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Sacrament of the sick

Our mission as Church is to do what Jesus did. And on nearly every page of the Gospels we read of Jesus' concern for the sick. Healing was essential to the mission of the disciples: "He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two. They anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them, (see Mark 6:7-13). After Jesus ascended into heaven, the Church continued to be a sacrament of healing: "Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven" (James 5: 14-15).

The Second Vatican Council placed the sacrament of the sick once again in the context of mutual prayer and concern described in the Epistle of James. Anointing is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death but is intended for all those who are seriously ill. Consequently, what we formerly called "Extreme Unction" is now more properly called "The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

More has changed than the sacrament's name. Our experience of the revised Sacrament of the Anointing has brought about a change in the way we think about the sacrament. This sacrament (like all sacraments) is a community celebration. Sickness involves more than bodily illness and anointing heals us through faith.

Today one does not have to be a doctor to know that physical health is related to mental and spiritual health. Today we are all aware that tensions, fear and anxiety about the future affect not only our mind but our body as well. These illnesses can be serious. They can move us to ask for the healing touch of Christ in the Sacrament of Anointing.

There are times when old age and the fears and isolation that can sometimes accompany it need to be brought to the healing and comforting touch of Christ in this sacrament. It is a powerful sign for a parish community to see their senior members place their limitations and dependence in the hands of Christ, who accepted human limitation and freely embraced suffering and even death itself.

In the sacrament we pray that the sick be healed in body, in soul and in spirit. God alone knows what kind of healing the sick need most: that a wound be healed; that a fear turn to confidence; that loneliness be embraced by the support of a praying community; that confusion turn to insight.

The Sacrament of Anointing does not remove the mystery of human suffering. Yet its celebration gives us a window into the mystery of a loving God. Our loving God raises up the crucified Son to display his victorious wounds, sitting triumphant at the Father's right hand.

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