Pastor’s Corner for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, by Fr. Bruce Botha SJ

Let us Pray for the Sick


In July, we pray with Pope Francis that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick may grant the Lord’s strength to both those who receive it and to their loved ones, and that it may become for everyone an ever more visible sign of compassion and hope.


The Sacrament of the anointing of the sick is based on the Letter of James, chapter 5:14-15.


Is anyone 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 prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

The important points to notice here are that the sacrament is based on the prayer of faith, and that the oil consecrated by the bishop at the Chrism mass is a sign of the consecration of the individual to God. In other words, the oil is not magic, and can accomplish nothing without the prayers of the community of faith. Anointing with oil is a physical act expressing a spiritual truth: we belong to God and have committed ourselves wholly into his care.

Many years ago, before Vatican II, the Anointing of the Sick was called Extreme Unction, an anointing that one receives as part of the last rites one receives before death claims you. This was obviously not the intent of the apostle James, and neither is it the intent of the Church today. To receive this anointing is not to announce or even prepare for an imminent death, but to proclaim our dependence on the protection of God. It is also an acknowledgement that our woundedness or infirmity is not limited to the body but includes the spiritual and relational. This anointing, through the action of forgiveness, reconciles and restores relationships broken by sin –  us with God and with our brothers and sisters.

One of the tragedies I encounter in my ministry to the sick is being called too late to a hospital to anoint someone. I often ask how often the person has been in hospital and often the person has been there for weeks. The die without the benefit and consolation of the sacraments of the Church. This is why we emphasise that the Anointing of the Sick is not reserved for those on death’s doorstep but for anyone who is in need of God’s healing. So as soon as you or a family member is admitted to hospital, call the parish and ask for a visit. Even better, if you are aware that you will be in hospital for some kind of treatment or surgery, get anointed here in the church before you go to the hospital.

A point to make is that sacraments are for the living, not the dead, and that once someone has died we cannot anoint the body “just in case.” In those moments we rely on the loving mercy of God.


Fr. Bruce Botha SJ