This sacrament continues the healing ministry of Christ in the world today. It is one of the ways in which the Church takes special care of those who are sick. Members of the parish community of St. Joseph’s, South Yarra, are also encouraged to visit the sick and pray with them. In particular, parish ministers visit the sick and the aged in hospital (the Alfred), in nearby nursing homes and at home, to bring them Holy Communion. This is a sacramental sign of unity with Christ and the Church for those who are unable to take part in the Sunday Mass.
In this sacrament those who are seriously ill are prayed for and anointed with the Oil of the Sick. As a sacrament, anointing gives the sick person God’s grace to cope with suffering and brings to bear the ministry of the whole Church in love and care. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, the whole person is helped and saved, sustained by trust in God and strengthened. Thus the sick person is able not only to bear suffering bravely but also to fight against it. The sacrament forgives sin and, in the context of saving and raising up the sick person, physical health may be restored.
Note, this sacrament is celebrated for those who are sick, the Church cannot anoint someone who has already died, and it is not a last rite of commendation for the dying. Someone may be anointed before surgery, elderly people may be anointed on account of the weakness of age, those suffering from mental illness and children may also be anointed, while the sacrament may also be repeated if the illness becomes more serious. When a person begins to be in danger of death, they should already have been anointed. The minister for this sacrament is the priest who acts in the name of Christ and the Church.
At St. Joseph’s, South Yarra, we have a monthly Anointing of the Sick at Mass on the first Tuesday of the month. In individual cases, parishioners are invited to contact the parish office, so that the priest can visit and celebrate the sacrament with the sick person and their family.
PASTORAL CARE OF THE DYING
The last rites of the Catholic Church do not usually include the sacrament of anointing. It is rather the Eucharist which is the sacrament proper to the dying person, the last sacrament of Christian life. This is called VIATICUM or ‘food for the journey’ through death to eternal life. It is the completion and crown of Christian life on this earth, signifying that the Christian follows the Lord to eternal glory and the banquet of the heavenly kingdom. For Viaticum to be given the dying person must be alert enough to know what he/she receives.
In addition, the family and friends of the dying person may surround the deathbed with prayers of COMMENDATION. Quietly and gently the person is given over to God’s loving care. These prayers of Commendation may be continued after death has occurred or replaced by the Church’s prayers for the deceased.
In exceptional circumstances, where the health crisis has arrived suddenly or by accident, and if a priest is available, a rite that combines the sacraments of Penance, Anointing and Viaticum may be celebrated. The priest will shorten these rites if the danger of death is imminent, but the sacraments cannot be administered to someone who has already died.
Parishioners are invited to contact the Parish Centre when the death of a loved one is close so that we can offer support in this difficult time.