The Sacrament of Anointing the Sick is for those who are in danger of death through illness or old age. The effect of the sacrament is to forgive our sins, to remove the “remnants of sin”, to consecrate our time of dying, and, if it be for the good of our soul, to bring about physical healing.
The Sacrament of Anointing is normally given in hospital or in the home of the sick person. Sometimes, a service is held in the Church at which people who are seriously ill can come.
The Sacrament of Anointing is not the same as the “Last Rites” and should not be put off unduly. As soon as a person begins to be in danger of death, the priest should be called so that they can make their confession, participate in the sacred rites, and receive Holy Communion. The Sacrament of Anointing may be given to someone who is unconscious but it is an act of charity if the relatives of the sick person can arrange for the priest to come before this happens.
When a person is close to death, the “Last Rites”, particularly the prayer of commendation of the dying are said. The priest will also grant the Apostolic Blessing and plenary indulgence. These prayers are of great value to the dying person and of consolation to their loved ones.
The relatives of a sick person should never delay calling the priest out of a misguided fear that they may be frightened. This is very rarely the case, and there is a danger that the sick person will be denied the grace of the sacraments without good reason.
Care of the sick and housebound
Those who are unable to come to Mass because they are housebound through illness or the weakness of old age may be visited in their homes to receive Holy Communion. It is necessary to notify the parish priest since he will not necessarily know that a person is unable to be at Church.
Care of those in hospital
Catholic patients in hospital should be given spiritual as well as medical care. Every hospital has an appointed chaplain who will call regularly to visit, often assisted by a group of lay people. Relatives should insist that the patient’s religion should be recorded as Catholic and that the regular chaplain should be notified so that he knows that they would like him to visit on his regular round.
If a person is in danger of death, the hospital switchboard should be asked to call for the duty chaplain to attend. This should not be left until after a person has died, denying them the opportunity of receiving the Sacrament of Anointing and the other prayers of the Church.