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Posted November 30, 2005

The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick
Author: Lizette Larson-Miller
Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 2005, pp. 143

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The 1983 publication, Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum was once embraced by the church as the best way to extend care for the ill and dying. But more than 20 years have passed, and changes in society, healthcare and ministry beckon a critique of the rituals and texts with the future in mind. Lizette Larson-Miller provides an overview of the current rites through the lens of contemporary theological, liturgical, pastoral and cultural issues. She focuses particularly on the sacramental heart of the rites: the anointing of the sick.

Lizette Larson-Miller explores the sacrament of the anointing of the sick and the crucial role played by a biblical text from the Letter of James in reconstructing a rite for the sick rather than only for the dying. She looks at the central sacramental ideas surrounding the anointing of the sick that emerge from the three primary actions: the prayer of faith, the laying on of hands, and the anointing with the blessed oil.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Pastoral Practice and the Anointing with Oil

Of the three primary ritual elements in the anointing of the sick, only the anointing with oil has a pastoral guideline added to its essential summary paragraph in the anointing of the sick instruction, reflecting the changed ritual instruction. Because of the difficulty many priests trained within a more minimalist use of sacramental matter have in changing gears, this instruction returns the “matter of the sacrament” (oil) to a primary place, in recognition of the importance of the ritual substance and action, not just the verbal formulae.

If the anointing is to be an effective sacramental symbol, there should be a generous use of oil so that it will be seen and felt by the sick person as a sign of the Spirit’s healing and strengthening presence. For the same reason, it is not desirable to wipe off the oil after the anointing.

Oil that “will be seen and felt” lends itself to bridging the medicinal, cultural, and sacramental understandings of this substance. The rite seems to beg for a slower, more engaged use of touch to communicate presence, not only divine to human but also human to human. The very stuff of the sacrament is one place where the rite reflects a sense of developing liturgy. Here an older approach that emphasized a particular sacramental moment separated from the larger arena of care of the sick, and the even larger arena of medicinal and cultural care for the sick, is juxtaposed with a more organic and integrated approach to sacrament rooted in the meeting of human and divine through the stuff of a good and bountiful creation.

Table of Contents:

1. An overview of the rites of pastoral care of the sick
2. The threefold ritual center of anointing of the sick
3. Theological questions from the rite
4. The contexts of Church and culture for pastoral care of the sick