How about a little quiz prepping you for next week’s celebration of the Anointing of the Sick? True or false:
T F 1. If you’re sick and a priest enters the room you know the end is near.
T F 2. If a priest comes to your home or hospital room to anoint someone who is sick, everyone else should leave the room.
T F 3. Those who die without receiving “the Last Rites” are in danger of losing their salvation.
T F 4. If a parish offers a communal Anointing of the Sick at a Sunday Mass, everyone should feel free to receive the sacrament.
T F 5. As soon as a Catholic dies, you should call a priest to have them anointed.
When someone you love is sick or close to death (or if you are sick and close to death), you’ll want the best spiritual care the Church can provide, but at times the sick do not receive the sacraments when they can do the most good. Like the “good china” in the closet, they often go unused.
Here’s how the Anointing of the Sick might fit into a Catholic’s life. In general, stay in close union with the sacraments all the time—attend Mass, celebrate Reconciliation regularly, if you are hospitalized or homebound, ask to have Communion brought to you. If you are grappling with serious illness, doing battle with a chronic disease, or are scheduled for serious surgery, ask to be anointed. You may do so repeatedly in your life–once or twice a year if you wish (more frequently if a serious illness advances). If you and your physician come to the conclusion that death is approaching, it is time to request Communion as Viaticum which you can receive repeatedly. There is no Catholic Sacrament for the “moment of death,” but we might gather with your family and pray a special prayer called the Commendation for the Dying, and after a death continue to pray in behalf of the deceased as God cleanses and prepares them for eternal life.
So how did you do with the quiz? All the statements are false.
1. False. If a priest enters the room when you’re sick and offers to celebrate the Sacrament of Anointing, it may well be because you can get better! It’s part of a priest’s job to visit the sick and homebound. The Anointing is primarily for the living and prays for their healing. There are several sacraments for those close to death … Reconciliation, Viaticum (communion for those who know they are in their last illness), and maybe also the Anointing of the Sick. When bundled together for someone dying, these three are called the Last Rites.
2. False. If you’re present when the priest arrives to anoint, don’t run off. Hang in there and join in the prayer.
3. False. The sacraments and prayers the Church offers to the dying do not guarantee eternal life. They are celebrations of the faith of the individuals who are dying and the community that supports them. If someone dies suddenly without access to the Church’s sacramental ministry, it doesn’t necessarily spell trouble. The all-powerful Christ has other ways of working his saving will for those who believe.
4. False. Not everyone is eligible for the Sacrament of the Anointing when it is offered communally. Candidates are those who have a serious illness, are facing major surgery, or are of an age when they are susceptible to illness. If you’re of reasonably good health, you should hold off.
5. False. If someone has died, a priest does not anoint. He, or someone else, may lead prayers for the dead.
Did you pass? I hope so. At the very least, I trust you’ll be a bit more prepared to pray with us and the sick next weekend as we call down the Lord’s healing gifts on all the elderly and ill of the Eastside Parishes.