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Catholic Activity: Anointing of the Sick

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Among the seven sacraments there is one for which most people have lost the proper understanding—the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick (formerly called Extreme Unction). If it is introduced to children early in life, as one of the greatest gifts of God, there will be no fear. This would be an appropriate topic on the feast of All Souls.

DIRECTIONS

[Editor's Note: This sacrament is now called the Anointing of the Sick. The name has changed to remind us that this sacrament is not to be used only at extreme measures. At times of serious illness, before surgeries are other times to have the priest administer this sacrament, besides near death. Also note that these prayers come from the older version of the Sacramentary, before liturgy changes of Vatican II. --JGM]

Among the seven sacraments there is one for which most people have lost the proper understanding — the sacrament of Extreme Unction, the great friend of all the sick. Unfortunately, it has become known as the sacrament of the dying. Out of a mistaken consideration for the sick, in order "not to excite him," he is all too often made to believe he really isn't very sick at all. When illness finally takes a turn for the worst, the poor patient is often no longer able to follow the deeply consoling prayers and rites of this great sacrament. But if it is introduced to children early in life, as one of the greatest gifts of God, there will be no fear.

All Souls' Day lends itself by its very character to a meditation on the last things. This is the day on which we show our children how one prepares a table for administering Extreme Unction. The first time I do this myself, telling the children to watch carefully, as next year they will have to prepare it. I show them in which drawer I keep the crucifix and the blessed candles and the linen cloth which is spread over the little table. Then I prepare a little jar with water and on a plate six pieces of clean white cotton wool with which the different parts of the body will be wiped after anointing. Another empty plate is put out on which the cotton wool will be placed after use. I also show the children where the baptismal candles or the blessed candles are kept which should be lit at the hour of death. Then we tell them about our last wishes, which prayers we would like to hear, which hymns to have sung, which garment we wish to wear as our last. We discuss these matters once a year in our family, and the horror that usually accompanies last sickness and death diminishes greatly. With all the practical details settled in our minds, there is greater calm and acceptance of the inevitable when the final hours come. We also promise the children that we will not delay to ask the priest, and make them promise to do the same for us. After this yearly discussion, we take the texts of the sacrament of Extreme Unction and read them through once. The opening prayers are deeply soothing, addressed to the family rather than to the sick themselves:

Let us pray. O Lord, Jesus Christ, let there enter this house with the entrance of our lowliness, eternal happiness, divine prosperity, serene gladness, fruitful charity, everlasting health; may there fly from this place all approach of the demons; let the angels of peace be present and all ill-feeling and discord leave this house. Make Thy Name great over us, O Lord, and bless our ministry, hallow the entrance of our lowliness, Thou Who art holy, Thou Who art kind and abideth with the Father and the Holy Ghost, world without end.

Let us pray and beseech Our Lord, Jesus Christ, that He would fill this dwelling with blessing and all that dwell therein and send them a good angel to be their guardian and make them His servants to study the wonders of His law; may He turn them from all contrary powers; may He save them from alarm and disturbance and vouchsafe to keep them in health in this dwelling Who, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth world without end. Amen.

Let us pray. Hear O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty and Eternal God, and vouchsafe to send Thy holy angel from heaven to watch over, to cherish, protect, visit and guard all them that dwell in this house, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

These first prayers haven't even touched on sickness and death yet. They pray for the peace and happiness of all who dwell in the house. Only then is the Confiteor said and then the priest turns to those present in the sick room and asks them to pray for the sick person during the administration of the sacrament. Then he says,
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Let there be extinguished in thee all power of the devil by the imposition of our hands and by the invocation of all holy Angels, Archangels, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, virgins and of all the Saints together. Amen.
After this the sacrament proper is administered — Holy Unction. The Fathers of the Church tell us that, by this Holy Unction, not only all sins of our whole life, even the ones we might have forgotten to mention in Confession, are forgiven, but also the remission of temporal punishment is obtained. Now the priest takes the holy oil and anoints the sick person on the closed eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, hands and feet, while he says, "By this holy unction and His own most gracious mercy may the Lord forgive thee whatever sin thou hast committed by sight, hearing, smell, taste, speech, touch. Amen," repeating this holy formula each time as he touches the respective part of the person's body.

We never fail to read the most consoling prayer to be said after death:

Come to his assistance all ye Saints of God, meet him all ye Angels of God, receiving his soul, offering it in the sight of the Most High. May Christ receive thee Who has called thee and may the angels conduct thee to Abraham's bosom, receiving thy soul and offering it in the sight of the Most High.
This prayer is followed by the first recital of "Eternal rest give unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. Let him rest in peace." Later, the Church, this true mother, turns to those who are present, knowing that this is a heartrending moment for them, and she prays:
Grant, O God, that while we lament the departure of this, Thy servant, we may always remember that we are most certainly to follow him, and give us grace to prepare for that last hour by a good life, that we may not be surprised by a sudden and unprovided death, but be ever watching that, when Thou shalt call, we may with the Bridegroom enter into eternal glory, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
If death is approached in this spirit, we can only exclaim with the Church at Easter "O Death, where is thy victory? O Death, where is thy sting?"

It is very important that we should make our family aware of the festive character surrounding the administration of Holy Unction. In a way it is a farewell gathering in honor of a beloved on the point of leaving for a faraway country. We know we shall see him again, but we do not know the hour, and we wish him Godspeed with all our hearts.

Here we come to realize the true reason why the Church takes so much pains to teach us how to celebrate, how to live life as one long, uninterrupted solemn feast. She does this so that, on the crucial day, we should be able to apply the wisdom gathered over a long time and to celebrate as the greatest feast of all our departure for the heavenly Jerusalem. If we show our children in time the festive side of this great sacrament, we may be sure that, when the day comes, they will not kneel around our bed sobbing and crying, but all of us together will be able to answer the priest with a peaceful heart. "If you love me," we should say to our dear ones in the words of Our Lord, "you should rejoice with me because I am going to the Father." This is the spirit in which we should talk about death in our families.

In my life, rich in sickness and operations, I have received the sacrament of Holy Unction more than once. Each time I experienced the same profound peace — like homecoming after a stormy journey, and — each time I recovered! I am absolutely sure that these recoveries were due to a great extent to this very peace brought about by complete relaxation and abandonment to the will of God, which freed all mental energy for healing rather than wasting it in worry and anxiety.

And if one gets up from a sickbed after holy anointing — what a wonderful feeling! It is a new beginning. All sins were forgiven more thoroughly than ever in the sacrament of Penance; even the temporal punishment accumulated throughout one's life — that also is gone. Now, after having passed so closely by this last door, one appreciates more fully another chance to do better and to start with a clean slate.

Activity Source: Around the Year with the Trapp Family by Maria Augusta Trapp, Pantheon Books Inc., New York, New York, 1955

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