Alexis Dallara-Marsh discusses the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and the role of the laity in praying and caring for those who suffer.
Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders 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 has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15)
As Christians, we are called to comfort and pray for all who are sick or suffering. Those who care for the suffering do holy and important work. They become close to Christ’s suffering people and in doing so, serve Christ himself. Matthew 25:40: reads, "The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’" Helping others find meaning in their lives, particularly so that they know they are not alone at the end of life, is part of our vocation as Catholics.
Through the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, the Church carries out Jesus’ mission of healing among each other. Only priests may administer the Sacrament, which consists of a penitential rite followed by the Liturgy of the Word, then laying his hands on the head of the sick and anointing with oil. The priest then says the prayer:
Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up. (CCC, no. 1513)
For those in their dying hours, the Church offers the person Penance, Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist as Viaticum (food for the journey), “the sacraments that prepare for our heavenly homeland” (CCC, no. 1525). Notably, Anointing of the Sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death, but can also be applied towards any Catholic who may be in danger of death from sickness or old age. (CCC, no. 1514, citing SC, no. 73).
Though as laypersons we ourselves cannot administer the Sacrament, we can pray for those approaching their final hours. We can show great compassion and love, as well as be firm in our faith. Having such requires courage and sustenance, as there is so much stigma in talking about death in society today. Yet showing love for another at the end of life is perhaps when we as followers of Christ are needed more than ever. It is in this time that souls must be open to God's eternal love more than ever. We can rest assured that Christ has already conquered death.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate use from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Copyright 2021 Alexis Dallara-Marsh
Image: José Antonio Flores Quiroz (2017), Cathopic.com
About the Author
Dr. Alexis Dallara-Marsh is a board-certified neurologist who practices in Bergen County, NJ. She is a wife to her best friend, Akeem, and a mother of two little ones on Earth, plus two others in Heaven above.