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Some notes on Extreme Unction May 4, 2012

Posted by Tantumblogo in General Catholic.

The Sacrament of Extreme Unction is very misunderstood.  Here are some notes on its traditional practice from the Roman Catechism, a version published in 1923:

Although instituted for the use of all, Extreme Unction is not to be administered indiscriminately to all.

The Subject Must Be In Danger of Death

IN the first place, it is not to be administered to persons in sound health, or minor maladies, according to these words of St. James: Is anyone sick among you? (Jm 5:14)…….Extreme Unction was instituted as a remedy not only for the diseases of the soul, but also for those of the body.  Now only the sick need a remedy, and therefore this Sacrament is to be administered to those only whose malady is such as to excite apprehensions of approaching death.

The Danger Must Arise from Sickness

Extreme Unction, then, can be administered to no one who is not dangerously sick; not even to those who are in danger of death, as when they undertake a perilous voyage, or enter into battle with the sure prospect of death, or have been condemned to death and are on the way to execution. [I should note, however, that those thus gravely wounded on the battlefield, or otherwise seriously injured, may receive the Sacrament]

The Person Anointed Must Have Attained the Use of Reason

Furthermore, all those who have not the use of reason are not fit subjeccts for this Sacrament; and likewise, children who, having committed no sins, do not need the Sacrament as a remedy against the remains of sin.  The same is true of insane persons and those who have lost the faculty of reason.  For those who, previously lucid but whose condition deteriorates due to illness, made plain their desire to receive the Sacrament while still lucid, they may be anointed.

Dispositions for the Reception of Extreme Unction

As all care should be taken that nothing impede the Grace of the Sacrament, and as nothing is more opposed to it than the consciousness of mortal guilt, the constant practice of the Catholic Church musst be observed of administering teh Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist before Extreme Unction.

Also, let parish priests strive to persuade the sick person to receive this Sacrament from the priest with the same faith with which those of old who were to be healed by the Apostles used to present themselves.  But the salvation of his soul is to be the first object of the sick man’s wishes, and after that the health of the body, with this qualification, if it be for the good of his soul.

The Minister of Extreme Unction

Who the minister of Extreme Unction is we learn from the same Apostle that promulgated the law of the Lord; for he says: “Let him bring in the priests” (Jm 5:14).  By which name, as the Council of Trent has well explained, he does not mean persons advanced in years, or of chief authority among the people, but priests who have been duly ordained by Bishosp with the imposition of hands (2 Tim 1:6)

The priest, therefore, has been committed to the administration of this Sacrament.

Effects of Extreme Unction

Pastors should teach that by this Sacrament is imparted Grace that remits sins, and especially lighter, venial sins; for mortal sins are removed by the Sacrament of Penance. Extreme Unction was not instituted primarily for the remission of grave offenses; only Baptism and Penance accomplish this directly.

Another advantage of the Sacred Unction is that it liberates the soul from the langour and infirmity which is contracted from sins, and form all the other remains of sin.  This liberty aids the soul in overcoming final impenitence or a gross fear of death, and helps replace those fears with a loving trust in the Mercy of God.

From this we derive another advantage, which may justly be deemed the greatest of all.  For although the enemy of the human race never ceases, while we live, to meditate our ruin and destruction, yet at no time does he more violently use every effort utterly to destroy us, and, if possible, deprive us of all hope of the Divine Mercy, than when he sees the last day of life approach.  Therefore, arms and strength are provided the faithful in this Sacrament to enable them to break the violence of the adversary, and to fight bravely against him.

Finally, the recovery of health, if indeed advantageous to the state of the soul, is another effect of this Sacrament.  And if in our days the sick obtain this effect less frequently, this is to be attributed, not to any defect of the Sacrament, but rather to the weaker faith of a great part of those who are anointed with the sacred oil, or by whom it is administered…..

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Thus, some aspects of the traditional practice of Extreme Unction. I’m not sure how this relates to regular parish “healing services” which administer the oil but sometimes leave out other aspects of the Sacrament, and especially the preparatory Sacrament of Penance. 

The “normal” operation of the Sacrament in the days of old was thus: a priest arrived to someone on their death bed ( if they were so lucky as to have one, and not die suddenly outside the final saving action of the Church), heard their last Confession, gave them Holy Viaticum to strengthen them for their final journey, and then anointed them with the oil of Extreme Unction.  If the person recovered, God be praised!, but if they did not, they were as fully prepared as they could be to render their soul back to God.


1. KathiBee - May 5, 2012

The parish we used to attend has Annointing of the Sick administration at all Masses once/quarter. Anyone who wishes to receive it just stands up after the homily & the pastor goes around to whomever is standing & gives it. No prior confession required or an explanation of why you think you need it. There are several people who have chronic diseases, like diabetes, as well as anyone who is “vulnerable to death due to age”,who I saw receive it every quarter. I’ve seen it given to toddlers.

I realize the the intention is probably noble, warm & fuzzy, but misguided.

To be fair, I do know though that this same pastor possibly might not give it to anyone that asks for it, if the request is private. When our infant daughter was going to have heart surgery, and (not knowing any better) we asked for it for her, he explained that she didn’t need it & why and instead gave us & her a blessing at the hospital before her surgery.

I enjoyed this informative post.

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