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General Info. Regarding Extreme Unction

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Extreme Unction / Anointing of the Sick

Extreme Unction / Anointing of the Sick 

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"Extreme Unction is a sacrament of the New Law, its effect is the remission of sins." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

 "Extreme Unction is the Sacrament which through the anointing and prayer of the priest gives health and strength to the soul, and sometimes to the body, when we are in danger of death from sickness." (Baltimore Catechism)

Extreme Unction / Anointing of the Sick

Also Called: The Sacrament of the Dying / The Sacrament of the Departing

"Moreover the thing signified and the effect of this sacrament are explained in those words; And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he be in sins they shall be forgiven him. For the thing here signified is the grace of the Holy Ghost; whose anointing cleanses away sins, if there be any still to be expiated, as also the remains of sins; and raises up and strengthens the soul of the sick person, by exciting in him a great confidence in the divine mercy; whereby the sick being supported, bears more easily the inconveniences and pains of his sickness; and more readily resists the temptations of the devil who lies in wait for his heel; and at times obtains bodily health, when expedient for the welfare of the soul." (Council of Trent, 1551 A.D.)

Click Link Below or Scroll Down to View All:

Type of Sacrament

Is Sacrament Obligatory?


Can This Sacrament Be Repeated?

When Should Sacrament Be Received?

General Prerequisites

Ordinary Ministers

Form / Matter

Chief Effects

Additional Information

For More Information Regarding Extreme Unction / Anointing of the Sick, Try...

Type of Sacrament: 'Sacrament of Healing' / 'Sacrament of the Living'  (click here for more info.

Is Sacrament Obligatory? While it is not strictly obligatory for salvation, it is strongly recommended.

"Can. 944 Although this sacrament of itself is not necessary as a means to salvation, it is not licit for anyone to neglect it; and every care and precaution should be taken that the infirm, while still in possession of their faculties, should receive it." (1917 Code of Canon Law)

Recipients: Baptized Catholics who have reached the age of reason who are in danger of death (e.g. from accident, injury, disease, sickness, old age). It is also good to receive this sacrament before surgery (as applicable) and if one's frailty in old age "becomes more pronounced". Note that one should not wait until the very brink of death to receive this sacrament.

"Can. 1005 If there is any doubt as to whether the sick person has reached the age of reason, or is dangerously ill, or is dead, this sacrament is to be administered." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Extreme Unction may be given to all [Catholics who are] dangerously ill, who have ever been capable of committing sin after baptism and who have the right dispositions for the Sacrament. Hence it is never given to children who have not reached the use of reason, nor to persons who have always been insane." (Baltimore Catechism)

Can This Sacrament Be Repeated? Yes. The sacrament may be repeated each time the person is seriously ill, after relapses, or after an illness worsens.

"Can. 1004 §. The anointing of the sick can be administered to a member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age. §2 This sacrament can be repeated if the sick person, having recovered, again becomes gravely ill or if the condition becomes more grave during the same [or another] illness." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Sometimes a disease lasts long after the sacrament has been received, so that the remnants of sin, against which chiefly this sacrament is given, would be contracted. Therefore it ought to be given again... And if the sick man escape that danger while the disease continues, and be brought again thereby to the same state of danger, he can be anointed again, because it is, as it were, another state of sickness, although strictly speaking, it is not another sickness." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

When Should Sacrament Be Received? As soon as possible, preferably while the sick person has use of his senses.

"We should receive Extreme Unction when we are in danger of death from sickness, or from a wound or accident." (Baltimore Catechism)

"We should not wait until we are in extreme danger before we receive Extreme Unction, but if possible we should receive it while we have the use of our senses." (Baltimore Catechism) 

"Extreme Unction should be received when the illness is dangerous, and after the sick person has received, if possible, the sacraments of Penance and the Blessed Eucharist; it is even well to receive it while he has the use of his senses, and has still some hope of recovery." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"It is well to receive Extreme Unction while the sick person retains the use of his senses, and while there remains some hope of his recovery because: (1) He thus receives it with better dispositions, and is hence able to derive greater fruit from it; (2) This sacrament restores health of body (should it be for the good of the soul) by assisting the powers of nature; and hence it should not be deferred until recovery is despaired of." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Now only the sick need a remedy, and therefore this Sacrament is to be administered to those only whose malady is such as to excite apprehensions of approaching death. It is, however, a very grievous sin to defer the Holy Unction until, all hope of recovery being lost, life begins to ebb, and the sick person is fast verging into a state of insensibility. It is obvious that if the Sacrament is administered while consciousness and reason are yet unimpaired, and the mind is capable of eliciting acts of faith and of directing the will to sentiments of piety, a more abundant participation of its graces must be received. Though this heavenly medicine is in itself always salutary, pastors should be careful to apply it when its efficacy can be aided by the piety and devotion of the sick person." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

General Prerequisites: Recipients should have the proper disposition, including repentance for past sins

"We should receive the Sacrament of Extreme Unction in the state of grace, and with lively faith and resignation to the will of God." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Can. 1007 The anointing of the sick is not to be conferred upon those who obstinately persist in a manifestly grave sin." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"The principal dispositions for receiving Extreme Unction are: To be in the state of grace; to have confidence in the power of this sacrament and in the mercy of God and to be resigned to the will of the Lord." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Can. 942 This sacrament is not to be conferred on those who are impenitent, persevering contumaciously in manifest mortal sin; if there is doubt about this, it should be conferred under condition." (1917 Code of Canon Law)

"The right dispositions for Extreme Unction are: (1) Resignation to the Will of God with regard to our recovery; (2) A state of grace or at least contrition for sins committed, and (3) A general intention or desire to receive the Sacrament. This Sacrament is never given to heretics in danger of death, because they cannot be supposed to have the intention necessary for receiving it, nor the desire to make use of the Sacrament of Penance in putting themselves in a state of grace." (Baltimore Catechism)

Ordinary Ministers: Priests (or Bishops)

Note: Only validly ordained bishops & priests may confer this sacrament. Lay persons (and nuns) may NOT administer this sacrament

Form / Matter: Prayers / Anointing (various areas of the body), Oil

Chief Effects:

* Confers grace

* Remits sin

* Diminishes the debt of temporal punishment

* Comforts the sick

* May heal the body if advantageous for the recipient and if the recipient has faith

* Helps prepare the sick or aged person for eternal life

* Strengthens one to bear suffering 

* "The effects of Extreme Unction are: 1) To comfort us in the pains of sickness and to strengthen us against temptations, 2) To remit venial sins and to cleanse our soul from the remains of sin, and 3) To restore us to health, when God sees fit." (Baltimore Catechism)

* "The sacrament of Extreme Unction produces the following effects: (1) It increases sanctifying grace; (2) It remits venial sins, and also mortal sins which the sick person, if contrite, is unable to confess; (3) It takes away weakness and sloth which remain even after pardon has been obtained; (4) It gives strength to bear illness patiently, to withstand temptation and to die holily; (5) It aids in restoring us to health of body if it is for the good of the soul." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* Strengthens one in one's final battle with devil: "From it, moreover, we derive another advantage, which may justly be deemed the greatest of all. For although the enemy of the human race never ceases, while we live, to meditate our ruin and destruction, yet at no time does he more violently use every effort utterly to destroy us, and, if possible, deprive us of all hope of the divine mercy, than when he sees the last day of life approach. Therefore arms and strength are supplied to the faithful in this Sacrament to enable them to break the violence and impetuosity of the adversary, and to fight bravely against him; for the soul of the sick is relieved and encouraged by the hope of the divine goodness, strengthened by which it bears more lightly all the burdens of sickness, and eludes with greater ease the artifice and cunning of the devil who lies in wait for it." (Catechism of the Council of Trent) 

* Frees from solicitude: "Another advantage of the Sacred Unction is that it liberates the soul from the languor and infirmity which it contracted from sins, and from all the other remains of sin. The time most opportune for this cure is when we are afflicted with severe illness and danger to life impends, for it has been implanted in man by nature to dread no human visitation so much as death. This dread is greatly augmented by the recollection of our past sins, especially if our conscience accuses us of grave offences; for it is written: They shall come with fear at the thought of their sins, and their iniquities shall stand against them to convict them. Another source of vehement anguish is the anxious thought that we must soon afterwards stand before the judgment seat of God, who will pass on us a sentence of strictest justice according to our deserts. It often happens that, struck with this terror, the faithful feel themselves deeply agitated; and nothing conduces more to a tranquil death than to banish sadness, await with a joyous mind the coming of our Lord, and be ready willingly to surrender the deposit entrusted whenever it shall be His will to demand it back. To free the minds of the faithful from this solicitude, and fill the soul with pious and holy joy is, then, an effect of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

Additional Information:

* Extreme Unction does not replace the sacrament of Penance, which is especially necessary if one is not in the state of grace. As stated in the Catechism of the Council of Trent: "As all care should be taken that nothing impede the grace of the Sacrament, and as nothing is more opposed to it than the consciousness of mortal guilt, the constant practice of the Catholic Church must be observed of administering the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist before Extreme Unction." 

* May be joined by Viaticum: "Can. 921 §1 Christ's faithful who are in danger of death from whatever cause are to be strengthened by Holy Communion in the form of Viaticum." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

* "There is no Sacrament, the administration of which is accompanied with more numerous prayers; and with good reason, for at that moment more than ever the faithful require the assistance of pious prayers. All who may be present, and especially the pastor, should pour out their fervent aspirations to God, and earnestly commend to His mercy the life and salvation of the sufferer." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Although Extreme Unction "was not instituted primarily for the remission of grave offences; only Baptism and Penance accomplish this directly" (Catechism of the Council of Trent), the Baltimore Catechism states that "Extreme Unction will take away mortal sin if the dying person is no longer able to confess, providing he has the sorrow for his sins that would be necessary for the worthy reception of the Sacrament of Penance."

* If the sacrament is received in one's home, certain items should be available. As stated in the Baltimore Catechism: "When the priest is coming to give the last Sacraments, the following things should be prepared: A table covered with a white cloth; a crucifix; two lighted candles in candlesticks; holy water in a small vessel, with a [clean] small piece of palm for a sprinkler; a glass of clean water; a tablespoon and a napkin or cloth to be placed under the chin of the one receiving the Viaticum. Besides these, if Extreme Unction is also to be given, there should be some cotton and a small piece of bread or lemon to purify the priest's fingers." [Note: "It seems most proper that the things necessary for the last Sacraments should be carefully kept in every Catholic home, and should never, if possible, be used for any other purpose." (Baltimore Catechism)]. Also, the Baltimore Catechism states: "The further preparation for the administration of the last Sacraments requires that out of respect for the Sacraments, and in particular of for the presence of Our Lord, everything about the sick room, the sick person and even the attendants, should be made as neat and clean as possible. Especially should the face, hands and feet of the one to be anointed be thoroughly clean."

* "On seeing the priest, the sick person should feel thankful to God for having sent him; and should gladly receive the comforts of religion, which, if he is able, he should request himself." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* In cases of serious illness when a sick person will not consent or is afraid to receive the Sacraments or wishes to put off their reception, the Baltimore Catechism suggests: "In case of serious illness, if the sick person will not consent, or is afraid to receive the Sacraments, or, at least wishes to put off their reception, we should send for a good priest at once and let him do what he thinks best in the case, and thus we will free ourselves from the responsibility of letting a Catholic die without the last Sacraments."

* Although the sacrament should certainly be received while one is clearly living, a priest is justly called even after apparent death (e.g. when the person has no heartbeat, no brainwaves, no breathing, etc.), since one cannot be certain that the soul has left the body until the body reaches a certain, irreversible state (i.e. putrefaction). [Note: If a priest does not wish to come after apparent death, he may be reminded of his obligation. Note that he may give the sacrament conditionally if he thinks the person is dead.]

* Penance, Extreme Unction and Holy Viaticum are considered the last Sacraments which "prepare us for our heavenly homeland".

Scroll Down For More...

For More Information Regarding Extreme Unction / Anointing of the Sick, Try...

The Catechism of the Council of Trent on Extreme Unction

Sickness / Extreme Unction (Topic Page)

Selections From the Baltimore Catechism - Q & A Format! 

Tip: Select "Display by Lesson", then select lesson number corresponding to Extreme Unction.

Extreme Unction / Anointing of the Sick Reflections

Extreme Unction / Anointing of the Sick (Topical Scripture)

Prayers For Final Perseverance / Happy Death

Suffering & Death (Catholic Life Section)

Catholic Basics

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* Sickness/Extreme Unction (Topic Page)

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