If you have ever been sick, then you know what it is like to want to recover and feel better. If you have ever been so sick that recovery might not be possible, then you know what it is like to want to be at peace. Every moment in the span between both of these situations and conditions is taken into consideration as the Roman Catholic Church offers the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to those who are ill or suffering.
Sickness is a fact of human life and experience. Like death itself, it makes no distinction among persons confronted by its grasp. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Lord Jesus Christ reached out to those who were sick in his day and offered them courage, healing, strength and peace. We read many such occasions in the pages of the Gospels. He likewise invited and directed his Apostles to do the same, a practice that continues in the Roman Catholic Church to the present day. The ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles to the sick and suffering is the foundation and origin of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Just as the Sacrament of Penance is intended for the healing and peace of the soul, this sacrament is intended for the healing and peace of the body and mind.
There is a connection between both of these sacraments of “healing.” In Mark’s Gospel we read that Jesus sent his apostles out among the people:
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits … They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them (Mark 6: 6-13).
This passage does not represent the institution of either sacrament as we have come to know and experience them in the Roman Catholic Church. Rather, the scriptures here demonstrate the intention of the Lord Jesus Christ that people repent for their sins and be healed of their sicknesses through apostolic ministry.
The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick finds its most specific exposition in the Letter of James:
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven (James 5: 14-15).