Ministry to the Sick
Part 5 Pastoral and Canonical Issues

Chapter s53 Pastoral Issues

Preliminary Questions


The "Recipient" of the Sacrament

Reconciliation and Anointing

Important Items for Catechizes

Guide for Visiting the Sick

Frequently Asked Questions

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

What does it feel like when you are sick?  How do you feel when you are ministered to? How do you feel when you are getting well?

Ask the persons next to you to talk about how they feel when they are sick.  What was unique in these stories?  What was common?  Sense of loss.  Passivity.  Feeling alone, cut off, different from normal.  In pain.  Why me?  When will this end?  I will never be the same.  I can't do my work. (ergo: loss of identity).

What is your favorite passage of Scripture where Jesus heals someone?

What have you been taught about the meaning of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick? In what ways does your understanding of the sacramental and liturgical ministry to the sick complement what you have learned in your Clinical Pastoral Education?  In what areas does there seem to be a discrepancy? What is the difference between the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and Extreme Unction? What is Viaticum?

"In her 2005 book Theological Bioethics, Boston College theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill analyzes Western approaches to aging, decline, and death in terms of three contemporary trends: individualism, meaning self -determination; the medicalization of social problems, such as the proper balance between independence and dependence; and the refusal to accept that life has limits, resulting in frustration and despair when science, technology, and money fail to take away suffering that is inevitably part of life. One task for a contemporary theology of aging, she writes, is to develop an alternative Catholic understanding of death and dying, one more rooted in community, in spirituality and moral discipline, and in an acceptance of the finitude of life rooted in faith about the life to come."  (John L. Allen, The Future Church. Double Day Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-0-385-52038-6. pp162-163, 168.)

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Metropolitan Books (2014) ISBN-13: 978-0805095159

From a review by Sara Nelson: True or false: Modern medicine is a miracle that has transformed all of our lives. If you said “true,” you’d be right, of course, but that’s a statement that demands an asterisk, a “but.” “We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine,” writes Atul Gawande, a surgeon (at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston) and a writer (at the New Yorker). “We think. . .[it] is to ensure health and survival. But really. . .it is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive.” Through interviews with doctors, stories from and about health care providers (such as the woman who pioneered the notion of “assisted living” for the elderly)—and eventually, by way of the story of his own father’s dying, Gawande examines the cracks in the system of health care to the aged (i.e. 97 percent of medical students take no course in geriatrics) and to the seriously ill who might have different needs and expectations than the ones family members predict. (One striking example: the terminally ill former professor who told his daughter that “quality of life” for him meant the ongoing ability to enjoy chocolate ice cream and watch football on TV. If medical treatments might remove those pleasures, well, then, he wasn’t sure he would submit to such treatments.) Doctors don’t listen, Gawande suggests—or, more accurately, they don’t know what to listen for. (Gawande includes examples of his own failings in this area.) Besides, they’ve been trained to want to find cures, attack problems—to win. But victory doesn’t look the same to everyone, he asserts. Yes, “death is the enemy,” he writes. “But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And in a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don’t want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee... someone who knows how to fight for territory that can be won and how to surrender it when it can’t.” In his compassionate, learned way, Gawande shows all of us—doctors included—how mortality must be faced, with both heart and mind.


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The entire May 2010 issue of Saint Anthony Messenger is devoted to health care.  The articles are available online at

Borrelli, Susan. With Care: Reflections of a Minister to the Sick. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1980. 50 pp. $1.90. [Very readable and very practical suggestions for anyone who undertakes a ministry for the sick.]

Champlin, Rev. Joseph M. Together by Your Side: A Book for Comforting the Sick and Dying. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1984.

Champlin, Rev. Joseph M. and Taylor, Susan Champlin. A Thoughtful Word, A Healing Touch: A Guide for Visiting the Sick. Twenty-Third Publications. 199?.

Suffering and The Catholic Tradition, Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., Ph. D. Audio Cassette Tape, St. Anthony Messenger Press A6831.

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The "Recipient" of the Sacrament

The Worshiping Community:   It is important to remember that the entire worshiping community is, in a very real and important sense, the "recipient" of the sacrament.  As I wrote in "The New Rite for Anointing the Sick." Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1984  Text available at:

As the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy stressed, "liturgical services involve the whole Body of the Church, they manifest it and have effects on it." The Vatican II document also clearly taught that whenever the rites of the Church call for "communal celebrating" and "active participation of the faithful," this way of celebrating the sacrament "is to be a celebration that is individual and...private."

In the liturgy our sanctification is brought about by signs perceptible to the senses, according to the same document. It is especially through the act of signifying that a sacrament is a channel of God's grace. Signs are both given and received. In the Sacrament of the Sick a sign is given by the Church to the sick person, and the one who is sick gives a sign to the community. The care and concern of the community is a sign to the sick person of the Lord's own great concern for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the sick. We who are the Body of Christ must continue to proclaim the Kingdom of wholeness and salvation in word and deed. We are to be a Church of healing and reconciliation. The celebration of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is a ritual moment which makes visible and present to the sick and the whole community an image of who we are as Church, that is, a community of mutual healing and support.

The sick in return offer a sign to the community: In this sacrament they give witness to their promises at Baptism to die and be buried with Christ crucified. They tell the community that they are prepared to fill up in their flesh what is lacking in Christ's sufferings for the salvation of the world (Colossians 1:24; Romans 8:19-21; Pastoral Care of the Sick, 3).

This exchange of signs--this witness and communication between the sick and the healthy members of the community--is at the heart of the sacrament. The sick are assured in the new ritual that their suffering is not "useless" but "has meaning and value for their own salvation and the salvation of the world." At the same time the church asks the Lord to lighten their suffering and save them (James 5:14-16); and the sick are recognized by the community as productive members, contributing to the welfare of all by associating themselves freely with Christ's passion and death. In the sacrament, the sick give us a sign and embodiment of the word to Paul to Timothy: "You can depend on this: If we have died with him we shall also live with him" (2 Timothy 2:11-12).

The "Person" (or persons) being anointed:  The key to understanding the "who" and "why" of the anointing is found in the text of the rite itself. (This "key" is suggested by the principal of Lex orandi.) They central prayer of the sacrament is the Berakah over the oil: 

Let us Pray
God of all consolation,
you chose and sent your Son to heal the world.
Graciously listen to our prayer of faith:
Send the power of you Holy Spirit, the Consoler,
into this precious oil, this soothing ointment,
this rich gift, this fruit of the earth.

Bless this oil and sanctify it for our use.

Make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it;
heal them in body, in soul, and in spirit,
and deliver them from every affliction.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son
who lives and reigns with you the Holy Spirit,
on God, for ever and ever.

R. Amen

Note that the epiclesis prays for healing "in body, in soul, and in spirit."  This relates to the three fold understanding of what makes us "human."

The ancient Greek philosophers, in trying to discover what it means to be a "human person" realized that 1) their body put them in contact with the here and now, this time and this place.  However, 2) they also had memories of past experiences and could envision future experiences in their mind. They also realized that 3) there was something beyond these experiences -- a transcendent, "higher", world of the spirit.  They, therefore, envisioned the human person to be composed of these three elements:  body, soul or mind, and spirit.   We are one person with these three "dimensions".  All three are inseparable in the human person.

The blessing for the Oil of the Sick prays for healing for the total person -- body (all physical illnesses, cancer, heart attack, broken leg ...), soul / mind (worry, fear, anxiety, addictions, all type of mental illness ...), and spirit (all forms of sin against God and neighbor and self...).  The Sacrament is intended to heal in all of these areas for it understands the human person to be composed of these three inseparable dimensions of the human person.   

Body and Soul  A different way of viewing the human person was employed by some Christian writers when speaking of what happens to us at death.  They could see that the body dies but the "part" of us that lives on is the soul.  The body is mortal, the soul is immortal.   This "body/soul" view of the human person, while useful in some contexts, can lead to unfortunate conclusions.  For example to think/say that "illness" affects the body, whereas sin affects the soul and the two are separate and distinct parts of us.  A conclusion of this view would be that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is for the "illness" (sins) of the soul, and the Sacrament of Anointing is for (physical) illness of the body.  Note how this restricts the celebration of the Sacrament of Anointing.  Many Catholics today operate out of this body/soul view of the human person. 

While I learned during my seminary days to think of terms of body and soul. I have recently come to see many advantages in thinking of mind, body and spirit. For example, I was not all together pleased with the change in the new English translation of the roman mass which substitutes "my soul" for "I" in the invitation to communion. I would disagree with the comment of Fr. Lawrence E. Mick writing in Catholic Update, Changing how we pray: A Guide to the New Translation of the Roman Missal (August 2010) when he writes:  "When the priest invites us to share in the Lord's Supper, we will respond, 'Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed'. The use of 'under the roof' is a reference to the Gospel passage where the centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant but says he is not worthy for Jesus to enter his house. The other change is my soul instead of I [e.g. new: my soul shall be healed / current:  I shall be healed] which focuses more clearly on the spiritual dimension of the healing we seek."  Personally, I feel that in this prayer I am praying for more than healing of my soul, I am praying for my mind, body and spirit.

Reconciliation and Anointing

Do I have to go to confession before being anointed?   No. The Anointing of the Sick forgives sins. However, the sacrament is intended for those who are in the "state of grace". If the sick person feels alienated from God and the Church by serious sin, then perhaps the Sacrament of Reconciliation is more appropriate than the Sacrament of Anointing. In any case, each sacrament should be allowed to function in its own proper way. The doubling up of sacraments -- celebrating multiple prayers and symbols at one time -- can lessen their impact. The rite states: "If the sick person wishes to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance, it is preferable that the priest make himself available for this during a previous visit.  If it is necessary for the sick person to confess during the celebration of the Sacrament of Anointing, this takes the place of the penitential rite." (In this case, you would confess at the beginning of the priest's visit, before the readings from Scripture.)  [Quoted from my article: "The New Rite for Anointing the Sick." Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1984.  Text available at: ]

Tips for Planning

1. The Mystery of Suffering  The celebration, words and ritual gestures, should speak accurately and eloquently of the mystery of suffering.  Did the celebration speak accurately and eloquently of the mystery of suffering?


"Suffering and illness have always been among the greatest problems that trouble the human spirit. Christians feel and experience pain as do all other people; yet their faith helps them to grasp more deeply the mystery of suffering and to bear their pain with greater courage. From Christ's words they know that sickness has meaning and value for their own salvation and for the salvation of the world. They also know that Christ, who during his life often visited and healed the sick, loves them in their illness." (PCS, 1)

These are the opening words of Pastoral Care of the Sick. The sacramental celebration of the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick – in its words, gestures, and ceremonies – should be a "door" through which we gain insight into this mystery. The homily – especially the homily – is a wonderful opportunity to share one's own journey through this mystery with fellow Americans.  Our American culture places a high value on productivity, success, youth, vigor, and strength; it has little regard for suffering, pain and weakness. In a parish where Anointing is celebrated twice a year during Sunday Mass, the five minute homily on these occasions may be the only ten minutes of the year where the parishioners are asked "does suffering have meaning" and are given some tools to answer that question.

Does your homily give insight into this mystery? Does your homily trivialize suffering? Does it present a philosophical God who doesn't care that we suffer (or worse, who wants us to suffer)?  

2. Celebrant  Who celebrates the Sacrament?  Who are the recipients of the Grace of Healing? 

Many Catholics were educated in a Sacramental Theology coming from Aquinas, Trent, and the Baltimore Catechism, which spoke of "a sacrament that is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace."  In this theology the concern was 1) Who can administer the sacrament and 2) Who can receive the sacrament.  The Second Vatican Council has restored a much broader view of sacramental celebrations reminding us that the sacraments not only "give grace" but are primarily acts of worship and as such have effects on the entire Body of Christ.

The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God; because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called "sacraments of faith." They do indeed impart grace, but, in addition, the very act of celebrating them most effectively disposes the faithful to receive this grace in a fruitful manner, to worship God duly, and to practice charity. (Vatican II, Constitution on the Liturgy, 59)

The sacramental celebration should invite the parish to a deeper realization that we are all in need of healing.  A good celebration will invite the entire parish to be more aware of their own need for healing and move them to gratitude for the healing love of the Father of Jesus Christ.

What in the rite and readings and homily help the assembly realize that we are ALL IN NEED OF HEALING?  Does your script reveal a "us / them" understanding of illness?  Do you distinguish "healing" and "cure"?  (Note:  you can get a glimpse of your "under the iceberg" understanding of "sacrament" by examining the verbs you use when speaking of the sacrament  [administer, receive, give, celebrate, go to, etc.].

3.  Seriously Sick   The rite states: "Great care and concern should be taken to see that those of the faithful whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age receive this sacrament." (PCS 8) When you invite people to the sacrament, are you more exclusive than the ritual? How is this expressed in your script?  Do you invite everyone to be anointed? 

4.  The Elderly  What is your under the iceberg attitude toward old age?  Not all old people are sick, and it is insulting to them to imply that they are. When you invite the elderly to the sacrament, are you sensitive to this fact? How do you understand the aging process and how is this expressed in your script?

5.  The Assembly (receiving)   Do you indicate – in your homily, your instructions, or your worship program – what those who are not being anointed are to do during the anointings?  Do you indicate what they "get out of it" and why we do this in the midst of the community?  How is the Sunday celebration of the Sacrament of Anointing a sacrament and source of grace for the entire worshiping community?

6.  The Assembly (acting)   What gestures can be suggested that involve the whole community and indicate their ministry of healing?   Every Christian must in some way continue the healing ministry of Christ.  We see Christ healing on every page of the Scripture.   Clearly, Jesus was a healer.  If we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we must be--above all else--"healers."   In what way is your daily life/work a healing ministry? Every Catholic must be able to answer that question if they wish to bear the name "Christian".  Does your homily help the assembly realize this ministry?    Some common gesture is important because even though we have come to a different eye / ear balance in the liturgy [when the liturgy was in a language that was not understood, the ear had a rest and the eye had a feast].  Today with "getting the bible out of the attic" the Eye/Ear balance has changed.  ["If the eye sees too much, the ear doesn't really listen.” Quote from an interview with Thornton Wilder after the Public Television production of Our Town on November 6, 1989. I think this says much about “Faith comes by hearing” and how many statues you can have in a church.]  Some common gesture of healing -- e.g. extending hands -- is important because even in period ten of the history grid, many Catholics are still more eye than ear. 

7. BRK over the oil  Should the oil be blessed during the celebration, or should we use oil previously blessed by the Bishop at the Chrism Mass?  I believe that the congregation should hear and celebrate the BRK over the oil at each celebration of the sacrament. Just as, other things being equal, we would prefer a Mass to a Communion Service using Bread previously blessed by the Bishop.  See my notes on Canon 999

8.  Ritual Efficiency  I know that "we should not rush."  "It might take a whole hour."  "We can't worry about those few who keep looking at their watch."  But there is also something to be said for "ritual efficiency."  The rite must have a proper pace and flow.   For example:  the Sacrament of Anointing calls for a Litany of Intercession; the Sacrament of Eucharist calls for the General Intercessions?  A duplication?  Two different things?  Remember the General Principle that "needless duplications are to be avoided." 

Do your rubrics indicate how the ritual gestures (a) The imposition of hands, (b) the anointing, and (c) the kiss of peace are to be performed, especially if a large number of persons are to be anointed?

9. Shalom / Wholeness  What kind of illness is it for? We know that during the course of history the focus shifted from healing the whole person to forgiveness of sins at a time of terminal, physical illness.  The BRK over the oil asks the Holy Spirit to make the oil "a remedy for all who are anointed with it; heal them in body, in soul, and in spirit." This formula avoids the Greek dualism of body/spirit.  Contemporary health studies have taught us that body, mind, and spirit go together.  Health is a holistic concept (for example, a divorce can cause physical illness.)   When you invite people to the sacrament, are you more exclusive than the ritual?   How do you indicate this enlarged vision to the assembly? 

10. Mass Text In the years following Vatican II there has been a development in the rubrics regarding the selection of the texts for ritual and votive Masses. For example, the Rite of Anointing the Sick gives the following rubric: 

When the ritual Mass for the anointing of the sick is celebrated, the priest wears white vestments. The reading are taken from The Lectionary for Mass (2002 edition) nos. 790-795) from Part III, unless the sick person and those involved with the priest in planning the liturgy choose other readings from the Scripture.

The ritual Mass for the anointing of the sick is not permitted during the Easter triduum, on the solemnities of Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, or on a solemnity which is a holy day of obligation. On these occasions, the texts and readings are taken from the Mass of the day. Although the ritual Mass is also excluded on the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter season, on solemnities, Ash Wednesday, and the weekdays of Holy Week, one of the readings may be taken from the Scripture texts indicated above, and the special form of the final blessing may be used. (PCS #134)

This rubric has been superseded by our more comprehensive understanding of the arrangement of liturgical days, see the Table of Liturgical Days According to their Order of Precedence.  The a selection of readings in given in the current (2002) Lectionary under "Ritual Masses: Part V. For the Pastoral Care of the Sick and the Dying. (#790-800). The general rule is that Ritual and Votive Masses are never celebrated on days ranked one through four in the table of precedence. On "Sundays Throughout the Year (ranked #6 in the table of precedence), a pastoral judgment must be made as to whether or not it is spiritually fruitful for the parish to interrupt the Sunday cycle.

11.  The use of the world "should"   Rubrics also are catechetical, can be and ought to be instructive... What words do you use when you give directions to the congregation?  I think that the suggestions given by Arnold A. Lawrence, Ph.D., and Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D. in The 60 Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World are helpful when giving directions to the assembly.

"Try to catch yourself each time it you start a sentence with 'you should, ought to, or must.' These words can create anger and guilt in the person you are speaking to.  Change the 'should' into a request or a preference, such as 'Please try to remember to put the dishes in the dishwasher' or 'I'd prefer that you smoke outside.'"

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Important Items for Catechizes

Catholics in those parishes which have not benefited from good catechesis and liturgy during the past 50 years can most probably be described as follows:

1.  They still think of the sacrament as Extreme Unction and that the sacrament is primarily for those who are in danger of death.

2.  They think that the primary purpose of the sacrament is to forgive the sins of the person being anointed.

3.  Their definition of sacrament is: “Outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.”  They think of sacraments in general and this sacrament in particular primarily in the light of its katabatic movement--the movement from God downward to us,--  that is, “to give grace”

4.  They think of the sacraments primarily in private terms: a priest administers the sacrament, and the person who is anointed receives the sacrament; it is only the anointed person receives grace.

5.  Many parishioners are often unaware that there are sick and suffering among them because they never see them.

Each of these issues is in need of catechesis:

First of all the Baltimore Catechism definition is deficient in several regards and must be enlarged by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council:  CHAPTER III:  THE OTHER SACRAMENTS AND THE SACRAMENTALS.  59. The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God; because they are signs they also instruct.  … It is therefore of the highest importance that the faithful should easily understand the sacramental signs, and should frequent with great eagerness those sacraments which were instituted to nourish the Christian life.

1.  The sacraments do indeed have a katabatic direction (downward, “sanctify”us), but even more important and more primary they have an anabatic direction (upward, they “give worship to God”).

When the sacrament is celebrated at Sunday Eucharist the parish should be instructed that the sacrament concerns not only those being anointed, but the entire parish, it is an occasion for the parish, and a very special way, to give worship to God.  To thank God for “who God is”.a God who loves us and wants us to be whole, healthy, journeying to full humanity.

2.  Because the sacraments are signs they also instruct.  When the sacrament is celebrated in this public fashion during the Sunday Eucharist the entire parish is catechized as to the meaning of the sacrament.  For the great majority of Catholics, the Sunday Eucharist is their only opportunity for catechesis.  And for all Catholics it is the primary setting for catechesis.

But this catechesis is secondary to an even more important “instruction”: the sacraments are signs of “who God is.”  In the sacrament of the anointing of the sick we get a glimpse of the very nature of God.  As we see in Jesus, (who by his words and deeds reveals the Godhead) God is a God who heals who loves us, and who wants us to be whole, healthy, journeying to full humanity.

3.  The sacrament helps us come to insight into how God loves us.  Unlike the values of our contemporary society which values productivity, wealth, good looks, physical strength, etc. God loves us for who we are, in our self.  We get a hint, a sacrament, of how God loves us in the love that parents have for their children.  A mother (or father) loves her infant not because of what it has done for her, but simply because it is her child, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”  That is the way God loves us; not because of our productivity, not because of our strength, but because we are God's son/daughter.  And just as a parent often shows greater concern for a child who is ill, so does God.

These insights into the nature of God are made visible -- acted out -- in the sacramental sign of the anointing of the sick.  It is not only those who are anointed who “receive the sacrament” the entire parish “receives the sacrament” in so far as the entire parish (or at least those who are attentive to what is going on) are graced by a fuller of vision of the glory of God.

4.  And as we come to know God more clearly we also come to know ourselves more clearly.  We gain insight into what is truly important in our lives we gain insight not only into our own health (mind body and spirit) but also insight into the way we should regard others and how we should treat them, especially those in need.  “I was ill and you visited me…” (Matthew 25)

5.  Oftentimes the communal anointing lets parishioners see that there are actually sick members of the parish.  As the saying goes, out of sight out of mind, and the sick are not often “seen”  and consequently become invisible.

In summary: we must help the parish see that when the sacrament is celebrated during Sunday Eucharist it is not simply an “add on” which only “makes Mass longer” while it doesn't concern them in any way (unless they are the one being anointed).  We must help the parish see that they celebrate the sacrament, that we all celebrate the sacrament together, that we all together worship our healing God, and that we all together “receive grace” -- the grace of healing, the grace and insight into ourselves, our destiny, and our Creator.   That the Church, us, the Body of Christ, continues the healing ministry of Jesus himself.

When students in 12:906 Sacraments of Vocation and Healing were asked (June 28, 1995), "What information do you think (now that you have studied and practiced this sacrament) would be most helpful to those to whom you minister and to Catholics in general?" They responded as follows:

1. The sacrament should be celebrated more frequently. (9 votes)

2. Eucharist is the paradigm for all the sacraments and consequently, also the paradigm for the anointing of the sick. One of the implications of this is that as the Second Vatican Council states, "When provision is made in a right for a communal celebration, this way of celebrating is to be preferred to a celebration that is quasi-private. The sacrament of anointing involves the entire community, the parish, family, and friends. (8 votes)

3. Touch is of the essence, imposition of hands is very important, people should take their time and show care. The touching should be personal, communal, reconciling, and sacred. The care givers and indeed the entire congregation should impose hands. (8 votes)

4. More catechizes should be given regarding the effects of the sacrament. The sacrament should result in peace and inner joy as a result of the encounter with the healing Christ in the community. Healing is much more than physical healing. Peace, unity, and spiritual healing are the sacrament's certain outcome. All healing, both physical, spiritual, and psychological involves an awareness of God's part in the process. (8 votes)

5. Anointing should be a sign of Christ accompanying us on our life journey. (6 votes)

6. As with Eucharist the sacramental symbols and gestures should be ample and rich. They should be large, genuine, and real. The anointing should signify God's abundance. (6 votes)

7. The sacrament should truly be a celebration. Not only for those who are ill but also for the care-givers and the entire parish. (6 votes)

8. Jesus himself is the primordial sacrament. (4 votes)

9. Being present is the most important aspect of ministry. (4 votes)

10. The sacraments have developed through the centuries and continue to develop. Both in their liturgical celebration and in our theological understanding of them. (3 votes.)

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Guide for Visiting the Sick

During the course 12:425 Anointing and Funerals offered at Saint Meinrad School of Theology during the spring semester of 2006, the participants in the course each composed a list of "ministry guidelines", things that are important in our own ministry to the sick and/or things that we would make the major emphasis of a training session we might conduct for parish ministers to the sick. Together we evaluated and prioritized the items. The list that follows contains the 15 items that the participants voted most important.

1.  "Good will"  is not enough. Ministers must be trained. There should be training programs in each parish to prepare people to minister effectively. (9 votes)

2. We are merely "instruments."  It is the Lord who does the work -- Christ within us. (9 votes)

3. The minister must have an accurate understanding of the Body of Christ. We are ministering to the sick as to Christ himself. And it is Christ himself who ministers in and through us.  (9 votes)

4. We must meet people where they are (not where we might want them to be).  (9 votes)

5. Realize we are mere instruments of God; the Lord enables; Christ is with us.   (9 votes)

6. The minister must carefully examine personal beliefs about sickness and suffering. The minister must be in a position to offer genuine hope and consolation (rather than platitudes and patronizing the patient). ( 7 votes)

7. Respect boundaries. Seek permissions. The sick person should always be in control of the visit.  (6 votes)

8. Strive to be a holistic healer; body, mind and spirit; not a "fix it" person.  (6 votes)

9. Honestly evaluating/reflecting on pastoral visits, to continually learn how to be a better minister to others. (5 votes)

10. Prepare yourself for this ministry through personal prayer and reflection, spiritual direction, and by reviewing previous visits and assessing areas of success and failure. Be prepared to witness to the scripture, tradition, and faith. (5 votes)

11. Be honest and authentic. This is giving another person the gift of yourself. Being your true self would seem the best indication that you are truly present, as well as shows reverence for God and for the person whom you're visiting.  (5 votes)

12. Empty yourself. As best you can, try to empty yourself of your own concerns and your own agendas prior to each visit so that you are better able to receive what they are giving. Praying beforehand is an excellent way to do this.  (4 votes)

13. Bring hope. Even in what may seem like a hopeless situation from a physiological perspective, be a witness to the hope that our faith offers. Proclaim the awesomeness of our loving and merciful God.  (4 votes)

14. Resolve issues of personal grief. Be aware of motivation and expectations.  (4 votes)

15. Pray for the sick outside of the ministry setting.  (4 votes)

A professional in the field makes these suggestions: 

A)  Keep a notebook of your visit.  Each visit should enable you to go deeper. 
B)  Do not pray unless you are invited to do so by the patient. ( Often the desire to pray is meeting the needs of the minister and not the sick person.)
C)  If you begin the visit by asking, "How are you feeling today?"  The question will often receive multiple answers.  You might ask, "Which of these is most important?"
D)  Help them find their own resources.  Do not give advice.  You are there as a spiritual companion, not a teacher. 
E)  Shortly after you leave, record in your journal, "What happened pastorally?"  Was there a moment of grace? Did you agree on something?  Did you agree to do something?

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Frequently Asked Questions

These are questions that I have frequently been asked after my presentations on the sacrament in lectures and workshops around the country:

1.  When visiting someone terminally ill who is in great pain and they question why God is doing this? What do you tell them?   What is the purpose of suffering?  Is it not cruel of a "loving" God not to release them from this pain?

2.  Please say a few about anointing of the elderly and the recommended frequency.

3.  What kind (type) of oil? Does it need to be blessed? By whom? Will the parish priest share his from the Chrism Mass? Should we get our own at Chrism Mass?

4.  Recently a friend of mine was anointed with this sacrament of healing toward the end of the Saturday evening Eucharist. Although I felt this to be very effective for my friend, I felt somewhat saddened that the ritual took place below the communion rail and it was not possible for the community to participate. Is this typical? What insights do you have on this? This was the first time I had observed this sacrament.

I was always hesitant to call a priest for the sacrament of "extreme unction" even when I know that the person it would be administered to is dying because either the priest will say "I am busy right now" or "I'll go tomorrow". Is there a clear cut rule or rule of thumb for a priest when called to administer this sacrament? In relation to the above, can we the extra-ordinary minister, be allowed to administer the Sacrament of Anointing when we can bring the Holy Eucharist to them?

Do you foresee that Anointing of the Sick can be extension of a communal celebration of sick?

For those who have the good fortune to receive the anointing repeatedly, what do you consider an appropriate interval between anointings?

I have a child that has Lourette's Syndrome and is brain damaged and will never be cured. Can he receive the Sacrament of Healing? And if he can, how often?

I was healed of a serious cancer three years ago. How can I share that experience with the sick without sounding "proud" or "better" than other sick people?

I'm a new Catholic. What is the difference between the way a Catholic prays for healing and the way the television ministers pray? It is the same Spirit?

Some are miraculously healed and some aren't. Some are gifted to heal. How do we know who they are?

With long-term illnesses and terminal sicknesses how are the healing or prayers given? We have many persons living in remission and it's different from years ago. What do you say if someone will never be healed? Are there any conflicts between what the doctor says and the priest says?

Why are we healed sometimes and sometimes we aren't? Are we predestined to live to a certain time? I was healed from headaches, now I have ulcers that are very painful.

Can a women administer extreme unction if there is no priest available?

On both a personal and pastoral ministry level, I have had to "shop around" to find a priest whose theology was geared to the needs of the sick, i.e. his own decision to withhold this sacrament of the sick. What are we to do when, e.g. a cancer patient who has been anointed several months previous and will be having another surgery, wants to be anointing again?

Can anyone administer the Sacrament of the Anointing?

Our Charismatic friends are confident in the healing power of the Holy Spirit. I feel that the healing gift in this sacrament is not taught. We should be excited as Catholics that the gifts and graces are so available in all our sacraments. Are we embarrassed to be anointed by God? Our sacraments should not only be a physical sign but a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Is there any movement toward the possibility of lay people being ministers of the sacrament? This seems appropriate since so many are involved in healing ministry.

You talked about the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick then you said the Eucharist was the sacrament of the dying. Is not the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick what we used to call the Last Rights of the Church? Please explain.

Could arthritis, though not crippling, be considered chronic enough disease to be eligible to receive the anointing of the sick?

Why can't Deacons administer the sacrament?

What is the difference between a Charismatic anointing and the forgiveness of sin?

What to do with the oil in a home after you bless it.

What to do when they end up really oily?

What to do in emergency situations, e.g. auto accident?

What is the difference between a sacramental and a non sacramental anointing?

I have read that Eucharist should be taken to the shut-ins on Sunday if at all possible. How important is this requirement? Would I be considered selfish if I choose to use another day and keep Sunday open for my own rest or relaxation?

Please explain the difference between Sacrament of the Sick and the laying on of hands given by a "healing priest" at the Marian Conference.

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To Think About

1.  What ministerial skills would you like to possess in order to help your parishioners celebrate this sacrament fruitfully?

2.  How frequently does your Parish hold a communal celebrate the Sacrament of the Anointing which enables the whole parish to experience this sacrament?  Do you think the parish should celebrate the sacrament more frequently?  How could you encourage the more frequent celebration of the sacrament?

3.  If you were to preach on the sacrament, what would be the major points of your homily?

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 05/02/17 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at