The Anointing of the Sick is a remarkable sign of God’s great love for us. In his merciful efforts to bring us safely to himself in heaven, God seems to have gone to the very limit.
Jesus has given us the sacrament of Baptism, in which original sin and all pre-Baptismal sins are cleansed from the soul. Allowing for mankind’s spiritual weakness, Jesus also gave us the sacrament of Penance, by which post-Baptismal sins could be forgiven. As though he were impatient lest a soul be delayed a single instant from its entry into heaven, Jesus gave to his Church the power to remit the temporal punishment due to sin, a power which the Church exercises in the granting of indulgences.
Finally, as though to make doubly sure that no one, except through his own deliberate fault, would lose heaven or even spend time in purgatory, Jesus instituted the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
A special sacrament for the sick & suffering
The Catechism of the Catholic Church’s section on the Anointing of the Sick defines the purpose of the sacrament as “the conferral of a special grace on the Christian experiencing the difficulties inherent in the condition of grave illness or old age.” (Catechism, 1527)
In his Gospel St. Mark (6:12-13) gives us an indication of this sacrament of the sick when he tells us that the apostles, going forth, “preached that men should repent, and they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many sick people, and healed them.”
However, the classical description which the Bible gives of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is found in the Epistle of St. James:
“Is any one among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters [priests] of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of 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)