Church has urged illness as an opportunity for making things right with God and other persons. Institutionally, the sacraments of Anointing and Penance have been linked, so much so that Anointing is reserved to clergy who are authorized to hear confessions and forgive sins in the name of Christ.

With this passage from the letter of James, we have a brief description of a sacramental ritual. We begin with a personal examination, three simple questions:

Is anyone among you suffering?
(They) should pray.
Is anyone in good spirits?
(They) should sing praise.
Is anyone among you sick?

Prayer when suffering, praise when feeling uplifted, and if sick, a believer is urged to call the church elders, aka “presbyters.”

(They) should summon the presbyters of the church,
and they should pray over him (or her)
and anoint (him or her) with oil
in the name of the Lord,
and the prayer of faith will save the sick person,
and the Lord will raise (them) up.

The Church does not view Anointing as a guarantee of physical healing–not always. If we accept the New Testament witness here, the sacrament involves anointing and prayer. It is the prayer of the community, offered through and by its leadership that will alert divine grace. A person can be “raised up” in the sense of a physical rising from a sickbed. Or it can be a metaphor for an uplift in one’s spirit, or spirits.

If (they have) committed any sins,
(they) will be forgiven.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another
and pray for one another,
that you may be healed.

A final reminder:

The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.

I read this as less an example of pelagianism, and more a reminder that people can communicate authentically with God. The relationship with God involves a mutuality. Jesus himself describes it as friendship. Relationships like this on a human level, person-to-person, can inspire much of power in the mortal realm. Imagine when a sick person has God holding up the other end of friendship.

For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Pastoral Care of the Sick, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

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