16 March 2017
All are sick and all need healing
Instead of seeing the Sacrament of Anointing as the kiss of death, it needs to become the kiss of life and hope. At every Mass we should affirm that Jesus is the true physician of all our ills
The family has always been the nearest hospital when it comes to a spirituality of care, consolation and incentive, according to Pope Francis. In his book, The Name of God is Mercy, he says that the parish should be like a field hospital ready to receive the sick, the wounded and the dying at any time day or night. Both metaphors present a huge challenge to modern-day parish life. Taking the family and the parish together, both metaphors have enormous implications. For example, on 11 February this year, I decided to offer the sacrament of the sick to all those who came to daily Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which is now an international day of prayer for the sick.
I emphasised that everyone is suffering from one kind of sickness or another. Following what St James said, I also emphasised the forgiveness of sin implicit in this very special sacrament. This resonated particularly with me because, a few months previously, I had been called out on a sick call. The lady concerned was unconscious, and her daughter was very concerned that she would not be able to confess her sins; but I was able to reassure her that mercy was central to the Sacrament of Anointing.
The communal celebration of the sacrament was one of the great liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and yet it appears to be one of the most forgotten. I intend to offer this sacrament at least once a quarter. Celebrating the sacrament by the whole community helps to overcome the idea that this sacrament is “extreme unction”. Instead of seeing it as the kiss of death, it needs to become the kiss of life and hope. However, we still have a great distance to go before this sacrament is recognised as a source of healing, hope and love rather than a sacrament in extremis. If we read the rite of anointing carefully, we find words like these again and again: “heal his/her sickness and forgive his/her sins, expel all afflictions of mind and body …”
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