What is anointing?
Sickness and suffering are facts of life that many of us prefer not to face until we actually have to. This is understandable. If we are lucky, we take our health for granted and regard it as normal. Sickness takes away all that. Quite apart from the physical discomfort or distress that disease causes, there are a number of other ways in which we are affected: anxiety, depression, fear, a sense of being out of control. If that illness results in a stay, long or short, in hospital, these feelings intensify.
When sickness is serious, or when we face major surgery, we confront not only our anxieties, but our own mortality itself. It is a times like these that Catholics, and many Anglicans too, will want to consider receiving the Sacrament of the Sick, or Anointing.
We read in the epistle of St James: ‘Are there people sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them anointing them with oil in the name of Lord.’
The purpose of this anointing is to bring healing of mind, body and spirit, to give strength and courage at a time of doubt and fear. God always wants us to be healed. Sometimes that will mean that we will physically recover from whatever affects us. Sometimes it will mean that we are given the strength to cope with what lies ahead. Sometimes it will mean gaining a closer understanding of how God works through human suffering. These graces flow from the death of Jesus Christ, for ‘this was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases”’ (Matt.hew 8:17).
The Sacrament of Anointing is, above all, a sign of God’s love for us, a love which is divine and eternal. What happens when I am anointed? The priest will begin with a short introduction and opening prayer. He will lay his hands on your head in silence for a few moments. Then, with the oil specially blessed by the Bishop, he will anoint you on the forehead and, if possible, the palms of your hands with the words’ Through this holy anointing may the Lord help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up.’
When we are anointed, we can be certain that God is with us. His Son went about bringing healing those who came to him because he loved them so deeply. When we are anointed we are given a pledge of that same love.