Anointing of the sick is a sacrament that deserves “greater consideration” today because of the spiritual benefits to minister and recipient, Pope Benedict XVI has said.
The Pope’s words appeared in a message for the 2012 World Day of the Sick, released by the Vatican this week. The day itself is celebrated annually on February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Pope Benedict noted that the sacrament, formerly known as extreme unction, may be administered in “various human situations connected with illness, and not only when a person is at the end of his or her life”.
Anointing with olive oil recalls the “double mystery of the Mount of Olives,” the Pope said, as both the location of the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus confronted his passion, and the place where he ascended into heaven. Oil thus acts “as God’s medicine … offering strength and consolation, yet at the same time [pointing] beyond the moment of the illness toward the definitive healing, the Resurrection.”
Pope Benedict said that anointing of the sick is one of the Church’s two “sacraments of healing”, together with the “medicine of confession”, penance.
When a sick person confesses sins to a priest, “a time of suffering, in which one could be tempted to abandon oneself to discouragement and hopelessness, can thus be transformed into a time of grace,” the Pope said.
Both penance and the sacrament of the sick “have their natural completion in Eucharistic Communion,” Pope Benedict said. “Received at a time of illness,” Communion associates the “person who partakes of the body and blood of Christ to the offering that he made of himself to the Father for the salvation of all.”
Accordingly, the Pope said, parishes should ensure that the elderly and the sick enjoy the “possibility of frequently receiving Holy Communion”.