Pastor’s Perspective – July 24, 2022

* Anointing of the Sick Monday

Every three months the parish celebrates a Mass which includes the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. This quarterly Liturgy is coming up this Monday, July 25 at the regular 6:45 p.m. Mass in the chapel. We especially invite anyone who is facing upcoming surgery, those who have chronic serious illnesses and health problems, those people recovering from serious surgery or hospital stays, and who find themselves still weak, those who are elderly and frail, and people struggling with serious emotional and mental health. When we pray with you, we do not ask what your underlying illness is, so please do not avoid this sacrament because you are private about what you are battling.

The common denominator for receiving this sacrament is a person with a serious physical or mental condition (in contrast to something that is more routine and minor), old enough to understand the difference between a sacramental sign and mere magic (usually defined as the “age of reason” or about seven years old, though pastoral discretion is allowed here), with a faith that wants his or her life to be fully united to Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.  The key is that faith. Whenever we are anointed, prayers are prayed for recovery, strength and healing, along with forgiveness of sins and any spiritual healing that is needed.  The core of the sacrament is a strengthening of our faith, no matter what occurs.

There is always an unspoken “addendum” to any prayer for healing, which parallels Jesus’ words in Gethsemane: “God our loving Father, we pray for healing/success in surgery/life/recovery…but not my will, but your will be done.” In other words, no matter the course of the illness or the recovery, we are willing to be witnesses to faith, trusting that the Lord walks with us. In that way, the Sacrament of Anointing is not so much only the community’s caring for the sick person but even more a mutual caring and witness.  We witness to our faith in God and our willingness to be companions of those immersed in suffering. Those anointed witness to us their faith in the midst of suffering, so to strengthen us. Where they are now, we will one day be.  Thank you to all who come forward for the anointing. You are a witness and gift to this community.

* Last Rites?

Is the Sacrament of Anointing the same as “Last Rites”? For those old enough to remember, the Sacrament of the Sick used to be called ‘Extreme Unction,’ which was seen as the ‘final anointing’ before someone died. In many cases, people even delayed receiving this sacrament until the very point of death, so closely was this sacrament connected to dying in the minds of Catholics. I still find this today, when certain ‘old time Catholics’ do not want the priest to come and anoint, because in their minds it means not an anointing for strength and healing, but an anointing preparing for death. No! Please do not view it this way.

One of the great changes flowing from the Second Vatican Council sixty years ago was a renewed understanding of this sacrament. Looking at the history of how the sacrament developed, the renewed Rite of Anointing of the Sick recovered the ancient sense that the Church community celebrates this sacrament to accompany the person during their struggle with serious illness. We are to pray with the person as they first encounter serious illness and throughout that illness, not waiting until the point of death. Although the sacrament can still be administered up to the point of death, the final sacrament that a person is encouraged to receive is not the Anointing of the Sick but Holy Communion. It is given the name ‘Viaticum’ because it is the last sacramental union with the risen Lord that is to accompany us ‘along the way’ as we approach death, if at all possible.

The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick ordinarily is to have occurred prior to Viaticum. Since only a conscious person who is able to give the assent of faith is to receive Communion that means that the Anointing of the Sick ordinarily is to be celebrated while the person can consciously participate. There are, in a sense, then, no ‘last rites.’ Rather there is care for and prayer for the sick and the dying that usually includes an Anointing of the Sick, if they have not already received it; Holy Communion if they are capable of receiving it; and a blessing. We try to begin that process early on in the course of the illness, not waiting until the point of death. Many will receive the Anointing of the Sick several times in the course of a longer illness, especially as an illness progresses. To delay the prayer and the sacraments until one is certain of death is to give in to a magical view of sacraments, as though they are meant to guarantee the person will soon die and go to Heaven.

Sacraments are always about faith not magic. They strengthen and nourish our faith at various key moments in our lives. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is a very powerful witness to that faith. I encourage you not to wait or delay but allow the community to celebrate it with you, if you are in need. Join us this Monday evening or call the office to arrange for me to come to the home to anoint. Thank you.

Fr. Buersmeyer

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