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Catechism of the Catholic Church

I. ITS FOUNDATIONS IN THE ECONOMY OF SALVATION

Illness in human life

1500 Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death.

1501 Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.

The sick person before God

1502 The man of the Old Testament lives his sickness in the presence of God. It is before God that he laments his illness, and it is of God, Master of life and death, that he implores healing. 99 Illness becomes a way to conversion; God's forgiveness initiates the healing. 100 It is the experience of Israel that illness is mysteriously linked to sin and evil, and that faithfulness to God according to his law restores life: "For I am the Lord, your healer." 101 The prophet intuits that suffering can also have a redemptive meaning for the sins of others. 102 Finally Isaiah announces that God will usher in a time for Zion when he will pardon every offense and heal every illness. 103

Christ the physician

1503 Christ's compassion toward the sick and his many healings of every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that "God has visited his people" 104 and that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Jesus has the power not only to heal, but also to forgive sins; 105 he has come to heal the whole man, soul and body; he is the physician the sick have need of. 106 His compassion toward all who suffer goes so far that he identifies himself with them: "I was sick and you visited me." 107 His preferential love for the sick has not ceased through the centuries to draw the very special attention of Christians toward all those who suffer in body and soul. It is the source of tireless efforts to comfort them.

1504 Often Jesus asks the sick to believe. 108 He makes use of signs to heal: spittle and the laying on of hands, 109 mud and washing. 110 The sick try to touch him, "for power came forth from him and healed them all." 111 And so in the sacraments Christ continues to "touch" us in order to heal us.

1505 Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases." 112 But he did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. On the cross Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the "sin of the world," 113 of which illness is only a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion.

"Heal the sick . . ."

1506 Christ invites his disciples to follow him by taking up their cross in their turn. 114 By following him they acquire a new outlook on illness and the sick. Jesus associates them with his own life of poverty and service. He makes them share in his ministry of compassion and healing: "So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them." 115

1507 The risen Lord renews this mission ("In my name . . . they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." 116) and confirms it through the signs that the Church performs by invoking his name. 117 These signs demonstrate in a special way that Jesus is truly "God who saves." 118

1508 The Holy Spirit gives to some a special charism of healing 119 so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord. But even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses. Thus St. Paul must learn from the Lord that "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," and that the sufferings to be endured can mean that "in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church." 120

1509 "Heal the sick!" 121 The Church has received this charge from the Lord and strives to carry it out by taking care of the sick as well as by accompanying them with her prayer of intercession. She believes in the life-giving presence of Christ, the physician of souls and bodies. This presence is particularly active through the sacraments, and in an altogether special way through the Eucharist, the bread that gives eternal life and that St. Paul suggests is connected with bodily health. 122

1510 However, the apostolic Church has its own rite for the sick, attested to by St. James: "Isa any among you sick? Let him call for the elders [presbyters] 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." 123 Tradition has recognized in this rite one of the seven sacraments. 124

A sacrament of the sick

1511 The Church believes and confesses that among the seven sacraments there is one especially intended to strengthen those who are being tried by illness, the Anointing of the Sick:

This sacred anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ our Lord as a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament. It is alluded to indeed by Mark, but is recommended to the faithful and promulgated by James the apostle and brother of the Lord. 125

1512 From ancient times in the liturgical traditions of both East and West, we have testimonies to the practice of anointings of the sick with blessed oil. Over the centuries the Anointing of the Sick was conferred more and more exclusively on those at the point of death. Because of this it received the name "Extreme Unction." Notwithstanding this evolution the liturgy has never failed to beg the Lord that the sick person may recover his health if it would be conducive to his salvation. 126

1513 The Apostolic Constitution Sacram unctionem infirmorum, 127 following upon the Second Vatican Council, 128 established that henceforth, in the Roman Rite, the following be observed:

The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given to those who are seriously ill by anointing them on the forehead and hands with duly blessed oil - pressed from olives or from other plants - saying, only once: "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." 129

Notes:

99 Cf. Ps 6:3; 38; Isa 38.

100 Cf. Ps 32:5; 38:5; 39:9, 12; 107:20; cf. Mk 2:5-12.

101 Ex 15:26.

102 Cf. Isa 53:11.

103 Cf. Isa 33:24.

104 Lk 7:16; cf. Mt 4:24.

105 Cf. Mk 2:5-12.

106 Cf. Mk 2:17.

107 Mt 25:36.

108 Cf. Mk 5:34, 36; 9:23.

109 Cf. Mk 7:32-36; 8:22-25.

110 Cf. Jn 9:6-7.

111 Lk 6:19; cf. Mk 1:41; 3:10; 6:56.

112 Mt 8:17; cf. Isa 53:4.

113 Jn 1:29; cf. Isa 53:4-6.

114 Cf. Mt 10:38.

115 Mk 6:12-13.

116 Mk 16:17-18.

117 Cf. Acts 9:34; 14:3.

118 Cf. Mt 1:21; Acts 4:12.

119 Cf. I Cor 12:9, 28, 30.

120 2 Cor 12:9; Col 1:24.

121 Mt 10:8.

122 Cf. Jn 6:54, 58; I Cor 11:30.

123 Jas 5:14-15.

124 Cf. Council of Constantinople II (553) DS 216; Council Of Florence (1439) 1324- 1325; Council Of Trent (1551) 1695-1696; 1716-1717.

125 Council Of Trent (1551): DS 1695; cf. Mk 6:13; Jas 5:14-15.

126 Cf. Council Of Trent (1551) DS 1696.

127 Paul VI, apostolic constitution, Sacram unctionem infirmorum, November 30, 1972.

128 Cf. SC 73.

129 Cf. CIC, Can. 847 § 1.

English Translation of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church for the United States of America © 1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

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