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In the Church’s Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, through the ministry of the priest, it is Jesus who touches the sick to heal them from sin – and sometimes even from physical ailment. His miracles were signs of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The core message of his healing tells us of his plan to conquer sin and death by his dying and rising.
The Rite of Anointing tells us there is no need to wait until a person is at the point of death to receive the Sacrament. A careful judgment about the serious nature of the illness is sufficient. This sacrament can be provided within the church prior to serious surgery, especially since it can be difficult to give the anointing in the hospital or surgery center on the day of the procedure.
For those who are terminally ill, it is always preferable to arrange for the person to receive all the benefits of the Church including Confession, Anointing, Viaticum, the Apostolic Pardon and other prayers for people who are dying. When a person is conscious, able to speak and able to swallow, they are often able to participate more fully and receive all the appropriate sacraments. When their condition has become more serious and they are unconscious, then they can only receive the Anointing and final prayers.
Sacraments are for the living. Once a person has died, the Church can offer prayers at the bedside for the deceased person and the family.
When the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given, the hoped-for effect is that, if it be God’s will, the person be physically healed of illness. But even if there is no physical healing, the primary effect of the Sacrament is a spiritual healing by which the sick person receives the Holy Spirit’s gift of peace and courage to deal with the difficulties that accompany serious illness or the frailty of old age.
Read more about the Anointing of the Sick at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.