Christ heals through Sacrament of the Sick Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

On August 4, 2013, a 19-year-old girl named Katie Lentz got in a serious accident along a Missouri highway.

She was barely clinging to life, and her vital signs were fading when she asked rescue workers to pray with her. Suddenly a priest appeared from nowhere. A rescue worker welcomed him with the words, "Father, we need all the help we can get now!"

The priest prayed, anointed the girl, and gave her absolution. Fire Chief Raymond Reed said that after the anointing, a peaceful calmness seemed to come over the girl and rescue workers. When he turned to thank the priest, he was gone.

The unknown priest became known as the angel or mystery priest. Eventually his identity was discovered. His name is Fr. Patrick Dowling. He told ABC News, "I have no doubt the Most High answered the prayers of Katie and the rescue workers. I was part of God's answer, but only part." Katie survived and is in the long process of recovering.

Christ’s healing ministry

During his earthly life, Jesus healed sick persons. The Church continues Christ's healing ministry through the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick (formerly known as Extreme Unction).

In No. 1511 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, "This sacred Anointing of the Sick was instituted by Christ our Lord as a true and proper sacrament. It is alluded to indeed by Mark, but is recommended to the faithful and promulgated by James, the apostle."

In James 5:14-15 it says, "Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the Church and they will pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. This prayer of faith will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven."

In No. 1514 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, "The Anointing of the Sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived."

In No. 1529 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, "Each time a Christian falls seriously ill, he may receive the Anointing of the Sick and also when, after he receives it, the illness worsens."

In No. 1513 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, "The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is given to those who are seriously ill by anointing them on the forehead and hands with duly blessed oil -- pressed from olives or from other plants -- saying only once, 'Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.'"

Practices restored

The Anointing of the Sick gradually became known as Extreme Unction because it was often received by persons close to death. In the liturgical reforms that occurred after the Second Vatican Council, the original practice of anointing people with serious illnesses which were not necessarily life-threatening was restored.

In No. 1515 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, "If a sick person who received this anointing recovers, he can in case of another grave illness receive this sacrament again. If during the same illness, the person's condition becomes more serious, the sacrament may be repeated. It is fitting to receive the Sacrament of the Sick just prior to a serious operation. The same holds true for the elderly whose frailty becomes more pronounced."

Before his death from cancer, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was anointed several times.

Effects of the sacrament

In No. 1532 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, "The special grace of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects:

  • "The uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church.
  • "The strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age.
  • "The forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the Sacrament of Penance.
  • "The restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul."

No. 1523 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads, "If the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given to all who suffer from serious illness and infirmity, even more rightly is it given to those at the point of departing this life. The Anointing of the Sick completes our conformity to the death and Resurrection of Christ, just as baptism began it.

"It completes the holy anointings that mark the whole Christian life: that of baptism which sealed the new life in us, and that of Confirmation which strengthened us for the combat of this life. This last anointing fortifies the end of our earthly life like a solid rampart for the final struggles before entering the Father's house."

The Church also offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum. In No. 1524 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, “Receiving Communion at this moment of 'passing over' to the Father has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: 'He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.'" Alleluia!

Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.