Sunday, July 29, 2007

The sacrament: It hasn't worked

“It hasn’t worked, Father”, said my early morning telephone caller.
“What hasn’t worked?”
“My anointment”.
Yesterday, I had given her the Sacrament of the Sick, apparently she hadn’t been cured, and therefore it hadn’t worked.
Another member of my parish who is quite sick, disabled, in a wheelchair rings me whenever she is feeling particularly ill or depressed and wants, “The Anointing”, it makes her better, for her it always “works”.
At the moment our diocese is in Lourdes, one of the highpoints is the Celebration of the Sacrament of the Sick, I am not too sure what happens nowadays, but in the past practically everyone was anointed, the sick and as well as many of the able bodied pilgrims and many of the helpers. The music tended to create an atmosphere where tears flowed and emotions were high.
In the past, the sacrament was called “Extreme Unction” and was given only when there was a pretty obvious connection with death, to the point where it was often referred to as the “Last Rites”, Catholics felt it very important that the priest should be called to administer this sacrament, before death, in those days death was defined as before decomposition set in. it meant that prison chaplains would anoint the bodies of prisoners who had been hanged, after execution had taken place, rather than before. The significant purpose of the sacrament was to heal the soul, although many Catholics had stories about people who were sick that the priest was called, the sacrament given, and a sick person recovering. At one time it was given only once in a lifetime.
Now, one gets the impression that the sacrament only works if, there is a recovery or at least someone is expected to feel better, salvation is not an issue, and the results are expected, now.
Then salvation has ceased to be the issue with the sacraments in most people's minds except in the most remote way, they have become about us, in the past they were always about God, and our eternal relationship with Him.
What an odd situation we have got into.


Anonymous said...

It would be unreasonable to complain that a person couldn't speak French if they had never been taught the language.

If the people were better catechised in school and from the pulpit they would understand the sacrament. Look on it as a wonderful opportunity to share the Faith.

Anonymous said...

I believe people are cured miraculously all the time, no scientific reason, only through prayer and the intercession of Jesus,Mary, and the saints. The annointing of the sick, is wonderful, it brings a inner peace, a feeling of comfort, and I believe can bring physical healing if that is what God has planned for you.

Fr Ray Blake said...

The crucial words in the letter of St James which are used in the introduction to the Rite are, "and this prayer made in faith will SAVE the sick person, and if they have committed any sins these too will be FOREGIVEN them".

This catechesis is given everytime the sacrament is celebrated.

From this introduction it is clear the effects of the sacrament are SAVING and FORGIVING; healing, inner peace, a feeling of comfort might also be given but those are incidental and most likely depend more the feelings or psychological, rather than spiritual, disposition of the recipient.

Essentially we should be concerned about God does, not what we experience, with this sacrament and any others.
The reason for putting up this post was to illustrate this danger.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Let people call me old fashioned, if they will.
But when I am gravely ill, I hope and pray there will be a priest to administer Extreme Unction.
In my case, it is nothing to do with the "feel good" factor or feeling better, or even getting better.
I don't doubt the power of the sacrament to effect a cure, when received with the correct disposition, and if God wills it.
But more important to me is the forgiveness of my sins.
I don't want to lose my soul.

I told you I was old fashioned ...

Anonymous said...

Thank you Father Blake for explaining this to us. May our Lord Jesus Christ continue to bless you, and give you his peace (the peace that the world cannot give) in all the works you do as a Priest.

Anonymous said...

Several weeks ago my wife was gravely ill in the hospital. I knew my wife had not been to confession in years. I was worried she would not survive and I was worried about her spiritual health. The hospital chaplin gave her the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. I believe that had she died she would have been saved. Within a couple hours she began to show remarkable improvement in her condition. The doctors had told me earlier that she would be in the hospital for several weeks. Four days after the Anointing she left the hospital. I believe that she not only received a spiritual healing but a physical healing as well.

I have been a Catholic for 57 years and this was the first time that I experienced this beautiful sacrament. I can only hope that I receive this healing sacrament from our loving father before I die.

God bless

nancy p. walsh said...

greetings, Father.

i was very impressed with your writing of this important information. Catholics to our disgrace are no longer mentally present at daily/sunday Masses! we sit there as a matter of routine, not thinking of the great TREASURE we are beholding!

in the HOLY TRINITY's great Love and Mercy, THEY are sharing THEIR very being with us. we truly do receive JESUS CHRIST within our souls. how many of us actually think what is happening before our own eyes?

Thank you dear--dear, Father for becoming a PRIEST. Thank you for all your doing to help us in understanding our amazing god !

GOD's Peace to you,
nancy p. walsh

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Having re-read F. Ray's "The Sacrament : It hasn't worked",
I am disturbed both by what he wrote and what I have seen for myself in the past.
I knew I had read somewhere that the Sacrament of Anointing is not to be administered indiscriminately.
I have now found the source :
It is a letter from the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, issued on 11 February 2005 (a significant date !) which makes it very clear in quoting from the 1983 Code of Canon Law that :
The Sacrament of Anointing is intended for "the faithful who are dangerously sick" (Canon 998).
The change in practice from the days before Vatican II is a pastoral one : the sick person need not be "in extremis".
The letter from the Congregation makes the following clear :
"From the Canons and the ritual, it is clear that the sacrament may not be given indiscriminately."
The following appear to be excluded : "One who is not in danger from sickness or infirmity of age."
And :
"Those who are simply ill or old without danger from sickness of infirmity may not be anointed."
The issue appears to be one of prudent pastoral judgement, but always in light of the above letter from Rome.
I know of Catholics who believe, or have been led to believe, (I don't mean by Fr. Ray !) that the Sacrament of Anointing is available to those who are quite sick, disabled, depressed, etc.
I have been quite sick for years with a life long heart condition.
I am very disabled (though not yet wheelchair bound) with severe arthritis.
There is daily medication, and greatly reduced mobility, with much pain and suffering.
But I am not dangerously ill.
I do not consider myself to be a suitable candidate for anointing.
I compare my case with the situation in Lourdes in years gone by where Fr. Ray says :
"Practically everyone was anointed, the sick as well as many of the able bodied pilgrims and many of the helpers."
I'm sorry, but that sounds to me like an abuse of this Sacrament.
Its primary purpose, as I understand it, is to heal and to save the soul.
Like all the sacraments, it is about salvation.
Or am I wrong ?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Dr. Peter H. Wright,
You are right, certainly about this sacrament but I included this story because I think it reflects on our general attitude towards sacraments.
Incidently, for some reason this story seems to have attracted a,lmost 5,000 visitors from an American website over the last two days.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

And another thing :

Fr. Ray, many thanks you for your opinion.
Sorry, but I forgot to mention the following :
Zenit posted a useful opinion given by Fr.Edward McNamara of Regina Apostolorum University, Rome, on 04.07.2006
See :
And I wanted to quote briefly from The Catechism of The Catholic Church :
Art. 1528 "The proper time for receiving this holy anointing has certainly arrived when the believer begins to be in danger of death."
Art. 1532 (The effects of the sacrament are) "the forgiveness of sin"
and : "the restoration of health if it is conducive to the salvation of the soul."
I read Anon's comment.
As he rightly says, this is a beautiful sacrament.
I also would wish to receive this healing sacrament before I die.
All the sacraments are beautiful.
But primarily, the sacraments are there for our salvation.
That is why I hope Fr. Ray will allow the discussion on his blog of other sacraments, some time in the future.

Lea Hawkins said...

Almost 1 year ago (Sept 3)my mother passed away. Three days earlier, a dear Priest Friend went to her to administer the sacraments. Upon seeing him enter the room, she reached for him. He blessed her, prayed and anointed her. From that moment on, she needed no medications for pain, anxiety, sleep etc. She was in total peace and so were we. The sacrament did not save her mortal life but freed her spirit to return home and by that, we were healed as well.

St. Michael the Archangel said...

I have had 11 open heart surgeries, two pace maker replacements, and 14 Catheterizations.. I can tell you I have received this sacrament for each of my serious open heart surgeries and for a few of my minor surgeries. They are not about feel good, it is about medicine for the soul, and I know from my own experience that when we are close to God and have a loving relationship with him, this sacrament activates itself within us, we are always healed from it, though sometimes its not an outward healing. Two heart surgeries ago when I was 21 I received the last rites and went into surgery thanking God for my life, when I came out I had the greatest peace I have ever known. For 2 months afterwards I couldn't listen to the radio, the TV, or stand it when I heard people cuss, profain, ect.. To me those were sounds that hurt my ears, my soul ached at them. I have never felt that way before, I lost that feeling when I started to fall into sin, and have yet to get that back! Oh how I wish for it again.. God is good, God is great, and most of all God is merciful.

Pax Christi,


flabellum said...

I wonder why so little is said about the Apostolic Pardon for the Dying? (Formerly the Apostolic Absolution). This plenary indulgence is the most generous offered by the Church, yet many of her priests seem to think it is either outdated or even abolished. If someone is in sufficient danger to need anointing, they certainly need the Apostolc Pardon too!

Fr Ray Blake said...

The words of the CDF instruction concern a "connection with death", not its immanence.
However what you say about the generosity of the Church is very true, maybe the next few years might see the publication in English of Enchirodon on Indulgences.