Anointing of the Sick vs Last Rites vs Extreme Unction

When I was young, there was a sacrament of Last Rites before someone died.  I have not heard of it for years and wonder if the Catholic Church has changed the 7 sacraments?

Your question is a common one and one which shows the shifts of Vatican II to reform some items that had fallen into disuse or had lost their initial meanings.  Extreme Unction (commonly called last rites) and the Anointing of the Sick are the same sacrament.  The scriptural references for the sacrament are found in Mark 6:13, “They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”  And in James 5:14-15 “Is anyone among you sick?  He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up.  If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.”

The church councils at Florence, Trent and Vatican II have all reaffirmed the sacrament.  The only thing that changed in recent years was the timing for administration for the sacrament.  Vatican II Fathers wrote that “anointing of the sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death.  Hence as soon as any one of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for that person to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.” 
What this means is that one should not wait for someone to be drawing their last breath before asking the priest to anoint them.  When one becomes ill or enters into danger of death the priest should be called as soon as possible.  Waiting until the loved one is at death’s door can be too late.

Recipients of the sacrament include:
–Those of the faithful whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age
–A sick person may be anointed before surgery whenever a serious illness is the reason for the surgery
–Elderly people may be anointed if they have become notably weakened, even though no serious illness is present
–Sick children may be anointed if they have sufficient use of reason to be strengthened by the Sacrament

If in danger of death any Christian, who cannot approach a minister of their own community may receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick, provided they spontaneously ask for them, they demonstrate the catholic faith in respect of these sacraments, (i.e., the real and not symbolic presence of Christ in the Eucharist), and are properly disposed.

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Author: yuengerwv

Retired Catholic Priest

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