We all know that the Anointing of the Sick should be offered to all Catholics who are nearing death, and also those who are facing a serious illness or weakness from old age. The Church talks about four specific graces that Jesus offers to those who receive this special sacrament. This can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1520-1523.
The first grace is described as “a particular gift of the Holy Spirit.” People who have received this sacrament can probably testify to the effects of this gift of the Holy Spirit. In this moment, God gives strength, peace, and courage in the face of difficulty. This courage also helps one to be victorious in the battle that takes place “at the hour of our death” as we pray in the Hail Mary. In the moments before death, the devil knows that it is his last chance to tempt us to despair. The grace of God comes in at this very moment to strengthen us! Also, one’s sins can be forgiven if they were not able to receive Reconciliation. The soul is healed and the body is also healed, if God wills it for one’s spiritual good.
The second grace of this sacrament is a special union with the passion of Christ. Through our baptism, we are all united with Christ’s death and resurrection in a spiritual way. However, when our bodies die, we share with Christ’s death in a physical way. As we near this moment, our suffering is especially close to the suffering that Jesus endured in his Passion. As St. Paul tells us, our suffering fills up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, and Jesus uses our suffering for the salvation of the world.
The third grace is called an ecclesial grace. “Ecclesial” refers to the Church. In addition to uniting one to Christ, the Anointing unites one more fully to the Church. They can experience a special closeness to the saints in heaven, and their suffering becomes a gift to the entire Church throughout the world.
The fourth and final grace of the Anointing of the Sick is a preparation for the final journey. This is the last sacrament many will receive before passing away (except for Viaticum hopefully). We all receive several anointings during the celebration of the sacraments: two anointings in Baptism, one in Confirmation, and for priests, at the reception of Holy Orders. This final anointing fortifies the end of our earthly life as we prepare for the journey from earthly life to eternal life.
The Anointing of the Sick certainly offers us many graces at what may be the lowest point of our lives. “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful.” The Lord is very close to us in our suffering, and especially in our death. This past Friday, we just celebrated the Solemnity of St. Joseph. He is the patron saint of a happy death, and we should all pray that we will die a “happy death.” God did not make death, but he has transformed it into the gateway of eternal life. May we all pray that we will receive the gift of the Anointing of the Sick before we die, so that we can receive all these gifts that Jesus desires to offer us.