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Fr. Matthew O'Leary's Weekly Bulletin Column

October 14, 2018

Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum

There is nothing more frustrating than being sick. A common cold and seasonal allergies vex many of us throughout the year, and are a form of suffering.

More serious suffering includes acute conditions, serious illness, life-threatening disease, physical injuries, infirmity from advancing years, emotional distress, mental illness, and situations requiring surgery. 

Our reaction to infirmity is to seek relief by treating what ails us.  While medical professionals help treat our flesh and bones, the Church offers additional care for our spirit, mind and body.

From its earliest days the Church has had a rite of anointing the seriously sick and infirm. The Letter of James records our early practice: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).

As Christians we face our illness and suffering with faith.  James tells us that the Sacrament is principally healing for the soul.  The sick person “touches” Christ the Divine physician and experiences his power through sacramental anointing. The results of physical healing may not always be evident, but the spiritual restoration is at work.

Priests administer the sacrament of anointing because of the absolution from sin that often accompanies anointing and the prayers said at the end of a Christian life (though this rite and these prayers are no longer referred to as “last rites”).  The Christian community is further present in friends, relatives, and medical staff who may assist in readings and prayers. 

Sacraments are for the living, and those who have died cannot be anointed—so when someone is seriously ill, we should not wait to call a priest for anointing until he or she is at the point of death.

Physical infirmity, mental distress, and preparation for surgery are good reasons for receiving the Sacrament of Anointing.

Eventually all physical remedies fail.  In the cycle of our human condition, life begins, grows, matures, declines, and ends in death. As death nears, Holy Communion is offered to the dying person. 

This final Communion is called viaticum (“food for the journey”).  Viaticum is the spiritual food one takes for the last journey, completing our earthly pilgrimage and returning home to the Lord.

Please advise the parish office when you or a loved one is hospitalized or seriously ill at home, so that we can arrange a visit to celebrate the Sacrament of Anointing.  Unless we hear from you, we cannot know that we need to visit.  What’s more, privacy laws now prohibit hospitals from telling us if someone is there, so we cannot call the hospital or show up to look for a parishioner.

May Christ Jesus, the Healer of Souls, touch your heart,
Fr. Matthew L. O’Leary




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Fr. Matthew began publishing columns for this website in February 2015
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