When a priest receives a call to celebrate the Anointing of the Sick, he always brings several items along with him: the Oil of the Sick (usually in a very small vial or oil stock), a small prayer book, and a stole. In case of an emergency, the priest really only needs the Oil of the Sick, but it is good when possible to also wear a stole and pray the prayers from the book which surround the Anointing of the Sick.
The Oil of the Sick is olive oil which receives a special blessing at the Chrism Mass, which our diocese celebrates on Tuesday evening of Holy Week. Nothing is physically added to this oil when it is blessed. I was surprised to learn recently that our oil simply comes from the grocery store before it is blessed. I had never really thought about where the oil comes from until I came to the Cathedral, and our staff here is responsible for purchasing this oil every year.
God uses simple physical means in all of his sacraments: oil, water, bread, wine, and simple words spoken. However, after the oil is blessed, it is no longer regular olive oil, but instead becomes an instrument of God’s healing grace. Here is the prayer of blessing which the Bishop prays over the oil.
O God, Father of all consolation, who willed to heal the infirmities of the weak through your Son, listen favorably to the prayer of faith: send forth from the heavens, we pray, your Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, upon this oil in all its richness, which you have graciously brought forth from the verdant tree to restore the body, so that by your blessing, everyone anointed with this oil as a safeguard for body, soul, and spirit, may be freed from all pain, all infirmity, and all sickness. May your holy oil, O Lord, be blessed by you for our sake, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Most priests keep a small oil stock in the glovebox of their car, and some even keep a very small vial in their pocket. We do not want to be in a situation where somebody needs the Anointing, but we are not able to offer it because we forgot to bring the oil with us. In cases of emergency, a priest can bless some oil himself (using the prayer from the book) instead of going to retrieve the oil that has been blessed by the Bishop.
The Anointing of the Sick typically involves three anointings on the body. First the priest traces the sign of the cross on the patient’s forehead while saying, “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Then, the priest traces the sign of the cross on the palms of each of the patient’s hands while saying, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” There are some situations where a person’s hands or head may be bandaged after an accident, and in that case, the priest may anoint only one part of the body or even the part of the body which needs healing.
This concludes our parish’s reflections on the Anointing of the Sick. If you remember one thing, just remember that when a Catholic is near death or seriously ill, do not hesitate to call a priest and ask for the Anointing of the Sick!