The Sacrament of Healing

MARK 2:1-12
  When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.
  And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" --he said to the paralytic-- "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"
In this Gospel we encounter Jesus. A man is brought to him in need of healing. He is physically ill, being a paralytic. Perhaps he has had a fall and broken his back or neck. We do not know. We also do not know anything about his state of mind. Perhaps he is angry, or bitter. Perhaps he has accepted his physical state.
In the context of his time people would see illness in terms of sin. It would have been believed that this man’s physical state was a consequence of his sin or the sin of his forefathers. Thus by forgiving the man’s sins Jesus would have been seen as removing the cause of his physical condition.
When Jesus looks at him he recognizes that this is a man in need of peace and forgiveness, and the healing which he is offered is a ‘spiritual healing’; a healing that will bring him the peace that he needs, being at peace with God. It is only after this that Jesus heals him of his physical illness.
 1499 "By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of the priests the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them. And indeed she exhorts them to contribute to the good of the People of God by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ.” CCC
Through the Sacrament of Healing, healing may occur in three dimensions of the person: Physical, Psychological, and Spiritual. The Sacrament of anointing is a sacrament of healing rather than a sacrament of curing, so although as a priest, I have administered the Sacrament of anointing to people given no or little chance to live and who have made a full recovery many more times I have anointed many people who are terminally ill people who have died. I have also listened to people who are psychologically ill, who have become well again, and others who have not. Primarily this is a Sacrament which brings about Spiritual Healing. It is a Sacrament, which offers a sense of peace and of wellbeing. Similarly, the Sacrament of Reconciliation brings not only forgiveness but inner peace, and often the two Sacraments are administered together.
The Key scriptural basis for the Sacrament of the Sick is found in the letter of St James, verses 5: 14-15.
“I any among you sick let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the pray of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.”
And of course this is exactly what happens when the priest is called to the bed of a sick person. He prays over him and anoints him, not in his own name but in the name of the Lord. And it is the Lord that is working through the priest, not the priest through his own powers.
As with any Sacrament it needs the recipient to be receptive to the grace for the grace to be efficacious. In other words if the person being given the Sacrament is not open to its grace then the grace will not work within him.
The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is the Sacrament specifically for people who are ill, or infirm. We are told that the Catholic Church professes and teaches that the anointing of the sick is one of the seven sacraments of the New Testament that was instituted by the Lord, “And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.” Mark. 6:13.
From ancient times there is evidence of the anointing of the sick in the Church’s tradition.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we are taught that:  “From ancient times in the liturgical traditions of both East and West, we have testimonies to the practice of anointing of the sick with blessed oil. Over the centuries the Anointing of the Sick was conferred more and more exclusively on those at the point of death. Because of this it received the name "Extreme Unction." Notwithstanding this evolution the liturgy has never failed to beg the Lord that the sick person may recover his health if it would be conducive to his salvation”. CCC 1512
At the Council of Trent it was taught that the effect of the Sacrament of anointing of the sick is “that the reality of the sacrament is in fact the grace of the Holy Spirit, whose anointing takes away sins, if any remain, and the remnants of sin: this anointing also raises up and strengthens the soul of the sick person, arousing a great confidence in the Divine Mercy; thus sustained, the sick person may more easily bear the trials and hardships of sickness, and sometimes regain bodily health if this is expedient for the health of the soul.”
Vatican II stated that the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is not a sacrament for those only at the point of death, but can for example be administered to anyone “in danger of death” from sickness or old age. The Sacrament may also be administered to a person before surgery.
Only priests are ministers of the Anointing of the Sick. It is also the responsibility of priests to educated their parishioners on the benefits of this sacrament and to encourage them to request the sacrament when sick or when they are about to go into hospital.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that:
In addition to the Anointing of the Sick, the Church offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum. Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of "passing over" to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."141 The sacrament of Christ once dead and now risen, the Eucharist is here the sacrament of passing over from death to life, from this world to the Father. CCC 1524  
Questions for Reflection
  1. Reflect on occasions in your life or in the lives of people whom you know where healing was experienced.
  2. How would you describe the difference between being healed and being cured?
  3. Under what circumstances would you seek the Sacrament of anointing for yourself or for someone that you know?
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