Last Rites, Sacrament of the Sick, Extreme Unction

The title mentions three things - are they all the same sacrament?

Yes, they are. "Last Rites" and "Extreme Unction" are the older names for the Sacrament of the Sick

Isn't this the Sacrament people get when they are dying?

Yes, it is. But it can be given to anyone who is ill or even those with chronic problems.

What does the Sacrament of the Sick do for people?

This Sacrament is usually given along with confession, giving the dying person a chance to reconcile themselves to God and go to Heaven.  If the person is not conscious then, obviously she or he can't do confession.  But in the Sacrament of the Sick, the individual will be receive a special Grace (like in all Sacraments).  This Grace prepares their soul to meet God but also, in many cases, this Grace will make them better or even heal them of their illness.  This is why the church encourages all sick people to receive the Sacrament of the Sick and not just those who are dying.

What does the Baltimore Catechism say about the effects of the Sacrament of the Sick?

274. Q. Which are the effects of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction?

A. The effects of Extreme Unction are:

  1.To comfort us in the pains of sickness and to strengthen us against temptation;
  2.To remit venial sins and to cleanse our soul from the remains of sin;
  3.To restore us to health, when God sees fit.

275. Q. What do you mean by the remains of sin?

A. By the remains of sin I mean the inclination to evil and the weakness of the will which are the result of our sins, and which remain after our sins have been forgiven.

Is there a basis in the Bible for giving the Sacrament of the Sick?

Yes, we are told in the Bible that the church should offer this Sacrament in James 5:14ff
14 Is anyone among you sick?   He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him)  with oil in the name of the Lord,
15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.
In this passage, "Presbyters" was the word used for "Priests" in the early church.  The Sacrament of the Sick is a Sacrament which can be given to people by the priest (some Sacraments require a Bishop like Confirmation).

Why is the oil used for this Sacrament?

All Sacraments have a visible sign of the bestowing of God's Grace which is not visible to our eyes.  The oil used in the Sacrament of the Sick has been blessed by the priest and is called "Holy Oil".  When the priest annoints you with Holy Oil, this is the sign which tells you that God is pouring out His Special Grace through this Sacrament.

When can I receive the Sacrament of the Sick if I am ill, injured or otherwise in need?

Most parishes have a 'healing Mass' (usually held on Saturday morning) a few times a year.  But if you need it right now (like you broke your leg, for example), usually you can arrange with your parish priest to have him give it to you.  I would really recommend you get it because even if you are not cured instantly (and this does happen occasionally), this healing sacrament will not only give you peace and serenity in your soul, it will also help your body to heal.  I know - been there, done that!

Source:New American Bible, Baltimore Catechism

Article by Sue Widemark
Net Abbey home page