Letter of St James, Apostle. Chapter 3
Are any among you sick? They should call for the priests of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
HUMAN SICKNESS AND ITS MEANING IN THE MYSTERY OF SALVATION
1 Suffering and illness have always been among the greatest problems that trouble the human spirit. Christians feel and experience pain as do all other people, yet their faith helps them to grasp more deeply the mystery of suffering and to bear their pain with greater courage. From Christ’s words, they know that sickness has meaning and value for their own salvation and for the salvation of the world. They also know that Christ, who during his life often visited and healed the sick, loves them in their illness.
2 Although closely linked with the human condition, sickness cannot as a general rule be regarded as a punishment inflicted on each individual for personal sins (see John 9:3). Christ himself, who is without sin, in fulfilling the words of Isaiah took on all the wounds of his passion and shared in all human pain (see Isaiah 53:4-5). Christ is still pained and tormented in his members, made like him. Still, our afflictions seem but momentary and slight when compared to the greatness of the eternal glory for which they prepare us (see 2 Corinthians 4:17).
3 Part of the plan laid out by God’s providence is that we should fight strenuously against all sickness and carefully seek the blessings of good health, so that we may fulfil our role in human society and in the Church. Yet we should always be prepared to fill up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings for the salvation of the world as we look forward to creation’s being set free in the glory of the children of God (see Colossians 1:24; Romans 8:19-21).
Moreover, the role of the sick in the Church is to be a reminder to others of the essential or higher things. By their witness, the sick show that our mortal life must be redeemed through the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.
4 The sick person is not the only one who should fight against illness. Doctors and all who are devoted in any way to caring for the sick should consider it their duty to use all the means which in their judgment may help the sick, both physically and spiritually. In so doing, they are fulfilling the command of Christ to visit the sick, for Christ implied that those who visit the sick should be concerned for the whole person and offer both physical relief and spiritual comfort.
CELEBRATION OF THE SACRAMENTS FOR THE SICK AND THE DYING
Anointing of the Sick
5 The Lord himself showed great concern for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the sick and commanded his followers to do likewise. This is clear from the gospels, and above all from the existence of the sacrament of anointing, which he instituted and which is made known in the Letter of James. Since then the Church has never ceased to celebrate this sacrament for its members by the anointing and the prayer of its priests, commending those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them (see James 5:14-16). Moreover, the Church exhorts them to associate themselves willingly with the passion and death of Christ (see Romans 8:17)1, and thus contribute to the welfare of the people of God. 2
Those who are seriously ill need the special help of God’s grace in this time of anxiety, lest they be broken in spirit and, under the pressure of temptation, perhaps weakened in their faith.
This is why, through the sacrament of anointing, Christ strengthens the faithful who are afflicted by illness, providing them with the strongest means of support.3
The celebration of this sacrament consists especially in the laying on of hands by the priests of the Church, the offering of the prayer of faith, and the anointing of the sick with oil made holy by God’s blessing. This rite signifies the grace of the sacrament and confers it.
6 This sacrament gives the grace of the Holy Spirit to those who are sick: by this grace the whole person is helped and saved, sustained by trust in God, and strengthened against the temptations of the Evil One and against anxiety over death. Thus the sick person is able not only to bear suffering bravely but also to fight against it. A return to physical health may follow the reception of this sacrament if it will be beneficial to the sick person’s salvation. If necessary, the sacrament also provides the sick person with the forgiveness of sins and the completion of Christian penance.4
7 In the anointing of the sick, which includes the prayer of faith (see James 5:15), faith itself is manifested. Above all, this faith must be made actual both in the minister of the sacrament and, even more importantly, in the recipient. The sick person will be saved by personal faith and the faith of the Church, which looks back to the death and resurrection of Christ, the source of the sacrament’s power (see James 5:15)5, and looks ahead to the future kingdom that is pledged in the sacraments.
Recipients of the Anointing of the Sick
8 The Letter of James states that the sick are to be anointed in order to raise them up and save them.6 Great care and concern should be taken to see that those of the faithful whose health is seriously * impaired by sickness or old age receive this sacrament.7
A prudent or reasonably sure judgement, without scruple, is sufficient for deciding on the seriousness of an illness;8 if necessary a doctor may be consulted.
9 The sacrament may be repeated if the sick person recovers after being anointed and then again falls ill or if during the same illness the person’s condition becomes more serious.
10 A sick person may be anointed before surgery whenever a serious illness is a reason for the surgery.
11 Elderly people may be anointed if they have become notably weakened even though no serious illness is present.
12 Sick children may be anointed if they have sufficient use of reason to be strengthened by this sacrament.
13 In public and private catechesis, the faithful should be educated to ask for the sacrament of anointing and, as soon as the right time comes, to receive it with full faith and devotion. They should not follow the wrongful practice of delaying the reception of the sacrament. All who care for the sick should be taught the meaning and purpose of the sacrament.
14 The sacrament of anointing may be conferred upon sick people who, although they have lost consciousness or the use of reason, would, as Christian believers, probably have asked for it were they in control of their faculties.9
15 When a priest has been called to attend those who are already dead, he should not administer the sacrament of anointing. Instead, he should pray for them, asking that God forgive their sins and graciously receive them into the kingdom. But if the priest is doubtful whether the sick person is dead, he may give the sacrament conditionally (no. 269).10
Minister of the Anointing of the Sick
16 The priest is the only proper minister of the anointing of the sick.11
This office is ordinarily exercised by bishops, parish priests (pastors) and their assistants, priests who are responsible for the sick or aged in hospitals, and superiors of clerical religious institutes. 12
17 These ministers have the pastoral responsibility both of preparing and helping the sick and others who are present, with the assistance of religious and laity, and of celebrating the sacrament.
The local Ordinary has the responsibility of supervising celebrations at which sick persons from various parishes or hospitals may come together to receive the sacrament.
18 Other priests also confer the sacrament of anointing with the consent of the ministers mentioned in no. 16. Presuming such consent in case of necessity, a priest need only inform the parish priest (pastor) or hospital chaplain later.
19 When two or more priests are present for the anointing of a sick person, one of them may say the prayers and carry out the anointings, saying the sacramental form. The others may take the remaining parts, such as the introductory rites, readings, invocations, or instructions. Each priest may lay hands on the sick person.