Thursday, July 15, 2010
Anointing of the Sick vs "Last Rites"
What is the difference between Anointing of the Sick and Last Rites? This is an issue that can be confusing. The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is one of the seven sacraments of the Church, and its purpose is the healing of body and spirit. This was part of Jesus’ ministry on earth: to heal the sick and forgive sins. This ministry was continued by the Apostles, to whom Jesus gave authority, and by their successors, the bishops and priests today.
Before Vatican II, Anointing of the Sick was only given when death was near; thus, it became synonymous with the Last Rites, and this is the reason there is confusion today. Vatican II, however, returned to the earlier understanding of the sacrament: that it was to be done both for the dying and for those seriously sick.
Ideally, Anointing of the Sick is given to someone at the beginning of an illness. It is also appropriate for someone preparing for serious surgery. There is no need to wait for imminent death to receive this sacrament. A person can request the sacrament from a priest at any time, and it can be repeated if the condition changes, or the situation becomes worse.
The Last Rites, on the other hand, are the last rites a person receives on this earth. The Last Rites can include three Sacraments: Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, and Eucharist or viaticum, which means “food for the journey.” These may be administered at one visit or on separate occasions, and although a lay person may administer viaticum, Reconciliation and Last Rites must be done by a priest.
If a person close to death is not able to communicate or swallow, the Last Rites may consist of only the Sacrament of Anointing. Since death is close, the priest may include special prayers for the dying. Anointing within the Last Rites is less for physical healing than it is for spiritual healing and strength. The Last Rites are given when death is certain, whereas the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick may be given and repeated whenever serious illness occurs.
People should not to wait for this sacrament of healing. At Risen Savior, Anointing of the Sick is celebrated every first Friday of the month. The graces bestowed by God in Anointing of the Sick give strength in times of illness, whether physical, emotional, or psychological, and grace doesn’t wear out or expire. We need God’s healing both of body and soul.