The Anointing of the Sick, by which the Church commends the faithful who are dangerously ill to the suffering and glorified Lord in order that He relieve and save them, is conferred by anointing them with oil and pronouncing the words prescribed in the liturgical books. (CIC 998)

Father will anoint those who need the sacrament upon request, whether in urgent need or by mutual convenience: at Mass (especially if the person is to undergo a serious surgery), at the patient’s residence (if homebound), nursing facility or in the hospital (Father Zelonis assists regularly in the spiritual care of Catholics at Lehigh Valley Hospital—Schuylkill).

Illness and suffering have always been among the greatest problems confronted in human life. In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death.


Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern his life what is nonessential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to Him. (CCC 1502)

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The experience of illness is that of a privation: the lack of a good that ought to be present but is not, viz., wellness, integrity of body and soul. In general, we know ”something’s not right!”

In his writings and in his very life, Pope St. John Paul II championed “Redemptive Suffering.” Our connectedness in the Mystical Body of Christ—the Church—enables a certain exchange of graces. If the human family can witness together to love, it can do likewise with suffering. While suffering certainly can draw us into ourselves (to a fault!), it can also propel us outward when we strive to offer our sufferings in union with those of our Lord and Savior. In His passion and death, He experienced all human suffering of every person of every place and time. In our pains, inconveniences, and frustrations, we can connect ourselves more intentionally and willingly to Jesus, to cooperate in His work of salvation. We can pray that someone, somewhere, somehow might be assisted by our offering. It will come to pass, though we may never learn of it.

One of the most noteworthy developments since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) occurred in the practice of the Anointing of the Sick. No longer is this sacrament intended solely for the deathbed: when a person is beset by serious illness or the frailty of old age, the time has come to benefit from anointing. It is also generally indicated before any serious surgery that requires general anesthesia.

Ideally, in the case of the terminally and gravely ill, Anointing of the Sick takes place alongside Confession and Viaticum (the presumably final reception of Holy Communion). The trend has been to wait until the patient/family member is “actively dying,” at which point he or she is often unable to make even a general Confession or ingest the Eucharistic species. 

Although the topic of dying is difficult to broach with anyone, let alone a gravely ill person, it can lead to valuable self-reflection (presuming that hasn’t been going on already) and, when necessary, interpersonal healing and reconciliation. Don’t allow fear to unduly delay this graceful activity.

“Their sins will be forgiven” (James 5:15): Anointing of the Sick does forgive venial sins when the recipient is properly disposed to that forgiveness (i.e., sorry). In this life, the forgiveness of mortal sins is reserved to the Sacrament of Penance; amid the need of that forgiveness, Confession is an appropriate complement to Anointing. Be not afraid to do the work of self-examination and to be open to the grace of repentance that Confession requires!


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