life, ritual, reality

In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals a woman with uncontrolled bleeding and even commands a little girl, believed to be dead, to wake up. In both cases, faith brings these people back to radiant health. Last night, I was in a parish where they connected this reading with a celebration of Anointing of the Sick during mass.

Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of healing, not solely of body, but also of mind and spirit. It’s primary effect is the Holy Spirit’s gift of peace & courage to live as God wills us. In some cases this can help us to persevere, and ultimately be healed. In other cases, this is the gift to embrace difficulties and end of life realities.

The Catechism instructs us that we should seek the sacrament as soon as we approach the danger of death because of serious illness or old age. This could be before surgery. Elderly who are weakened by old age, even if they don’t have a serious illness, may be anointed, as may children who are seriously ill. We do not have to wait until we are actively dying, nor should we wait until the point of death to be anointed.

Head, hands and sometimes other parts of the body may be anointed by a priest or bishop with the Oleum Infirmorum, or Oil of the Sick- andthis is not the only moment the Church employs the use of sacred oil as a sacramental sign. We use other consecrated oils, even before a person is baptized. We use oil during the rite of baptism itself, during confirmation, ordination and even when we dedicate spaces for sacred use, like during the dedication of a Church. Just as our ancient ancestors used oil to honor people set part from the crowd- new priests, prophets and leaders- we use sacred oil in our sacramental rites to show that God has also chosen us as people set apart.

In this context, the Sacrament of Anointing speaks volumes about how Catholic Christians uphold the dignity of life at every stage. We honor those who are young and full of promise with the very same ritual gesture of those who are in danger of departing from their earthly existence. We even consecrate three different kinds of oil to show that while the nascent, growing and dying have different roles, they are all beloved by God.

How we pray as church is what we believe. As we honor life at every stage with ancient signs and symbols, the entirety of our sacramental rituals express a hallmark Christian belief that all life from birth to death is sacred.

Have you ever been anointed? What was it like? Were you scared? How did you feel?

Let me know in the comments below!

P.S. You can learn more about the Sacrament of Anointing on the USCCB website by clicking here.

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