The Lenten and Easter seasons are periods when we focus on certain sacraments: baptism, confirmation, reconciliation and the Eucharist. One that unfortunately gets overlooked is anointing of the sick.
I’ve spoken about this sacrament in a couple of homilies since I have been here, but it never hurts to review. For decades, perhaps centuries, people have associated this sacrament with the Last Rites given immediately before death. While a person can be anointed before death, the church teaches that anointing should be received when a person is first in danger of death, meaning, at the beginning of a serious illness, before major surgery, and even during old age. Anointing can be given to baptized children who are ill and have sufficient use of reason to be strengthened by the sacrament. Anointing is intended to give the person who receives it spiritual and emotional strength as they prepare to battle the fear and weakness that often come with illnesses and old age. It can be repeated if the health of the person deteriorates or if he or she becomes ill again with another illness.
The true Last Rite is the Eucharist received as Viaticum. Viaticum must be given while the person who is dying is still fully conscious. The vast majority of the calls that I have received to administer the Last Rites have come too late; I can anoint but I cannot give the person the Eucharist because he or she is no longer conscious.
In both cases, anointing and Viaticum, it is much better to err on the side of being too early rather than too late. It is also important to keep in mind that while a priest will do everything that he can to visit those in need, we are unfortunately limited by the laws of physics and may not be able to immediately appear on the scene. Emergencies happen; God understands this. However, please don’t wait until the last minute. If you are facing a serious illness, or if you are a caregiver of someone who is ill, please do your best to ensure that you or your loved one can take full advantage of these great gifts that the Lord has given us.
Verso l’alto (To the heights),
Father Brent Crowe