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Sunday, August 30, 2009
The Sacrament of Extreme Unction (Annointing of the Sick)
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Funerailles de Guillaume le Conquerant

This post in a continuation in the series of posts on each of the Seven Sacraments.

Funerals have in recent decades turned almost into celebrations when they should instead be times of great mourning and prayer for the salvation of the deceased – we do not know if a person is in heaven unless they are a canonized saint. For this reason, pray for the salvation of the deceased and dying – do not assume that they are in heaven (unless they are a young child who died before the age of reason). To assume that the deceased is in heaven and not pray for their salvation is a serious neglect, one in which could cause your loved one to suffer in Purgatory.

For reception of the Sacrament, a person must be a baptized Catholic who has reached the age of reasoning. While before Vatican II, a person was given Extreme Unction while "in extremis" (in imminent danger of dying), nowadays people can too whimsically receive this Sacrament because many people – such as the elderly – receive it who are not in an imminent danger of death. Care should be given to ensure that everyone who does receive the Sacrament of Extreme Unction has the proper dispositions.

Catholics are anointed with oil in Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders (if ordained) and lastly with oil through the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, named propersly since "extreme" means "last" and unction refers to the physical action of the anointing with oil. And while it may be repeated to a person suffering from a serious illness every month to six weeks, it may also be given again to a sick person who recovers and suffers a relapse. Despite this "Extreme Unction" remains the proper name of the Sacrament.

As explicitly stated in the Baltimore Catechism, "Extreme Unction may be given to all Christians dangerously ill, who have ever been capable of committing sin after baptism and who have the right dispositions for the Sacrament. Hence it is never given to children who have not reached the use of reason, nor to persons who have always been insane" (Q. 959). With the dispositions of a resignation to the will of God in regards to recovery, being in the state of grace (with feeling contrition for sins at a minimum), and a general desire to receive the Sacrament, the Sacrament of Extreme Unction is never given to heretics "because they cannot be supposed to have the intention necessary for receiving it, nor the desire to make use of the Sacrament of Penance in putting themselves in a state of grace" (Q. 960).

The effects of the Sacrament are also clear (Q. 969): 1st. To comfort us in the pains of sickness and to strengthen us against temptations; 2nd. To remit venial sins and to cleanse our soul from the remains of sin; 3rd. To restore us to health, when God sees fit.

The rubrics also implicitly reveal that the Sacrament may only be given to the living, not to those who have passed on to Judgment.

Baltimore Catechism No. 3:

Baltimore Catechism No. 3Q. 956. What is the Sacrament of Extreme Unction?
A. Extreme Unction is the Sacrament which, through the anointing and prayer of the priest, gives health and strength to the soul, and sometimes to the body, when we are in danger of death from sickness.

Q. 957. Why is this Sacrament called Extreme Unction?
A. Extreme means last, and Unction means an anointing or rubbing with oil, and because Catholics are anointed with oil at Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders, the last Sacrament in ,which oil is used is called Extreme Unction, or the last Unction or anointing.

Q. 958. Is this Sacrament called Extreme Unction if the person recovers after receiving it?
A. This Sacrament is always called Extreme Unction, even if it must be given several times to the same person, for Extreme Unction is the proper name of the Sacrament, and it may be given as often as a person recovering from one attack of sickness is in danger of death by another. In a lingering illness it may be repeated after a month or six weeks, if the person slightly recovers and again relapses into a dangerous condition.

Q. 959. To whom may Extreme Unction be given?
A. Extreme Unction may be given to all Christians dangerously ill, who have ever been capable of committing sin after baptism and who have the right dispositions for the Sacrament. Hence it is never given to children who have not reached the use of reason, nor to persons who have always been insane.

Q. 960. What are the right dispositions for Extreme Unction?
A. The right dispositions for Extreme Unction are:

1. Resignation to the Will of God with regard to our recovery;
2. A state of grace or at least contrition for sins committed, and
3. A general intention or desire to receive the Sacrament.

This Sacrament is never given to heretics in danger of death, because they cannot be supposed to have the intention necessary for receiving it, nor the desire to make use of the Sacrament of Penance in putting themselves in a state of grace.

Q. 961. When and by whom was Extreme Unction instituted?
A. Extreme Unction was instituted at the time of the apostles, for James the Apostle exhorts the sick to receive it.

It was instituted by Our Lord Himself -- though we do not know at what particular time -- for He alone can make a visible act a means of grace, and the apostles and their successors could never have believed Extreme Unction a Sacrament and used it as such unless they had Our Lord's authority for so doing.

Q. 962. When should we receive Extreme Unction?
A. We should receive Extreme Unction when we are in danger of death from sickness, or from a wound or accident.

Q. 963. What parts of the body are anointed in Extreme Unction?
A. The parts of the body anointed in Extreme Unction are: The eyes, the ears, the nose or nostrils, the lips, the hands and the feet, because these represent our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, which are the means through which we have committed most of our sins.

Q. 964. What things should be prepared in the sick-room when the priest is coming to give the last Sacraments?
A. When the priest is coming to give the last Sacraments, the following things should be prepared:

A table covered with a white cloth; a crucifix; two lighted candles in candlesticks; holy water in a small vessel, with a small piece of palm for a sprinkler; a glass of clean water; a tablespoon and a napkin or cloth, to be placed under the chin of the one receiving the Viaticum.

Besides these, if Extreme Unction also is to be given, there should be some cotton and a small piece of bread or lemon to purify the priest's fingers.

Q. 965. What seems most proper with regard to the things necessary for the last Sacraments?
A. It seems most proper that the things necessary for the last Sacraments should be carefully kept in every Catholic family, and should never, if possible, be used for any other purpose.

Q. 966. What else is to be observed about the preparation for the administration of the last Sacraments?
A. The further preparation for the administration of the last Sacraments requires that out of respect for the Sacraments, and in particular for the presence of Our Lord, everything about the sick-room, the sick person and even the attendants, should be made as neat and clean as possible. Especially should the face, hands and feet of the one to be anointed be thoroughly clean.

Q. 967. Should we wait until we are in extreme danger before we receive Extreme Unction?
A. We should not wait until we are in extreme danger before we receive Extreme Unction, but if possible we should receive it whilst we have the use of our senses.


Q. 968. What should we do in case of serious illness if the sick person will not consent or is afraid to receive the Sacraments, or, at least, wishes to put off their reception?
A. In case of serious illness, if the sick person will not consent, or is afraid to receive the Sacraments, or, at least, wishes to put off their reception, we should send for the priest at once and let him do what he thinks best in the case, and thus we will free ourselves from the responsibility of letting a Catholic die without the last Sacraments.

Q. 969. Which are the effects of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction?
A. The effects of Extreme Unction are:

1st. To comfort us in the pains of sickness and to strengthen us against temptations;
2nd. To remit venial sins and to cleanse our soul from the remains of sin;
3rd. To restore us to health, when God sees fit.

Q. 970. Will Extreme Unction take away mortal sin if the dying person is no longer able to confess?
A. Extreme Unction will take away mortal sin if the dying person is no longer able to confess, provided he has the sorrow for his sins that would bee necessary for the worthy reception of the Sacrament of Penance.

Q. 971. How do we know that this Sacrament, more than any other, was instituted to benefit the body?
A. We know that this Sacrament more than any other was instituted to benefit the body:

1. From the words of St. James exhorting us to receive it;
2. It is given when the soul is already purified by the graces of Penance and Holy Viaticum;
3. One of its chief objects is to restore us to health if it be for our spiritual good, as most of the prayers said in giving this Sacrament indicate.

Q. 972. Since Extreme Unction may restore us to health, should we not be glad to receive it?
A. Since Extreme Unction may restore us to health. we should be glad to receive it, and we should not delay its reception till we are so near death that God could restore us only by a miracle. Again, this Sacrament, like the others, gives sanctifying and sacramental grace, which we should be eager to obtain as soon as our sickness is sufficient to give us the privilege of receiving the last Sacraments.

Q. 973. What do you mean by the remains of sin?
A. By the remains of sin I mean the inclination to evil and the weakness of the will which are the result of our sins, and which remain after our sins have been forgiven.

Q. 974. How should we receive the Sacrament of Extreme Unction?
A. We should receive the Sacrament of Extreme Unction in the state of grace, and with lively faith and resignation to the will of God.

Q. 975. Who is the minister of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction?
A. The priest is the minister of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.

Q. 976. What is the final preparation we should make for the reception of the last Sacraments?
A. The final preparation we should make for the reception of the last Sacraments consists in an earnest effort to be resigned to God's Holy Will, to excite ourselves to true sorrow for our sins, to profit by the graces given us, to keep worldly thoughts from the mind, and to dispose ourselves as best we can for the worthy reception of the Sacraments and the blessings of a good death.

Q. 977. At what time should persons dangerously ill attend to the final arrangement of their temporal or worldly affairs?
A. Persons dangerously ill should attend to the final arrangement of their temporal or worldly affairs at the very beginning of their illness, that these things may not distract them at the hour of death, and that they may give the last hours of their life entirely to the care of their soul.



Upcoming Posts:

Please watch for upcoming posts on the Rite of Extreme Unction in the 1962 Rituale Romanum.

Update: The Rite of Extreme Unction (1962)

3 comments:

del_button August 30, 2009 at 9:47 AM
Anonymous said...

I know this is probally the wrong place to ask this question, but if you are friends with someone who lives hedonistically, and you don't tell them about God, and they die suddenly, and possibly lose their soul, do you share responsibility in that because you didn't speak about God and you could have so many times?

del_button August 30, 2009 at 9:58 AM
Catholic Mom of 10 said...

Many thanks for this post.

del_button August 30, 2009 at 11:19 AM
Matthew said...

Failure to seek to correct those in sin and error is a sin of omission, something which we will be judged upon. It is not our fault if the one in error does not repent, but if we fail to attempt to steer them to the right path then we do commit a sin.

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