What is the Difference?

Anointing of the Sick\Last Rites

Most of us usually think of asking for this anointing only when we are nearing death through sickness or old age. However, if this is the case, we would be missing out on the opportunity for God to heal and help us at times when we might need Him the most - when we are having surgery, dealing with a physical, mental, emotional, or even spiritual affliction. It is during these difficult times that we need the Holy Spirit's gifts of strength, faith, peace, and courage. It is during these times, as well, that we should seek to receive this God given sacrament.

How can we decide if we should ask to be anointed? A good or reasonably sure judgment is sufficient for deciding on the seriousness of an illness. For example:

  • A sick person may be anointed before surgery, whether or not a serious illness is the reason for the surgery.
  • Elderly people may be anointed if they have become notably weakened even though no serious illness is present.
  • Anyone who is sick may be anointed if they have sufficient use of reason to be strengthened by this sacrament.

And if you are still unsure, when in doubt...ask a priest!

The anointing of the sick is administered, by a bishop or priest, to bring spiritual and even physical strength during an illness. This sacrament, unlike some of our other sacraments, can be administered more than once, especially if a person has a chronic illness (six months between annointing is advisable). 

"The special grace of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects:

  • the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his/her own good and that of the whole Church
  • the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age
  • the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of penance
  • the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his/her soul
  • the preparation for passing over to eternal life" (CCC 1532). 

Does a person have to be dying to receive this sacrament? No. The Catechism says,

"The anointing of the sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived" (CCC 1514).

It is important to note that God does not always heal the physical infirmities that afflict us when we recieve this Sacrament. Sometimes this might happen, but it is not guaranteed that once we recieve this sacrament we will be healed from our ailments. It is more of a God given grace to help us deal with what is in store for us and to help us prepare for that journey.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that Anointing of the Sick can only be administered to the living. This sacrament will not be administered to one who has already passed. It is a sacrament and sacraments are celebrated and administered only with/to the living.

When the Anointing of the Sick is administered to a person who is likely dying, Last Rites may also be given following the anointing. However, should a person pass away prior to receiving Last Rites, the family can be reassured that their loved one has been taken care of through the sacrament of Annointing of the Sick.

"The Sacrament of Anointing presents the concern which the Lord himself showed for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the sick, as the gospels testify, and which He asked his followers to show also".

Last Rites often happens in conjunction with or following after the administration of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Last Rites centers around the reception of Viaticum, Communion given when death is near. Last Rites may also be accompanied by an apostolic blessing that gives a plenary indulgence to the dying person. 

Rev. Mark J. Gantley explains the Apostolic Blessing, "The Apostolic Pardon (or blessing) is an indulgence given in situations of danger of death, usually after the absolution of the sacrament of penance. The focus is on the remission of temporal punishment due to sin."

With both of these Sacraments, it is important not to wait until the last minute. Priest have many responsibilites, they might not be able to leave right away to attend to those needing an anointing. Many times, when the priest arrives at the hospital and/or hospice facility/home, the patient is being attended to and the priest cannot anoint them until the doctors, nurses and/or care giver finishes attending to the patient/loved one. On occasion, the person will pass away prior to the priest being able to attend to him/her, and is no longer able to receive the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick/Last Rites. Please reach out to your parish to have you or your loved one anointed even if you/they are not in danger of imminent death, this way, you can have peace of mind that you/they have been prepared for passing over to eternal life should it be God's will.