By Rev. John J. Burke.
"Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he be in sins they shall be forgiven him" (James v. 14, 15).
BY THESE words St. James admonishes Christians when sick to do that which Our Saviour had previously directed to be done. This you will learn from the 6th chapter of St. Mark: "And [the apostles] anointed with oil many that were sick."
The historians of the first centuries tell us that the early Christians were as anxious to receive the last sacraments as are the Catholics of our own day. St. Cesarius, in the fifth century, writes: "As soon as a person falls dangerously sick, he receives the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Then his body is anointed, and thus is fulfilled what stands written: 'Is any man sick among you? Let him call in the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil.'" What the Christians of the first centuries did, we do; and we do it by the direction of Jesus Christ and of St. James.
Penance, Holy Eucharist, and Extreme Unction are administered to the sick and are known as the last sacraments. The priest first hears the sick person's confession, then he administers holy communion. Afterward he administers the sacrament of Extreme Unction—last anointing.
This sacrament aids the sick to bear their sufferings with patience. It wipes away sin, even mortal sin if the person is unable to confess; and it purifies the soul for its entrance into heaven. The other sacraments assist us in making our lives holy like the life of our divine Model. This sacrament assists in making our death holy, like the death of Jesus. The sacrament of Baptism met us at our entrance into this world; the sacrament of Extreme Unction will be our guide at our departure to the other world. Religion, which rocked us in the cradle of life, will lull us to sleep in the cradle of death.
Go to the bedside of the dying Catholic and you will see the reasonableness of the practice of calling the priest to administer the last sacraments. After the sacraments have been administered, peace and joy and contentment are visible on the countenance of the sick person. He clings no more to the things of earth. His thoughts are centered in heaven. The minister of God consoles him with the thought of immortality and the resurrection of the body. He soon hears the singing of the angelic choir; and breathing the sweet names of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, his soul takes its flight to the regions of eternal bliss.
This is taken from Reasonableness of Catholic Ceremonies and Practices.
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