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Ask the Register: can the elderly be anointed?

Q. My elderly mother is frail, but she is not diagnosed with any illness. I told her that she should ask her priest to receive the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. She says that she can only receive this sacrament when she is dying. Is she correct?

A. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is a reminder that the healing power of God’s grace is available throughout the life of the Catholic. Jesus remains close to us in His Real Presence in the Eucharist, by bestowing His mercy upon us in the Sacrament of the Confession, but also in times of grave illness through the Anointing of the Sick.

Our Lord demonstrates His love and compassion for the sick throughout His public ministry. At times, He miraculously healed those who were sick, which served as signs of a greater healing – His power over sin and death. 

Jesus is the Divine Physician, who takes care of our bodies and souls. The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, continues the work of Jesus in His care and love for the sick. As members of the Church, it is our loving duty to look after the needs of the sick, and to be Christ’s presence to them. The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick heals the soul of the sick person.

The Book of James states, “Are there any who are sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up; and if they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them” (Jas 4:14-15).

In the Anointing of the Sick, Jesus gives healing to the sick person through the priest who is the minister of the sacrament. While physical healing may be desired, the primary effect of the sacrament is the spiritual gift of peace and courage in the face of illness, with the forgiveness of sins.

The Sacrament may be administered to a Baptized Catholic of the age of reason, who is in danger from illness or the infirmities of age. The person does not need to be in the imminent danger of death to receive the Sacrament.

The Ritual of the Anointing of the Sick states that those who may receive the Sacrament include: “those who are dangerously ill through sickness or old age”; “a sick person... before surgery whenever the surgery is necessitated by a dangerous illness”; “elderly people... if they are weak, though not dangerously ill.” A person who has lost consciousness may be anointed, if it is reasonably assumed that they would have requested it while conscious and in control of their faculties. Families with elderly or seriously ill family members should contact a priest to discuss if anointing is possible.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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