Sickness is a part of human living. It affects the whole of a person’s life and in it they experience their powerlessness and limitations. It is through times of sickness that we are made acutely aware of just how little control we have over our lives and such a loss of power and authority can leave a person confused, depressed and filled with anxiety. At the same time, it can lead to a more mature understanding of life. It can help us appreciate what is truly essential in our lives and what is merely of superficial importance. By discovering powerlessness, we can be opened up to the true power of Almighty God and by perceiving how transitory is human health and even life itself, we can begin to see the importance of the eternal. Importantly too, sickness is a reminder of death. Life does not go on forever. We are frail creatures who must all one day make our way to the grave and our times of sickness are timely reminders of that ultimate end.
The bible sees sickness as a reminder of sin and the disruption it causes to the created order, though nowhere does the Gospel see sickness as a consequence of sin. What God wants is life and we see in the Bible that Jesus was the one who conquered sickness and restored people back to health and wholeness (Matt 4:24; Acts 10:38). The miracles performed by Jesus were seen as signs of the incoming reign of God and that salvation was something that impacted on the whole man, on his body and his soul.
When Jesus commanded the apostles to cure the sick (Matt 10:8) he was giving to them the ministry he had received from the Father. He expected his disciples to visit the sick (Matt 25:36,43). This is why the Church has always had a special ministry to the sick and those who were dying. During the Middle Ages there were founded many hospitals, hospices, nursing homes and the like as a way of fulfilling the demands of Jesus to care for those who were suffering and alone. It was not enough to care for the spiritual side of a person. The Church had to minister to both the spiritual and the physical sides of the human person.
In the sacrament of the anointing of the sick the Church celebrates this healing ministry of Jesus and shares in that ministry that was given to the apostles: They expelled many demons, anointed the sick with oil and worked many cures (Mark 6:13). The early communities took on this ministry of love as a part of the loving care Christians were to show to their brothers and sisters: Is there anyone sick among you? He should ask for the presbyters of the church. They in turn are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord. This prayer uttered in faith will reclaim the one who is ill and the Lord will restore him to health. If he has committed any sins, forgiveness will be his (James 5:14-15).
The act of laying on of hands was practised by Jesus himself (Mk 6:5; Matt 8:3; Luke 4:40). He entrusted this to his disciples (Mark 16:18) and they in turn practised it (Acts 9:12, 17; 28:8). To this action was added the anointing with oil. Oil in the time of the early Church was seen as a healing agent and was valued for its cosmetic and medical qualities. But the oil used in the sacrament is not a healing oil. It is no more than a symbol of the action of God. The anointing is linked to prayer in the Lord’s name and it points to the deliverance and raising up of the sick person by God.
The sacrament is usually connected to the forgiveness of sins for Christians see the human person in a holistic way, as being both physical and spiritual. The Church gathers around the sick person, praying for him, laying hands on him and anointing him, presenting him to God for healing. That healing may take on a range of meanings, from being cured to dying peacefully in trust and hope in the mercy of God.
Anointing at St Luke's
The Sacrament of Anointing is a gift that is given by God to all; some think that they have to be on the point of death but, thank God, that is not the case. It is offered to any who have particular health issues – physical, mental or spiritual – and is an important ministry of the Church.
At St Luke’s there are few ways that people can take advantage of this ministry.
The first is by just contacting one of the priests to arrange administration of the Sacrament – at home, in the church or in hospital. Everything talked about is, as ever, confidential.
It is worth repeating that the Laying on of Hands and Anointing are not just ‘emergency’ measures. God offers them to anybody who is in need and who is facing any sort of difficulty in their life.