Laudable is the generosity, genuine charity of so many priests — hospital chaplains — who are spending themselves body and soul to attend to the many sick in hospitals and other institutions.
In particular, they are dispensing the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, with the greatest possible health precautions and care, to give thanks to God.
Sickness, An Encounter with God
Sickness can lead to anguish, withdrawal in oneself, sometimes even to despair and rebellion against God. However, it can also make a person mature, help him to discern what is not essential in his life, to turn to what in fact is essential.
Very often, sickness pushes one to seek God, to return to Him. In sickness, we, God’s children, can count on Christ the Doctor, who “took our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8:17; Cf. Isaiah 53:4).”
Anointing of the Sick during the Pandemic
As with all the Sacraments, the Anointing of the Sick is celebrated in a liturgical and community way, which takes place in the family, in a hospital or in a church, for only one sick person or for a group of sick people.
The Lord’s assistance through this Sacrament is geared to leading the patient to the healing of his soul and of his body if such is the Will of God.
It’s the last of the Sacred Anointings that mark the whole Christian life: Baptism sealed the new life in us; Confirmation strengthened us for the battle of this life. The last Anointing offers a bridge, at the end of our earthy life, to enter Heaven.
The reception of the Anointing of the Sick is not an imperative for salvation, but one should not willingly do without it if it’s possible to receive it, because it would be akin to rejecting a very effective aid for Salvation.
To deprive a patient of this aid could be unjust. Therefore, in a note published last March 20 by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Catholic Church, as good Mother that loves Her children until the end of their days, granted a Plenary Indulgence to those at the point of death, “who cannot receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and the Viaticum,” as long as they are duly disposed and have prayed some prayers during their life.
The Church prays for those patients and entrusts them to Divine Mercy in virtue of the Communion of Saints, Herself supplying the three conditions usually required for granting the Indulgence: Sacramental Confession, Eucharistic Communion, and Prayer for the Intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. She also recommends the use of a crucifix or a cross.
The foregoing is reinforced, in addition, with this indication of the Church: When “in doubt, if the patient has reached the use of reason, is suffering a grave illness or has already died, administer this Sacrament.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Canon 1005).
Sacrament of Penance
To receive the fruits of this Sacrament, the person must first be reconciled with God and with the Church, at least have the desire to do so, inseparably united to repentance for his sins and the intention to confess them, when it’s possible, in the Sacrament of Penance. Therefore, before the Anointing, the Church provides for the administration of the Sacrament of Joy to the patient.
The patient must have the intention, at least habitual and implicit, to receive this Sacrament. Said in other words: the patient must have the will, not retracted, to die as Christians die and with the supernatural aids destined to the latter.
Father Alejandro Vazquez-Dodero Rodriguez, Priest, Doctor in Canon Law and Chaplain of the Tajamar School of Madrid
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester