of the Sick is that sacrament which is administered to strengthen
Christians who are in danger of death from sickness or old age. The
Apostle James refers to this sacrament when he says, “Is 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 prayer of
faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he
has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).
of the Sick bestows upon the recipient the courage and peace necessary
to bear his suffering, forgives his sins, and prepares him for death.
On occasion, when spiritually beneficial, the sacrament heals the
physical infirmities of the recipient, but this ought not to be
expected. Catholic Answers provides a helpful summary of the origin,
effects and value of the sacrament.
The Catholic Catechism
systematically explains the Anointing of the Sick, with a more thorough
exploration of the effects of the sacrament.
For an in-depth
treatment of Anointing of the Sick, see the early twentieth century
Catholic Encyclopedia article on Extreme Unction (an older name for the
Sacrament). The details of the rite in use at that time are outdated,
but the discussion of the sacrament's matter and form, along with
extensive citations from Scripture and Tradition in support of the
Sacrament, are outstanding.
The Rite of Anointing was revised in
1972 to give us the Sacrament as we know it today. The nature and
reasons for these ritual revisions were made clear by Pope Paul VI in
his decree On the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.On the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sickby Pope Paul VI
Catholic Church professes and teaches that the Sacred Anointing of the
Sick is one of the seven Sacraments of the New Testament, that it was
instituted by Christ and that it is "alluded to in Mark (Mk. 6:13) and
recommended and promulgated to the faithful by James the apostle and
brother of the Lord. If any one of you is ill, he says, he should send
for the elders of the church, and they must anoint him with oil in the
name of the Lord and pray over him. The prayer of faith will save the
sick man and the Lord will raise him up again, and if he has committed
any sins, he will be forgiven (James 5:14-15)."1
times testimonies of the Anointing of the Sick are found in the
Church's Tradition, particularly her liturgical Tradition, both in the
East and in the West. Especially worthy of note in this regard are the
Letter which Innocent I, our predecessor, addressed to Decentius,
Bishop of Gubbio,2 and the venerable prayer used for blessing the Oil
of the Sick: "Send forth O Lord, your Holy Spirit the Paraclete," which
was inserted in the Eucharistic Prayer3 and is still preserved in the
In the course of the centuries, in the
liturgical Tradition the parts of the body of the sick person to be
anointed with Holy Oil were more explicitly defined, in different ways,
and there were added various formulas to accompany the anointings with
prayer, which are contained in the liturgical books of various
Churches. During the Middle Ages, in the Roman Church there prevailed
the custom of anointing the sick on the five senses, using the formula:
"Per istam Sanctam unctionem et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat
tibi Dominus quidquid deliquisti," adapted to each sense.5
addition, the doctrine concerning Sacred Anointing is expounded in the
documents of the Ecumenical Councils, namely the Council of Florence
and in particular the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council.
the Council of Florence had described the essential elements of the
Anointing of the Sick,6 the Council of Trent declared its divine
institution and explained what is given in the Epistle of Saint James
concerning the Sacred Anointing, especially with regard to the reality
and effects of the sacrament: "This reality is in fact the grace of the
Holy Spirit, whose anointing takes away sins, if any still remain to be
taken away, and the remnants of sin; it also relieves and strengthens
the soul of the sick person, arousing in him a great confidence in the
divine mercy, whereby being thus sustained he more easily bears the
trials and labors of his sickness, more easily resists the temptations
of the devil 'lying in wait' (Gen. 3:15), and sometimes regains bodily
health, if this is expedient for the health of the soul."7 The same
Council also declared that in these words of the Apostle it is stated
with sufficient clarity that "this anointing is to be administered to
the sick, especially those who are in such a condition as to appear to
have reached the end of their life, whence it is also called the
sacrament of the dying."8 Finally, it declared that the priest is the
proper minister of the sacrament.9
The Second Vatican Council
adds the following: " 'Extreme Unction,' which may also and more
fittingly be called 'Anointing of the Sick,' is not a sacrament for
those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as any one of
the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age,
the appropriate time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly
already arrived."10 The fact that the use of this sacrament concerns
the whole Church is shown by these words: "By the sacred anointing of
the sick and the prayer of her priests, the whole Church commends those
who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, asking that He may
lighten their suffering and save them (cf. James 5:14-16). She exhorts
them, moreover, to contribute to the welfare of the whole People of God
by associating themselves freely with the passion and death of Christ
(cf. Rom. 8:17; Col. 1:24; 2 Tim. 2:11-12; 1 Pt. 4:13)."11 All these
elements had to be taken into consideration in revising the rite of
Sacred Anointing, in order better to adapt to present-day conditions
those elements which were subject to change.12
We thought fit to
modify the sacramental formula in such a way that, in view of the words
of Saint James, the effects of the sacrament might be better expressed.
since olive oil, which hitherto had been prescribed for the valid
administration of the sacrament, is unobtainable or difficult to obtain
in some parts of the world, we decreed, at the request of numerous
bishops, that in the future, according to the circumstances, oil of
another sort could also be used, provided it were obtained from plants,
inasmuch as this more closely resembles the matter indicated in Holy
As regards the number of anointings and the parts of
the body to be anointed, it has seemed to us opportune to proceed to a
simplification of the rite.
Therefore, since this revision in
certain points touches upon the sacramental rite itself, by our
Apostolic authority we lay down that the following is to be observed
for the future in the Latin Rite:
THE SACRAMENT OF THE ANOINTING
OF THE SICK IS ADMINISTERED TO THOSE WHO ARE DANGEROUSLY ILL, BY
ANOINTING THEM ON THE FOREHEAD AND HANDS WITH OLIVE OIL, OR, IF
OPPORTUNE, WITH ANOTHER VEGETABLE OIL PROPERLY BLESSED, AND SAYING ONCE
ONLY THE FOLLOWING WORDS: "PER ISTAM SANCTAM UNCTIONEM ET SUAM
PIISSIMAM MISERICORDIAM ADIUVET TE DOMINUS GRATIA SPIRITUS SANCTI, UT A
PECCATIS LIBERATUM TE SALVET ATQUE PROPITIUS ALLEVIET."
of necessity however it is sufficient that a single anointing be given
on the forehead or, because of the particular condition of the sick
person, on another more suitable part of the body, the whole formula
This sacrament can be repeated if the sick
person having once received the Anointing, recovers and then again
falls sick, or if, in the course of the same illness, the danger
becomes more acute.
Having laid down and declared these elements
concerning the essential rite of the sacrament of the Anointing of the
Sick, we, by our Apostolic authority, also approve the Order of the
Anointing of the Sick and of their pastoral care, as it has been
revised by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship. At the same
time, we revoke where necessary, the prescriptions of the Code of Canon
Law or other laws hitherto in force, or we abrogate them other
prescriptions and laws, which are neither abrogated nor changed by the
above-mentioned Order, remain valid and in force. The Latin edition of
the Order containing the new rite will come into force as soon as it is
published. The vernacular editions, prepared by the episcopal
conferences and confirmed by the Apostolic See, will come into force on
the day which will be laid down by the individual conferences. The old
Order can be used until December 31, 1973. From January 1, 1974,
however, the new Order only is to be used by all those whom it concerns.
desire that these decrees and prescriptions of ours shall, now and in
the future, be fully effective in the Latin Rite, notwithstanding, as
far as is necessary, the Apostolic Constitutions and Directives issued
by our predecessors and other prescriptions, even if worthy of special
Given at St. Peter's in Rome, on the thirtieth day of November, in the year 1972, the tenth of our Pontificate.
1) Council of Trent. Session XIV, De extr. unct., chapter I (cf ibid. canon 1): CT, VII, 1, 355-356; Denz.-Schon. 1695, 1716.
2) Letter Si Institutu Ecclesiastica, chapter 8: PL, 20, 559-561; Denz.-Schon. 216.
Liber Sacramentorum Romanae Ecclesiae Ordinis Anni Circuli, ed. L. C.
Mohlberg (Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Documenta, Fontes, IV), Rome 1960, p.
61; Le Sacramentaire Gregorien, ed. J. Deshusses (Spicilegium
Friburgense, 16), Fribourg 1971, p. 172; cf. La Tradition Apostolique
de Saint Hippolyte, ed. B. Botte (Liturgiewissenschaftliche Quellen und
Forschungen, 39, Munster in W. 1963, pp. 18-19; Le Grand Euchologe du
Monastere Blanc, ed. E. Lanne (Patrologia Orientalis, XXVIII, 2), Paris
1958, pp. 392-395.
4) Cf Pontificale Romanum: Ordo benedicendi
Oleum Catechumenorum et Infirmorum et conficiendi Chrisma, Vatican City
1971, pp. 11-12.
5) Cf. M. Andrieu, Le Pontifical Romain au
Moyen-Age, vol. 1, Le Pontifical Romain du Xlle siecle (Studi e Testi,
86), Vatican City 1938, pp. 267-268; vol. 2, Le Pontifical de la Curie
Romaine au Xllle siecle (Studi e Testi, 87), Vatican City 1940, p.
6) Decr. pro Armeniis, C. Hofmann, Council of Florence, 1/11, p. 130; Denz. Schon, 1324f.
7) Council of Trent, Sess. XIV, De extr. unct. chapter 2: CT, VII, 1, 356; Denz. Schon, 1696.
8) Ibid., chapter 3: CT, ibid.; Denz.-Schon. 1698.
9) Ibid., chapter 3, canon 4: CT, ibid.; Denz.-Schon. 1697-1719.
10) Second Vatican Council, Const. Sacrosanctum concilium, 73: AAS, LVI (1964) 118-119.
11) Ibid., Const. Lumen gentium, 11: AAS, LVII (1965) 15.
12) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Const. Sacrosanctum concillium 1: AAS LVI (1964) 97.
-----------------------------------------------------------------Anointing of the Sick
anointing of the sick is administered to bring spiritual and even
physical strength during an illness, especially near the time of death.
It is most likely one of the last sacraments one will receive. A
sacrament is an outward sign established by Jesus Christ to confer
inward grace. In more basic terms, it is a rite that is performed to
convey God’s grace to the recipient, through the power of the Holy
The Sacrament’s Institution
the sacraments, holy anointing was instituted by Jesus Christ during
his earthly ministry. The Catechism explains, "This sacred anointing of
the sick was instituted by Christ our Lord as a true and proper
sacrament of the New Testament. It is alluded to indeed by Mark, but is
recommended to the faithful and promulgated by James the apostle and
brother of the Lord" (CCC 1511; Mark 6:13; Jas. 5:14-15).
anointing of the sick conveys several graces and imparts gifts of
strengthening in the Holy Spirit against anxiety, discouragement, and
temptation, and conveys peace and fortitude (CCC 1520). These graces
flow from the atoning death of Jesus Christ, for "this was to fulfill
what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and
bore our diseases’" (Matt. 8:17).
Mark refers to the sacrament
when he recounts how Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to preach, and
"they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick
and healed them" (Mark 6:13). In his epistle, James says, "Is 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
prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up;
and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (Jas. 5:14–15).
early Church Fathers recognized this sacrament’s role in the life of
the Church. Around A.D. 250, Origen wrote that the penitent Christian
"does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and
from seeking medicine . . . [of] which the apostle James says: ‘If then
there is anyone sick, let him call the presbyters of the Church, and
let them impose hands upon him, anointing him with oil in the name of
the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and if he be
in sins, they shall be forgiven him’" (Homilies on Leviticus 2:4).
the year 350, Bishop Serapion wrote, "We beseech you, Savior of all
men, you that have all virtue and power, Father of our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ, and we pray that you send down from heaven the healing
power of the only-begotten [Son] upon this oil, so that for those who
are anointed . . . it may be effected for the casting out of every
disease and every bodily infirmity . . . for good grace and remission
of sins . . . " (The Sacramentary of Serapion 29:1).
The Sacrament’s Effects
special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its
effects: the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for
his own good and that of the whole Church; the strengthening, peace,
and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness
or old age; the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to
obtain it through the sacrament of penance; the restoration of health,
if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul; the preparation for
passing over to eternal life" (CCC 1532).
Does a person have to
be dying to receive this sacrament? No. The Catechism says, "The
anointing of the sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the
point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be
in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him
to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived" (CCC 1514).
Does God Always Heal?
some Christians go to extremes in their expectation of divine healing.
On one hand, some say that if a Christian is not healed of all his
diseases, this reflects his lack of faith. Others claim that divine
healings were only for the apostolic age, when all diseases were healed
instantly and automatically. Both extremes are wrong.
not always heal the physical infirmities that afflict us. Paul preached
to the Galatians while he was afflicted by a "bodily ailment" (Gal.
4:13– 14). He also mentions that he had to leave his companion
Trophimus in the town of Miletus because he was too sick to travel (2
Tim. 4:20). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul urges his young
protégé to "no longer drink only water, but to use a little wine for
the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (1 Tim. 5:23).
last passage is especially informative. Not only does it reveal that
illnesses were not always healed in the apostolic age, but it also
shows an apostle’s practical advice to a fellow Christian on how to
deal with an illness. Notice that Paul does not tell Timothy to pray
harder and have more faith that God will heal him from his stomach
ailment. Rather, he tells him how to manage the illness through
Some argue that healings were always
instantaneous and were only for those living during the apostolic age,
but that afterward the gift of healing disappeared. The problem with
that theory is that the Bible tells us otherwise. For example, when
Jesus healed the blind man at Bethsaida, he laid his hands upon him
twice before the man was fully healed (Mark 8:22–26).
we have a standing command of the New Testament in James 5:14–15, cited
earlier. This command is never revoked anywhere in the Bible, and there
are no statements anywhere that God will cease to heal. Thus the
command is in effect to this very day.
Of course, our healing,
like all things, is subject to God’s will. As James pointed out just a
chapter earlier, "You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life?
For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and we
shall do this or that’" (Jas. 4:14–15, emphasis added). We have a
promise of healing, but not an unqualified one. It is conditional on
the will of God.
Why Doesn’t God Always Heal?
God can heal us, why doesn’t he? Why isn’t it always his will to do so?
One answer to this question is found in the spiritual discipline and
training that can result from facing illness and adversity. Scripture
asks, "Have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as
sons?—‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor
lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him
whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives’ [Prov.
3:11–12]. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating
you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then
you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had
earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not
much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they
disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines
us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all
discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the
peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it"
The Value of Suffering
God allows us to undergo sickness as a form of discipline and training
in righteousness. God often permits these trials for our
sanctification, as Paul himself learned when he prayed that God would
remove from him an angel of Satan who was afflicting him: "And to keep
me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was
given me in the flesh, a messenger [Greek: angelos] of Satan, to harass
me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord
about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, ‘My grace is
sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will
all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ
may rest upon me" (2 Cor. 12:7–9).
Even though we must face a
certain amount of suffering and affliction in this life, we know God’s
grace is sufficient to sustain us. All of God’s graces, including
physical health, are bestowed to lead to the salvation of our souls.
The Catholic Church teaches that the sacrament brings "the restoration
of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul" (CCC 1532).
also uses our suffering to help others. If Paul had not become ill
while on his first missionary journey and been forced to stop
traveling, he would not have preached to the Galatians, for he tells
them, "You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the
gospel to you at first" (Gal. 4:13). If he had not preached to the
Galatians, he would not have later written them the epistle that
appears in our New Testament. God used Paul’s illness to bring
salvation to the Galatians and to bring us a work of Scripture, through
which we are still receiving benefits from God.
This is just one
example of how God used suffering to bring about good. Therefore, if we
suffer, we should look upon it as an opportunity for good, such as by
offering up our sufferings for our own sanctification and for our
departed brothers and sisters in Christ.
This applies also to
the physical suffering of death, which will come for each of us one
day. The Bible reminds us, "As for man, his days are like grass; he
flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and
it is gone, and its place knows it no more" (Ps. 103:15–16).
The "Last Rites"
the psalmist teaches us to ponder our mortality, he immediately
comforts us by saying, "But the steadfast love of the Lord is from
everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him, and his
righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments" (Ps. 103:17–18).
steadfast love for us, the Lord gives us the sacraments involved in the
last rites to comfort us in our final days and prepare us for the
journey ahead. "These include penance (or confession), confirmation
(when lacking), anointing of the sick . . . and Viaticum (which is
meant to be the last reception of Communion for the journey from this
life to eternity). . . .
"The present ritual orders these
sacraments in two ways. The ‘continuous rites of penance and anointing’
include: Introductory Rites, Liturgy of Penance, Liturgy of
Confirmation, Liturgy of Anointing, Liturgy of Viaticum, and Concluding
Rites. The ‘rite for emergencies’ includes the sacrament of penance,
Apostolic Pardon, Lord’s Prayer, Communion as Viaticum, prayer before
anointing, anointing, concluding prayer, blessing, sign of peace" (Fr.
Peter Stravinskas, Catholic Encyclopedia, 572).
important part of the last rites is the reception of the Lord in one’s
final Communion, also called "Viaticum" (Latin = that which you take on
the road, i.e., provisions for a journey) This special Communion
prepares us to travel with the Lord on the final part of our journey.
comfort of Viaticum has been valued by Christians since the beginning
of Church history. The first ecumenical council, held at Nicaea in 325,
decreed: "Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still
to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he
must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum"
(canon 13). Having repented of our sins and received reconciliation, we
travel with the Lord Jesus out of this earthly life and to eternal
happiness with him in heaven.
From the earliest times, the
sacrament of the anointing of the sick was cherished among Christians,
not only in immediate danger of death, but even at the beginning sign
of danger from illness or old age. A sermon of Caesar of Arles (ca.
A.D. 470-542) contains the following: "As often as some infirmity
overtakes a man, let him who is ill receive the body and blood of
Christ; let him humbly and in faith ask the presbyters for blessed oil,
to anoint his body, so that what was written may be fulfilled in him:
‘Is anyone among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters, and let
them pray over him, anointing him with oil; and the prayer of faith
will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he be in
sins, they will be forgiven him. . . . See to it, brethren, that
whoever is ill hasten to the church, both that he may receive health of
body and will merit to obtain the forgiveness of his sins" (Sermons
priests of Judaism had power to cleanse the body from leprosy—or
rather, not to cleanse it at all, but to declare a person as having
been cleansed. . . . Our priests have received the power not of
treating with the leprosy of the body, but with spiritual uncleanness;
not of declaring cleansed, but of actually cleansing. . . . Priests
accomplish this not only by teaching and admonishing, but also by the
help of prayer. Not only at the time of our regeneration [in baptism],
but even afterward, they have the authority to forgive sins: ‘Is there
anyone among you sick? Let him call in the priests of the church, and
let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall
raise him up, and if he has committed sins, he shall be forgiven’" (On
the Priesthood 3:6:190ff [A.D. 387]).
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004
----------------------------------------Catechism of the Catholic Church
However, the apostolic Church has its own rite for the sick, attested
to by St. James: "Isa any among you sick? Let him call for the elders
[presbyters] 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
sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins,
he will be forgiven." 123 Tradition has recognized in this rite one of
the seven sacraments. 124
A sacrament of the sick
The Church believes and confesses that among the seven sacraments there
is one especially intended to strengthen those who are being tried by
illness, the Anointing of the Sick:
sacred anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ our Lord as a
true and proper sacrament of the New Testament. It is alluded to indeed
by Mark, but is recommended to the faithful and promulgated by James
the apostle and brother of the Lord. 125
1512 From ancient times
in the liturgical traditions of both East and West, we have testimonies
to the practice of anointings 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. 126
Apostolic Constitution Sacram unctionem infirmorum, 127 following upon
the Second Vatican Council, 128 established that henceforth, in the
Roman Rite, the following be observed:
sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given to those who are seriously
ill by anointing them on the forehead and hands with duly blessed oil -
pressed from olives or from other plants - saying, only once: "Through
this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with
the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save
you and raise you up." 129
II. WHO RECEIVES AND WHO ADMINISTERS THIS SACRAMENT?
In case of grave illness . . .
The Anointing of the Sick "is not a sacrament for those only who are at
the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to
be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for
him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived." 130
If a sick person who received this anointing recovers his health, he
can in the case of another grave illness receive this sacrament again.
If during the same illness the person's condition becomes more serious,
the sacrament may be repeated. It is fitting to receive the Anointing
of the Sick just prior to a serious operation. The same holds for the
elderly whose frailty becomes more pronounced.
" . . . let him call for the presbyters of the Church"
Only priests (bishops and presbyters) are ministers of the Anointing of
the Sick. 131 It is the duty of pastors to instruct the faithful on the
benefits of this sacrament. The faithful should encourage the sick to
call for a priest to receive this sacrament. The sick should prepare
themselves to receive it with good dispositions, assisted by their
pastor and the whole ecclesial community, which is invited to surround
the sick in a special way through their prayers and fraternal attention.
III. HOW IS THIS SACRAMENT CELEBRATED?
Like all the sacraments the Anointing of the Sick is a liturgical and
communal celebration, 132 whether it takes place in the family home, a
hospital or church, for a single sick person or a whole group of sick
persons. It is very fitting to celebrate it within the Eucharist, the
memorial of the Lord's Passover. If circumstances suggest it, the
celebration of the sacrament can be preceded by the sacrament of
Penance and followed by the sacrament of the Eucharist. As the
sacrament of Christ's Passover the Eucharist should always be the last
sacrament of the earthly journey, the "viaticum" for "passing over" to
1518 Word and sacrament form an indivisible whole.
The Liturgy of the Word, preceded by an act of repentance, opens the
celebration. The words of Christ, the witness of the apostles, awaken
the faith of the sick person and of the community to ask the Lord for
the strength of his Spirit.
1519 The celebration of the
sacrament includes the following principal elements: the "priests of
the Church" 133 - in silence - lay hands on the sick; they pray over
them in the faith of the Church 134 - this is the epiclesis proper to
this sacrament; they then anoint them with oil blessed, if possible, by
These liturgical actions indicate what grace this sacrament confers upon the sick.
IV. THE EFFECTS OF THE CELEBRATION OF THIS SACRAMENT
A particular gift of the Holy Spirit. The first grace of this sacrament
is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties
that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old
age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and
faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one,
the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. 135
This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to
lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if
such is God's will. 136 Furthermore, "if he has committed sins, he will
be forgiven." 137
1521 Union with the passion of Christ. By the
grace of this sacrament the sick person receives the strength and the
gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ's Passion: in a certain
way he is consecrated to bear fruit by configuration to the Savior's
redemptive Passion. Suffering, a consequence of original sin, acquires
a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus.
An ecclesial grace. The sick who receive this sacrament, "by freely
uniting themselves to the passion and death of Christ," "contribute to
the good of the People of God." 138 By celebrating this sacrament the
Church, in the communion of saints, intercedes for the benefit of the
sick person, and he, for his part, though the grace of this sacrament,
contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all
men for whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to
God the Father.
1523 A preparation for the final journey. If the
sacrament of anointing of the sick is given to all who suffer from
serious illness and infirmity, even more rightly is it given to those
at the point of departing this life; so it is also called sacramentum
exeuntium (the sacrament of those departing). 139 The Anointing of the
Sick completes our conformity to the death and Resurrection of Christ,
just as Baptism began it. It completes the holy anointings that mark
the whole Christian life: that of Baptism which sealed the new life in
us, and that of Confirmation which strengthened us for the combat of
this life. This last anointing fortifies the end of our earthly life
like a solid rampart for the final struggles before entering the
Father's house. 140
1526 "Isa any among you
sick? Let him call for the presbyters 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 sick man, and the Lord will raise him up;
and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (Jas 5:14-15).
The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick has as its purpose the conferral
of a special grace on the Christian experiencing the difficulties
inherent in the condition of grave illness or old age.
proper time for receiving this holy anointing has certainly arrived
when the believer begins to be in danger of death because of illness or
1529 Each time a Christian falls seriously ill, he may
receive the Anointing of the Sick, and also when, after he has received
it, the illness worsens.
1530 Only priests (presbyters and
bishops) can give the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, using oil
blessed by the bishop, or if necessary by the celebrating presbyter
1531 The celebration of the Anointing of the Sick
consists essentially in the anointing of the forehead and hands of the
sick person (in the Roman Rite) or of other parts of the body (in the
Eastern rite), the anointing being accompanied by the liturgical prayer
of the celebrant asking for the special grace of this sacrament.
1532 The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects:
- the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church;
- the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age;
- the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Penance;
- the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul;
- the preparation for passing over to eternal life.
1 2 Cor 4:7; Col 3:3.
2 2 Cor 5:1.
3 Cf. Mk 2:1-12.
4 LG 11 § 2.
5 Cf. Mk 1:15; Lk 15:18.
6 OP 46: formula of absolution.
7 2 Cor 5:20.
8 Mt 5:24.
9 I Cor 6:11.
10 Gal 3:27.
11 I Jn 1:8.
12 Cf. Lk 11:4; Mt 6:12.
13 Eph 1:4; 5:27.
14 Cf. Council of Trent (1546): DS 1515.
15 Cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1545; LG 40.
16 Mk 1:15.
17 Cf. Acts 2:38.
18 LG 8 § 3.
19 Ps 51:17; cf. Jn 6:44; 12:32; I Jn 4:10.
20 Cf. Lk 22:61; Jn 21:15-17.
21 Rev 2:5, 16.
22 St. Ambrose, ep. 41, 12: PL 16, 1116.
23 Cf. Joel 2:12-13; Isa 1:16-17; Mt 6:1-6; 16-18.
24 Cf. Council Of Trent (1551) DS 1676-1678; 1705; Cf. Roman Catechism, II, V, 4.
25 Cf. Ezek 36:26-27.
26 Lam 5:21.
27 Cf. Jn 19:37; Zech 12:10.
28 St. Clement Of Rome, Ad Cor. 7, 4: PG 1, 224.
29 Cf. Jn 16:8-9.
30 Cf. Jn 15:26; Acts 2:36-38; John Paul II, DeV 27-48.
31 Cf. Tob 12:8; Mt 6:1-18.
32 I Pet 4:8; Cf. Jas 5:20.
33 Cf. Am 5:24; Isa 1:17.
34 Cf. Lk 9:23.
35 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1638.
36 Cf. SC 109-110; CIC, cann. 1249-1253; CCEO, Cann. 880-883.
37 Cf. Lk 15:11-24.
38 Cf. LG 11.
39 Cf. Mk 2:7.
40 Mk 2:5, 10; Lk 7:48.
41 Cf. Jn 20:21-23.
42 2 Cor 5:18.
43 2 Cor 5:20.
44 Cf. Lk 15; 19:9.
45 Mt 16:19; cf. Mt 18:18; 28:16-20.
46 LG 22 § 2.
47 Tertullian, De Paenit. 4, 2: PL 1,1343; cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1542.
48 OP 46: formula of absolution.
49 Roman Catechism II, V, 21; cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1673.
50 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1676.
51 Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1677.
52 Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1678; 1705.
53 Cf. Mt 5-7; Rom 12-15; I Cor 12-13; Gal 5; Eph 4-6; etc.
54 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1680 (ND 1626); cf. Ex 20:17; Mt 5:28.
55 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1680 (ND 1626); cf. St. Jerome, In Eccl. 10, 11: PL 23:1096.
56 Cf. CIC, Can. 989; Council of Trent (1551): DS 1683; DS 1708.
57 Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1647; 1661; CIC, can. 916; CCEO, can. 711.
58 Cf. CIC, can. 914.
59 Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1680; CIC, can. 988 § 2.
60 Cf. Lk 6:36.
61 St. Augustine, In Jo. ev. 12, 13: PL 35, 1491.
62 Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1712.
63 Rom 8:17; Rom 3:25; I Jn 2:1-2; cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1690.
64 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1691; cf. Phil 4:13; I Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17; Gal 6:14; Lk 3:8.
65 Cf. Jn 20:23; 2 Cor 5:18.
66 Cf. LG 26 § 3.
67 Cf. CIC cann. 844; 967-969; 972; CCEO, can. 722 §§ 3-4.
68 Cf. CIC, cann. 1331; 1354-1357; CCEO, can. 1431; 1434; 1420.
69 Cf. CIC, can. 976; CCEO, can. 725.
70 Cf. CIC, can. 486; CCEO, can. 735; PO 13.
71 Cf. PO 13.
72 Cf. CIC, can. 1388 § 1; CCEO, can. 1456.
73 Roman Catechism, II, V, 18.
74 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1674.
75 Cf. Lk 15:32.
76 Cf. I Cor 12:26.
77 Cf. LG 48-50.
78 John Paul II, RP 31, 5.
79 Cf. I Cor 5:11; Gal 5:19-21; Rev 22:15.
80 Jn 5:24.
81 Paul VI, apostolic constitution, Indulgentiarum doctrina, Norm 1.
82 Indulgentiarum doctrina, Norm 2; Cf. Norm 3.
83 CIC, can. 994.
84 Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1712-1713; (1563): 1820.
85 Eph 4:22, 24.
86 Indulgentiarum doctrina, 5.
87 Indulgentiarum doctrina, 5.
88 Indulgentiarum doctrina, 5.
89 Indulgentiarum doctrina, 5.
90 Cf. Indulgentiarum doctrina, 5.
91 Cf. SC 26-27.
92 Cf. CIC, can. 962 § 1.
93 Cf. CIC, can. 961 § 2.
94 Cf. CIC, can. 961 § 1.
95 OP 31.
96 Mk 2:5.
97 Cf. Mk 2:17.
98 LG 11; cf. Jas 5:14-16; Rom 8:17; Col 1:24; 2 Tim 2:11-12; I Pet 4:13.
99 Cf. Ps 6:3; 38; Isa 38.
100 Cf. Ps 32:5; 38:5; 39:9, 12; 107:20; cf. Mk 2:5-12.
101 Ex 15:26.
102 Cf. Isa 53:11.
103 Cf. Isa 33:24.
104 Lk 7:16; cf. Mt 4:24.
105 Cf. Mk 2:5-12.
106 Cf. Mk 2:17.
107 Mt 25:36.
108 Cf. Mk 5:34, 36; 9:23.
109 Cf. Mk 7:32-36; 8:22-25.
110 Cf. Jn 9:6-7.
111 Lk 6:19; cf. Mk 1:41; 3:10; 6:56.
112 Mt 8:17; cf. Isa 53:4.
113 Jn 1:29; cf. Isa 53:4-6.
114 Cf. Mt 10:38.
115 Mk 6:12-13.
116 Mk 16:17-18.
117 Cf. Acts 9:34; 14:3.
118 Cf. Mt 1:21; Acts 4:12.
119 Cf. I Cor 12:9, 28, 30.
120 2 Cor 12:9; Col 1:24.
121 Mt 10:8.
122 Cf. Jn 6:54, 58; I Cor 11:30.
123 Jas 5:14-15.
Cf. Council of Constantinople II (553) DS 216; Council Of Florence
(1439) 1324- 1325; Council Of Trent (1551) 1695-1696; 1716-1717.
125 Council Of Trent (1551): DS 1695; cf. Mk 6:13; Jas 5:14-15.
126 Cf. Council Of Trent (1551) DS 1696.
127 Paul VI, apostolic constitution, Sacram unctionem infirmorum, November 30, 1972.
128 Cf. SC 73.
129 Cf. CIC, Can. 847 § 1.
130 SC 73; cf. CIC, Cann. 1004 § 1; 1005; 1007; CCEO, Can. 738.
131 Cf. Council Of Trent (1551): DS 1697; 1719; CIC, Can. 1003; CCEO, Can. 739 § 1.
132 Cf. SC 27.
133 Jas 5:14.
134 Cf. Jas 5:15.
135 Cf. Heb 2:15.
136 Cf. Council of Florence (1439): DS 1325.
137 Jas 5:15; cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1717.
138 LG 11 § 2.
139 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1698.
140 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1694.
141 Jn 6:54.
142 Cf. Jn 13:1.
123 Jas 5:14-15.
Cf. Council of Constantinople II (553) DS 216; Council Of Florence
(1439) 1324- 1325; Council Of Trent (1551) 1695-1696; 1716-1717.
125 Council Of Trent (1551): DS 1695; cf. Mk 6:13; Jas 5:14-15.
126 Cf. Council Of Trent (1551) DS 1696.
127 Paul VI, apostolic constitution, Sacram unctionem infirmorum, November 30, 1972.
128 Cf. SC 73.
129 Cf. CIC, Can. 847 § 1.
130 SC 73; cf. CIC, Cann. 1004 § 1; 1005; 1007; CCEO, Can. 738.
131 Cf. Council Of Trent (1551): DS 1697; 1719; CIC, Can. 1003; CCEO, Can. 739 § 1.
132 Cf. SC 27.
133 Jas 5:14.
134 Cf. Jas 5:15.
135 Cf. Heb 2:15.
136 Cf. Council of Florence (1439): DS 1325.
137 Jas 5:15; cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1717.
138 LG 11 § 2.
139 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1698.
140 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1694.
--------------------------------------------------The Sacrament of the Anointing in the (first) Catholic Encyclopedia.
have been many more recent theological expositions of the Sacrament
since then. The details of the rite in use at that time are outdated,
but the discussion of the sacrament's matter and form, along with
extensive citations from Scripture and Tradition in support of the
Sacrament, are outstanding.Extreme Unction (Catholic Encyclopedia)
sacrament of the New Law instituted by Christ to give spiritual aid and
comfort and perfect spiritual health, including, if need be, the
remission of sins, and also, conditionally, to restore bodily health,
to Christians who are seriously ill; it consists essentially in the
unction by a priest of the body of the sick person, accompanied by a
suitable form of words. The several points embodied in this descriptive
definition will be more fully explained in the following sections into
which this article is divided: I. Actual Rite of Administration; II.
Name; III. Sacramental Efficacy of the Rite; IV. Matter and Form; V.
Minister; VI. Subject; VII. Effects; VIII. Necessity; IX. Repetition;
X. Reviviscence of the Sacrament.
Actual rite of administration
administered in the Western Church today according to the rite of the
Roman Ritual, the sacrament consists (apart from certain non-essential
prayers) in the unction with oil, specially blessed by the bishop, of
the organs of the five external senses (eyes, ears, nostrils, lips,
hands), of the feet, and, for men (where the custom exists and the
condition of the patient permits of his being moved), of the loins or
reins; and in the following form repeated at each unction with mention
of the corresponding sense or faculty: "Through this holy unction and
His own most tender mercy may the Lord pardon thee whatever sins or
faults thou hast committed [quidquid deliquisti] by sight [by hearing,
smell, taste, touch, walking, carnal delectation]". The unction of the
loins is generally, if not universally, omitted in English-speaking
countries, and it is of course everywhere forbidden in case of women.
To perform this rite fully takes an appreciable time, but in cases of
urgent necessity, when death is likely to occur before it can be
completed, it is sufficient to employ a single unction (on the
forehead, for instance) with the generalform: "Through this holy
unction may the Lord pardon thee whatever sins or faults thou hast
committed." By the decree of 25 April, 1906, the Holy Office has
expressly approved of this form for cases of urgent necessity.
the Eastern Orthodox (schismatical) Church this sacrament is normally
administered by a number of priests (seven, five, three; but in case of
necessity even one is enough); and it is the priests themselves who
bless the oil on each occasion before use. The parts usually anointed
are the forehead, chin, cheeks, hands, nostrils, and breast, and the
form used is the following: "Holy Father, physician of souls and of
bodies, Who didst send Thy Only-Begotten Son as the healer of every
disease and our deliverer from death, heal also Thy servant N. from the
bodily infirmity that holds him, and make him live through thegrace of
Christ, by the intercessions of [certain saints who are named], and of
all the saints." (Goar, Euchologion, p. 417.) Each of the priests who
are present repeats the whole rite.
The name Extreme
Unction did not become technical in the West till towards the end of
the twelfth century, and has never become current in the East. Some
theologians would explain its origin on the ground that this unction
was regarded as the last in order of the sacramental or
quasi-sacramental unctions, being preceded by those of baptism,
confirmation, and Holy orders; but, having regard to the conditions
prevailing at the time when the name was introduced (see below, VI), it
is much more probable that it was intended originally to mean "the
unction of those in extremis", i.e. of the dying, especially as the
corresponding name, sacramentum exeuntium, came into common use during
the same period.
In previous ages the sacrament was known by a
variety of names, e.g., the holy oil, or unction, of the sick; the
unction or blessing of consecrated oil; the unction of God; the office
of the unction; etc. In the Eastern Church the later technical name is
euchelaion (i.e. prayer-oil); but other names have been and still are
in use, e.g. elaion hagion (holy), or hegismenon (consecrated), elaion,
elaiou Chrisis, chrisma, etc.
Sacramental efficacy of the rite
Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, cap. i, De Extr. Unct.) teaches that "this
sacred unction of the sick was instituted by Christ Our Lord as a
sacrament of the New Testament, truly and properly so called, being
insinuated indeed in Mark [6:13] but commended to the faithful and
promulgated" by James [Ep., v, 14, 15]; and the corresponding canon
(can. i, De Extr. Unct.) anathematizes anyone who would say "that
extreme unction is not truly and properly a sacrament instituted by
Christ Our Lord, and promulgated by the blessed Apostle James, but
merely a rite received from the fathers, or a human invention". Already
at the Council of Florence, in the Instruction of Eugene IV for the
Armenians (Bull "Exultate Deo", 22 Nov., 1439), extreme unction is
named as the fifth of the Seven Sacraments, and its matter and form,
subject, minister, and effects described (Denzinger, "Enchiridion",
10th ed., Freiburg, 1908, no. 700--old no. 595). Again, it was one of
the three sacraments (the others being confirmation and matrimony)
which Wycliffites and Hussites were under suspicion of contemning, and
about which they were to be specially interrogated at the Council of
Constance by order of Martin V (Bull "Inter cunctas", 22 Feb.,
1418.--Denzinger, op. cit., no. 669--old no. 563). Going back farther
we find extreme unction enumerated among the sacraments in the
profession of faith subscribed for the Greeks by Michael Palæologus at
the Council of Lyons in 1274 (Denzinger, no. 465--old no. 388), and in
the still earlier profession prescribed for converted Waldenses by
Innocent III in 1208 (Denzinger, no. 424--old no. 370). Thus, long
before Trent--in fact from the time when the definition of a sacrament
in the strict sense had been elaborated by the early Scholastics--
extreme unction had been recognized and authoritatively proclaimed as a
sacrament; but in Trent for the first time its institution by Christ
Himself was defined. Among the older Schoolmen there had been a
difference of opinion on this point, some--as Hugh of St. Victor (De
Sacram., Bk. II, pt. XV, c. ii), Peter Lombard (Sent., IV, dist.
xxiii), St. Bonaventure (Comm. in Sent., loc. cit., art. i, Q. ii), and
others--holding against the more common view that this sacrament had
been instituted by the Apostles after the Descent of the Holy Ghost and
under His inspiration. But since Trent it must be held as a doctrine of
Catholic faith that Christ is at least the mediate author of extreme
unction, i.e., that it is by His proper authority as God-Man that the
prayer-unction has become an efficacious sign of grace; and theologians
almost unanimously maintain that we must hold it to be at least certain
that Christ was in some sense the immediate author of this sacrament,
i.e., that He Himself while on earth commissioned the Apostles to
employ some such sign for conferring special graces, without, however,
necessarily specifying the matter and form to be used. In other words,
immediate institution by Christ is compatible with a mere generic
determination by Him of the physical elements of the sacrament.
teaching of the Council of Trent is directed chiefly against the
Reformers of the sixteenth century. Luther denied the sacramentality of
extreme unction and classed it among rites that are of human or
ecclesiastical institution (De Captivit. Babylonicâ, cap. de extr.
unct.). Calvin had nothing but contempt and ridicule for this
sacrament, which he described as a piece of "histrionic hypocrisy"
(Instit., IV, xix, 18). He did not deny that the Jacobean rite may have
been a sacrament in the Early Church, but held that it was a mere
temporary institution which had lost all its efficacy since the
charisma of healing had ceased (Comm. in Ep. Jacobi, v, 14, 15). The
same position is taken up in the confessions of the Lutheran and
Calvinistic bodies. In the first edition (1551) of the Edwardine Prayer
Book for the reformed Anglican Church the rite of unction for the sick,
with prayers that are clearly Catholic in tone, was retained; but in
the second edition (1552) this rite was omitted, and the general
teaching on the sacraments shows clearly enough the intention of
denying that extreme unction is a sacrament. The same is to be said of
the other Protestant bodies, and down to our day the denial of the
Tridentine doctrine on extreme unction has been one of the facts that
go to make up the negative unanimity of Protestantism. At the present
time, however, there has been a revival more or less among Anglicans of
Catholic teaching and practice. "Some of our clergy", writes Mr. Puller
(Anointing of the Sick in Scripture and Tradition, London, 1904),
"seeing the plain injunction about Unction in the pages of the New
Testament, jump hastily to the conclusion that the Roman teaching and
practice in regard to Unction is right, and seek to revive the use of
Unction as a channel of sanctifying grace, believing that grace is
imparted sacramentally through the oil as a preparation for death" (p.
307). Mr. Puller himself is not prepared to go so far, though he pleads
for the revival of the Jacobean unction, which he regards as a mere
sacramental instituted for the supernatural healing of bodily sickness
only. His more advanced friends can appeal to the authority of one of
their classical writers, Bishop Forbes of Brechin, who admits
(Exposition of the XXXIX Articles, vol. II, p. 463) that "unction of
the sick is the Lost Pleiad of the Anglican firmament. . .There has
been practically lost an apostolic practice, whereby, in case of
grievous sickness, the faithful were anointed and prayed over, for the
forgiveness of their sins, and to restore them, if God so willed, or to
give them spiritual support in their maladies".
Previous to the
Reformation there appears to have been no definite heresy relating to
this sacrament in particular. The Albigenses are said to have rejected
it, the meaning probably being that its rejection, like that of other
sacraments, was logically implied in their principles. The abuses
connected with its administration which prevailed in the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries and which tended to make it accessible only to
therich, gave the Waldenses a pretext for denouncing it as the ultima
superbia (cf. Preger, Beiträge zur Gesch. der Waldenser im M.A., pp. 66
sqq.). That the Wycliffites and Hussites were suspected of contemning
extreme unction is clear from the interrogatory already referred to,
but the present writer has failed to discover any evidence of its
specific rejection by these heretics.
Proof of Catholic doctrine from Holy Scripture
this connection there are only two texts to be discussed--Mark 6:13,
and James 5:14-15--and the first of these may be disposed of briefly.
Some ancient writers (Victor of Antioch, Theophylactus, Euthymius, St.
Bede, and others) and not a few Scholastics saw a reference to this
sacrament in this text of St. Mark, and some of them took it to be a
record of its institution by Christ or at least a proof of His promise
or intention to institute it. Some post-Tridentine theologians also
(Maldonatus, de Sainte-Beuve, Berti, Mariana, and among recent writers,
but in a modified form, Schell) have maintained that the unction here
mentioned was sacramental. But the great majority of theologians and
commentators have denied the sacramentality of this unction on the
grounds: (1) that there is mention only of bodily healing as its effect
(cf. Matthew 10:1; Luke 9:1-2); (2) that many of those anointed had
probably not received Christian baptism; (3) that the Apostles had not
yet been ordained priests; and (4) that penance, of which extreme
unction is the complement, had not yet been instituted as a sacrament.
Hence the guarded statement of the Council of Trent that extreme
unction as a sacrament is merely "insinuated" in St. Mark, i.e. hinted
at or prefigured in the miraculous unction which the Apostles employed,
just as Christian baptism had been prefigured by the baptism of John.
text of St. James reads: "Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in
the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him
with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save
[sosei] the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up [egerei]: and if
he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him." It is not seriously
disputed that there is question here of those who are physically ill,
and of them alone; and that the sickness is supposed to be grave is
conveyed by the word kamnonta and by the injunction to have the priests
called in; presumably the sick person cannot go to them. That by "the
priests of the church" are meant the hierarchical clergy, and not
merely elders in the sense of those of mature age, is also abundantly
clear. The expression tous presbyterous, even if used alone, would
naturally admit no other meaning, in accordance with the usage of the
Acts, Pastoral Epistles, and I Peter (v); but the addition of tes
ekklesias excludes the possibility of doubt (cf. Acts 20:17). The
priests are to pray over the sick man, anointing him with oil. Here we
have the physical elements necessary to constitute a sacrament in the
strict sense: oil as remote matter, like water in baptism; the
anointing as proximate matter, like immersion or infusion in baptism;
and the accompanying prayer as form. This rite will therefore be a true
sacrament if it has the sanction of Christ's authority, and is intended
by its own operation to confer grace on the sick person, to work for
his spiritual benefit. But the words "in the name of the Lord" here
mean "by the power and authority of Christ", which is the same as to
say that St. James clearly implies the Divine institution of the rite
he enjoins. To take these words as referring to a mere invocation of
Christ's name--which is the only alternative interpretation--would be
to see in them a needless and confusing repetition of the injunction
"let them pray over him". But is this rite recommended by St. James as
an operative sign of grace? It may be admitted that the words "the
prayer of faith shall save the sick man; and the Lord shall raise him
up", taken by themselves and apart from the context, might possibly be
applied to mere bodily healing; but the words that follow, "and if he
be insins, they shall be forgiven him", speak expressly of a spiritual
effect involving the bestowal of grace. This being so, and it being
further assumed that the remission of sins is given by St. James as an
effect of the prayer-unction, nothing is more reasonable than to hold
that St. James is thinking of spiritual as well as of bodily effects
when he speaks of the sick man being "saved" and "raised up".
cannot be denied that in accordance with New Testament usage the words
in question (especially the first) are capable of conveying this
twofold meaning, and it is much more natural in the present context to
suppose that they do convey it. A few verses further on the
predominating spiritual and eschatological connotation of "saving" in
St. James's mind emerges clearly in the expression, "shall save his
soul from death" (v, 20), and without necessarily excluding a reference
to deliverance from bodily death in verse 15, we are certainly
justified in including in that verse a reference to the saving of the
soul. Moreover, the Apostle could not, surely, have meant to teach or
imply that every sick Christian who was anointed would be cured of his
sickness and saved from bodily death; yet the unction is clearly
enjoined as a permanent institution in the Church for all the sick
faithful, and the saving and raising up are represented absolutely as
being the normal, if not infallible, effect of its use. We know from
experience (and the same has been known and noted in the Church from
the beginning) that restoration of bodily health does not as a matter
of fact normally result from the unction, though it does result with
sufficient frequency and without being counted miraculous to justify us
in regarding it as one of the Divinely (but conditionally) intended
effects of the rite. Are we to suppose, therefore, that St. James thus
solemnly recommends universal recourse to a rite which, after all, will
be efficacious for the purpose intended only by way of a comparatively
rare exception? Yet this is what would follow if it be held that there
is reference exclusively to bodily healing in the clauses which speak
of the sickman being saved and raised up, and if further it be denied
that the remission of sins spoken of in the following clause, and which
is undeniably a spiritual effect, is attributed to the unction by St.
James. This is the position taken by Mr. Puller; but, apart from the
arbitrary and violent breaking up of the Jacobean text which it
postulates, such a view utterly fails to furnish an adequate rationale
for the universal and permanent character or the Apostolic
prescription. Mr. Puller vainly seeks an analogy (op. cit., pp. 289
sqq.) in the absolute and universal expressions in which Christ assures
us that our prayers will be heard. We admit that our rightly disposed
prayers are always and infallibly efficacious for our ultimate
spiritual good, but not by any means necessarily so for the specific
temporal objects or even the proximate spiritual ends which we
ourselves intend. Christ's promises regarding the efficacy of prayer
are fully justified on this ground; but would they be justified if we
were compelled to verify them by reference merely to the particular
temporal boons we ask for? Yet this is how, on his own hypothesis, Mr.
Puller is obliged to justify St. James assurance that the
prayer-unction shall be efficacious. But in the Catholic view, which
considers the temporal boon of bodily healing as being only a
conditional and subordinate end of the unction, while its
paramountspiritual purpose--to confer on the sick and dying graces
which they specially need--may be, and is normally, obtained, not only
is an adequate rationale of the Jacobean injunction provided, but a
true instead of a false analogy with the efficacy of prayer is
But in defense of his thesis Mr. Puller is further
obliged to maintain that all reference to the effects of the unction
ceases with the words, "the Lord shall raise him up", and that in the
clause immediately following, "and if he be in sins, they shall be
forgiven him", St. James passes on to a totally different subject,
namely, the Sacrament of Penance. But unless we agree to disregard the
rules of grammar and the logical sequence of thought, it is impossible
to allow this separation of the clauses and this sudden transition in
the third clause to a new and altogether unexpected subject-matter. All
three clauses are connected in the very same way with the unction, "and
the prayer of faith. . .and the Lord. . .and if he be in sins. . .", so
that the remission of sins is just as clearly stated to be an effect of
the unction as the saving and raising up. Had St. James meant to speak
of the effect of priestly absolution in the third clause he could not
have written in such a way as inevitably to mislead the reader into
believing that he was still dealing with an effect of the priestly
unction. In the nature of things there is no reason why unction as well
as absolution by a priest might not be Divinely ordained for the
sacramental remission of sin, and that it was so ordained is what every
reader naturally concludes from St. James. Nor is there anything in the
context to suggest a reference to the Sacrament of Penance in this
third clause. The admonition in the following verse (16), "Confess,
therefore, your sins one to another", may refer to a mere liturgical
confession like that expressed in the "Confiteor"; but even if we take
the reference to be to sacramental confession and admit the genuineness
of the connecting "therefore" (its genuineness is not beyond doubt),
there is no compelling reason for connecting this admonition closely
with the clause which immediately precedes. The "therefore" may very
well be taken as referring vaguely to the whole precedingEpistle and
introducing a sort of epilogue.
Mr. Puller is the latest and
most elaborate attempt to evade the plain meaning of the Jacobean text
that we have met with; hence our reason for dealing with is so fully.
It would be an endless task to notice the many other similarly
arbitrary devices of interpretation to which Protestant theologians and
commentators have recurred in attempting to justify their denial of the
Tridentine teaching so clearly supported by St. James (see examples in
Kern, "De Sacramento Extremæ Unctionis", Ratisbon, 1907, pp. 60 sq.).
It is enough to remark that the number of mutually contradictory
interpretations they haveoffered is a strong confirmation of the
Catholic interpretation, which is indeed the only plain and natural
one, but which they are bound to reject at the outset. In contrast with
their disregard of St. James's injunction and their hopeless
disagreement as to what the Apostle really meant, we have the practice
of the whole Christian world down to the time of the Reformation in
maintaining the use of the Jacobean rite, and the agreement of East and
West in holding this rite to be a sacrament in the strict sense, an
agreement which became explicit and formal as soon as the definition of
a sacrament in the strict sense was formulated, but which was already
implicitly and informally contained in the common practice and belief
of preceding ages. We proceed, therefore, to study the witness of
Proof from Tradition
(1) State of the Argument
to the comparative paucity of extant testimonies from the early
centuries relating to this sacrament, Catholic theologians habitually
recur to the general argument from prescription, which in this case may
be stated briefly thus: The uninterrupted use of the Jacobean rite and
its recognition as a sacrament in the Eastern and Western Churches,
notwithstanding their separation since 869, proves that both must have
been in possession of a common tradition on the subject prior to the
schism. Further, the fact that the Nestorian and Monophysite bodies,
who separated from the Church in the fifth century, retained the use of
the unction of the sick, carries back the undivided tradition to the
beginning of that century, while no evidence from that or any earlier
period can be adduced to weaken the legitimate presumption that the
tradition is Apostolic, having its origin in St. James's injunction.
Both of these broad facts will be established by the evidence to be
given below, while the presumption referred to will be confirmed by the
witness of the first four centuries.
As to the actual paucity of
early testimonies, various explanations have been offered. It is not
sufficient to appeal with Binterim (Die Vorzüglichsten Denkwürdigkeiten
der christkathol. Kirche, vol. VI, pt. III, p. 241) to the Discipline
of the Secret, which, so far as it existed, applied equally to other
sacraments, yet did not prevent frequent reference to them by writers
and preachers of those ages. Nor is Launoi's contention (Opera, vol. I,
pt. I, pp. 544 sq.) well founded, that recourse to thissacrament was
much rarer in early ages than later. It is more to the point in the
first place to recall the loss, except for a few fragments, of several
earlycommentaries on St. James's Epistle (by Clement of Alexandria,
Didymus, St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and others) in which
chiefly we should look for reference to the unction. The earliest
accurately preserved commentary is that of St. Bede (d. 735), who, as
we shall see, is a witness for this sacrament, as is also Victor of
Antioch (fifth century), the earliest commentator on St. Mark. Second,
it is clear, at the period when testimonies become abundant, that the
unction was allied to penance as a supplementary sacrament, and as such
was administered regularly before the Viaticum. We may presume that
this order of administration had come down from remote antiquity, and
this close connection with penance, about which, as privately
administered to the sick, the Fathers rarely speak, helps to explain
their silence on extreme unction. Third, it should be remembered that
there was no systematic sacramental theology before the Scholastic
period, and, in the absence of the interests of system, the interests
of public instruction would call far less frequently for the treatment
of thissacrament and of the other offices privately administered to the
sick than would subjects of such practical public concern as the
preparation of catechumens and the administration and reception of
those sacraments which were solemnly conferred in the church. If these,
and similar considerations which might be added, are duly weighed, it
will be seen that the comparative fewness of early testimonies is not
after all so strange. It should be observed, moreover, thatcharismatic
and other unctions of the sick, even with consecrated oil, distinct
from the Jacobean unction, were practiced in the early ages, and that
the vagueness of not a few testimonies which speak of the anointing of
the sick makes it doubtful whether the reference is to the Apostolic
rite or to some of these other usages.
It should finally be
premised that in stating the argument from tradition a larger place
must be allowed for the principle of development than theologians of
the past were in the habit of allowing. Protestant controversialists
were wont virtually to demand that the early centuries should speak in
the language of Trent--even Mr. Puller is considerably under the
influence of this standpoint--and Catholic theologians have been prone
to accommodate their defense to the terms of their adversaries' demand.
Hence they have undertaken in many cases toprove much more than they
were strictly bound to prove, as for instance that extreme unction was
clearly recognized as a sacrament in the strict sense long before the
definition of a sacrament in this sense was drawn up. It is a perfectly
valid defense of the Tridentine doctrine on extreme unction to show
that St. James permanently prescribed the rite of unction in terms that
imply its strictly sacramental efficacy; that the Church for several
centuries simply went on practicing the rite and believing in its
efficacy as taught by the Apostle, without feeling the need of a more
definitely formulated doctrine than is expressed in the text of his
Epistle; and that finally, when this need had arisen, the Church, in
the exercise of her infallible authority, did define for all time the
true meaning and proper efficacy of the Jacobean prayer-unction. It is
well to keep this principle in mind in discussing the witness of the
early ages, though as a matter of fact the evidence, as will be seen,
proves more than we are under any obligation to prove.
(2) The Evidence
Ante-Nicene Period.--The earliest extant witness is Origen (d. 254),
who, in enumerating the several ways of obtaining remission of sins,
comes (seventhly) to "the hard and laborious" way of (public) penance,
which involves the confession of one's sins to the priest and the
acceptance at his hands of "the salutary medicine". And having quoted
the Psalmist in support of confession, Origen adds: "And in this [in
quo] is fulfilled also what St. James the Apostle says: if any one is
sick, let him call in the priests of the Church, and let them lay hands
on him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer
of faith shall save the sick man, and if he be in sins they shall be
remitted to him" (Hom. ii, in Levit., in P.G., XII, 419). We might be
content to quote this as a proof merely of the fact that the injunction
of St. James was well known and observed in Origen's time, and that the
rite itself was commonly spoken of at Alexandria as "a laying on of
hands". But when it is urged that he here attributes the remission of
sins of which the Apostle, speaks not to the rite of unction but to the
Sacrament of Penance, it is worth while inquiring into the reasons
alleged for this interpretation of the passage. Some would have it that
Origen is allegorizing, and that he takes the sick man in St. James to
mean the spiritually sick or the sinner, thus changing the Apostolic
injunction to the following: If anyone be in sins, let him call in the
priest. . .and if he be in sins, they shall be remitted to him. But we
cannot suppose the great Alexandrian capable of such illogicalness on
his own account, or capable of attributing it to the Apostle. According
to Mr. Puller (op. cit., pp. 42 sqq.), Origen, while quoting the whole
text of St. James, means in reality to refer only to the fulfillment of
the concluding words, "and if he be in sins", etc. But if that be so,
why quote the preceding part at all, which, in Mr. Puller's, and ex
hypothesi in Origen's, view, has nothing to do with the subject and can
only lead to confusion; and why, above all, omit the words of St. James
immediately following, "Confess your sins one to another", which would
have been very much to the point and could not have caused any
confusion? The truth is that the relation of the Jacobean rite to
penance is very obscurely stated by Origen; but, whatever may have been
his views of that relation, he evidently means to speak of the whole
rite, unction and all, and to assert that it is performed as a means of
remitting sin for the sick. If it be held on the obscurity of the
connection that he absolutely identifies the Jacobean rite with
penance, the only logical conclusion would be that he considered the
unction to be a necessary part of penance for the sick. But it is much
more reasonable and more in keeping with what we know of the
penitential discipline of the period--Christian sinners were admitted
to canonical penance only once--to suppose that Origen looked upon the
rite of unction as a supplement to penance, intended for the sick or
dying who either had never undergone canonical penance, or after
penance might have contracted new sins, or who, owing to their "hard
and laborious" course of satisfaction being cut short by sickness,
might be considered to need just such a complement to absolution, this
complement itself being independently efficacious to remit sins or
complete their remission by removal of their effects. This would fairly
account for the confused grouping together of both ways of remission in
the text, and it is a Catholic interpretation in keeping with the
conditions of that age and with later and clearer teaching. It is
interesting to observe that John Cassian, writing nearly two centuries
later, and probably with this very text of Origen before him, gives
similar enumeration of means for obtaining remission of sins, and in
this enumeration the Jacobean rite is given an independent place
(Collat., XX, in P.L., XLIX, 1161).
Tertullian, in upbraiding heretics for neglecting the distinction
between clergy and laity and allowing even women "to teach, to dispute,
to perform exorcisms, to undertake cures [curationes repromittere],
perhaps even to baptize" (De Præscript., c. xli, in P.L., II, 262),
probably refers in the italicized clause to the use of the Jacobean
rite; for he did not consider charismatic healing, even with oil, to be
the proper or exclusive function of the clergy (see To Scapula 4). If
this be so, Tertullian is a witness to the general use of the rite and
to the belief that its administration was reserved to the priests.
Aphraates, "the Persian Sage", though he wrote (336-345) after Nicæa,
may be counted as an Ante-Nicene witness, since he lived outside the
limits of the empire and remained in ignorance of the Arian strife.
Writing of the various uses of holy oil, this Father says that it
contains the sign "of the sacrament of life by which Christians
[baptism], priests [in ordination], kings, and prophets are made
perfect; [it] illuminates darkness [in confirmation], anoints the sick,
and by its secret sacrament restores penitents" (Demonstratio xxiii, 3,
in Graffin, "Patrol. Syriaca", vol. I, p. lv). It is hardly possible to
question the allusion here to the Jacobean rite, which was therefore in
regular use in the remote Persian Church at the beginning of the fourth
century. Its mention side by side with other unctions that are not
sacramental in the strict sense is characteristic of the period, and
merely shows that the strict definition of a sacrament has not been
formulated. As being virtually Ante-Nicene we may give also the witness
of the collection of liturgical prayers known as the "Sacramentary of
Serapion". (Serapion was Bishop of Thmuis in the Nile Delta and the
friend of St. Athanasius.) The seventeenth prayer is a lengthy form for
consecrating the oil of the sick, in the course of which God is
besought to bestow upon the oil a supernatural efficacy "for good grace
and remission of sins, for a medicine of life and salvation, for health
and soundness of soul, body, spirit, for perfect strengthening". Here
we have not only the recognition in plain terms of spiritual effects
from the unction but the special mention of grace and the remission of
sins. Mr. Puller tries to explain away several of these expressions,
but he has no refuge from the force of the words "for good grace and
remission of sins" but to hold that they must be a later addition to
the original text.
(b) The Great Patristic Age: Fourth to
Seventh Century.-- References to extreme unction in this period are
much more abundant and prove beyond doubt the universal use of the
Jacobean unction in every part of the Church. Some testimonies,
moreover, refer specifically to one or more of the several ends and
effects of the sacrament, as the cure or alleviation of bodily sickness
and the remission of sins, while some may be said to anticipate pretty
clearly the definition of extreme unction as a sacrament in the strict
sense. As illustrating the universal use of the Jacobean unction, we
may cite in the first place St. Ephraem Syrus (d. 373), who in his
forty-sixth polemical sermon (Opera, Rome, 1740, vol. II, p. 541),
addressing the sick person to whom the priests minister, says: "They
pray over thee; one blows on thee; another seals thee." The "sealing"
here undoubtedly means "anointing with the sign of the cross", and the
reference to St. James is clear [see Bickell, Carmina Nisibena,
Leipzig, 1866, pp. 223, 4, note, and the other passage (seventy-third
carmen) there discussed]. Next we would call attention to thewitness of
an ancient Ordo compiled, it is believed, in Greek before the middle of
the fourth century, but which is preserved only in a fragmentary Latin
version made before the end of the fifth century and recently
discovered at Verona ("Didascaliæ Apostolorum" in "Fragmenta
Veronensia", ed. Hauler, Leipzig, 1900), and in an Ethiopic version.
This Ordo in both versions contains a form for consecrating the oil for
the Jacobean rite, the Latin praying for "the strengthening and
healing" of those who use it, and the Ethiopic for their "strengthening
and sanctification". Mr. Puller, who gives and discusses both versions
(op. cit., p. 104 sq.), is once more obliged to postulate a corruption
of the Ethiopic version because of the reference to sanctification. But
may not the "strengthening" spoken of as distinct from "healing" be
spiritual rather than corporal? Likewise the "Testamentum Domini",
compiled in Greek about the year 400 or earlier, and preserved in
Syriac (published by Rahmani), and in Ethiopic and Arabic versions
(still in manuscripts) contains a form for consecrating the oil of the
sick, in which, besides bodily healing, the sanctifying power of the
oil as applied to penitents is referred to (see "TheTestament of Our
Lord", tr. Cooper and Maclean, 1902, pp. 77, 78). From these instances
it appears that Serapion's Sacramentary was not without parallels
during this period.
In St. Augustine's "Speculum de Scripturâ"
(an. 427); in P.L., XXXIV, 887-1040), which is made up almost entirely
of Scriptural texts, without comment by the compiler, and is intended
as a handy manual of Christian piety, doctrinal and practical, the
injunction of St. James regarding the prayer-unction of the sick is
quoted. This shows that the rite was a commonplace in the Christian
practice of that age; and we are told by Possidius, in his "Life of
Augustine" (c. xxvii, in P.L., XXXII, 56), that the saint himself
"followed the rule laid down by the Apostle that he should visit only
orphans and widows in their tribulation (James 1:27), and that if he
happened to be asked by the sick to pray to the Lord for them and
impose hands on them, he did so without delay". We have seen Origen
refer to the Jacobean rite as an "imposition of hands", and this title
survived to a very late period in the Church of St. Ambrose, who was
himself an ardent student of Origen and from whom St. Augustine very
likely borrowed it (see Magistretti, "Manuale Ambrosianum ex Codice
sæc. XI", etc., 1905, vol. I, p. 79 sq., 94 sq., 147 sq., where three
different Ordines of the eleventh and thirteenth centuries have as
title for the office of extreme unction, impositio manuum super
infirmum). It is fair, then, to conclude from the biographer's
statement that, when called upon to do so, St. Augustine himself used
to administer the Jacobean unction to the sick. This would be exactly
on the lines laid down by Augustine's contemporary, Pope Innocent I
(see below). St. Ambrose himself, writing against the Novatians (De
Poenit., VIII, in P.L., XVI, 477), asks: "Why therefore do you lay on
hands and believe it to be an effect of the blessing [benedictionis
opus] if any of the sick happen to recover?. . .Why do you baptize, if
sins cannot be remitted by men?" The coupling of this laying-on of
hands with baptism and the use of both as arguments in favor of
penance, shows that there is question not of mere charismatic healing
by a simple blessing, but of a rite which, like baptism, was in regular
use among the Novatians, and which can only have been the unction of
St. James. St. Athanasius, in his encyclical letter of 341 (P.G., XXV,
234), complaining of the evils to religion caused by the intrusion of
the Arian Bishop Gregory, mentions among other abuses that many
catechumens were left to die without baptism and that many sick and
dying Christians had to choose the hard alternative of being deprived
of priestly ministrations--"which they considered a more terrible
calamity than the disease itself"--rather than allow "the hands of the
Arians to be laid on their heads". Here again we are justified in
seeing a reference to extreme unction as an ordinary Christian
practice, and a proof of the value which the faithful attached to the
rite. Cassiodorus (d. about 570) thus paraphrases the injunction of St.
James (Complexiones in Epp. Apostolorum, in P.L., LXX, 1380): "a priest
is to be called in, who by the prayer of faith [oratione fidei] and the
unction of the holy oil which he imparts will save him who is afflicted
[by a serious injury or by sickness]."
To these testimonies may
be added many instances of the use of extreme unction recorded in the
lives of the saints. See, e.g., the lives of St. Leobinus (d. about
550; Acta SS., 14 March, p. 348), St. Tresanus (ibid., 7 Feb., p. 55),
St. Eugene (Eoghan), Bishop of Ardsrath (modern Ardstraw, in the
Diocese of Derry; d. about 618; ibid., 23 Aug., p. 627). One instance
from the life of an Eastern saint, Hypatius (d. about 446), is worthy
of particular notice. While still a young monk and before his elevation
to the priesthood, he was appointed infirmarian in his monastery (in
Bithynia), and while occupying this office he showed a splendid example
of charity in his care of the sick, whom he sought out and brought to
the monastery. "But if the necessity arose", says his disciple and
biographer, "of anointing the sick person, he reported to the abbot,
who was a priest (en gar presbyteros), and had the unction with the
blessed oil performed by him. And it often happened that in a few days,
God co-operating with his efforts, he sent the man home restored to
health" (Acta SS., 17 June, p. 251). It appears from this testimony
that theJacobean unction was administered only to those who were
seriously ill, that only a priest could administer it, that consecrated
oil was used, that it was distinct from charismatic unction (which the
saint himself used to perform, while still a layman, using consecrated
oil), and finally that bodily healing did not always follow and was not
apparently expected to follow, and that when it did take place it was
not regarded as miraculous. It is, therefore, implied that other
effects besides bodily healing were believed to be produced by the
Jacobean unction, and these must be understood to be spiritual.
evidence of the use of the unction by the Nestorians we may refer to
the nineteenth canon of the synod held at Seleucia in 554 under the
presidency of the Patriarch Joseph, and which, speaking of those who
have been addicted to various diabolical and superstitious practices,
prescribes that any such person on being converted shall have applied
to him, "as to one who is corporally sick, the oil of prayer blessed by
the priests" (Chabot, Synodicon Orientale, 1902, p. 363). Here, besides
the legitimate use of the Jacobean unction, we have an early instance
of an abuse, which prevails in the modern Orthodox (schismatical)
church, of permitting the euchelaion to be administered, on certain
days of the year, to people who are in perfect health, as a complement
of penance and a preparation for Holy Communion [see below VI, (3)].
That the Monophysites also retained the Jacobean unction after their
separation from the Catholic Church (451) is clear from the fact that
their liturgies (Armenian, Syrian, and Coptic) contain the rite for
blessing the oil. There is reason to suppose that this portion of their
liturgies in its present form has been borrowed from, or modelled upon,
the Byzantine rite of a later period (see Brightman in "Journal of
Theological Studies", I, p. 261), but this borrowing supposes that they
already possessed the unction itself. It has nowadays fallen into
disuse among the Nestorians and Armenians, though not among the Copts.
testimonies might be quoted in which the Jacobean unction is
recommended specifically as a means of restoring bodily health, and the
faithful are urged to receive it instead of recurring, as they were
prone to do, to various superstitious remedies. This is the burden of
certain passages in Procopius of Gaza [c. 465-525; "In Levit.", xix,
31, in P.G., LXXXVII (1), 762 sq.], Isaac of Antioch (b. about 350;
Opp., ed. Bickell, Pt. I, pp. 187 sq.), St. Cyril of Alexandria (De
Adorat. in Spiritu et Veritate, VI, in P.G., LXVIII, 470 sq.), St.
Cæsarius of Arles (Serm. cclxxix, 5, "Append ad serm. Augustini" in
P.L., XXXIX, 2273), and John Mandakuni (Montagouni), Catholicos of the
Armenians from 480 to 487 (Schmid, Reden des Joannes Mandakuni, pp. 222
sq.). This particular effect of the prayer-unction is the one specially
emphasized in the form used to this day in the Orthodox Eastern Church
(see above, I).
Mention of the remission of sins as an effect of
the Jacobean rite is also fairly frequent. It is coupled with bodily
healing by St. Cæsarius in the passage just referred to: the sick
person will "receive both health of body and remission of sins, for the
Holy Ghost has given this promise through James". We have mentioned the
witness of John Cassian, and the witness of his master, St. Chrysostom,
may be given here. In his work "On the Priesthood" (III, vi, in P.G.,
XLVIII, 644) St. Chrysostom proves the dignity of the priesthood by
showing, among other arguments, that the priests by their spiritual
ministry do more for us than our own parents can do. Whereas our
parents only beget our bodies, which they cannot save from death and
disease, the priests regenerate our souls in baptism and have power,
moreover, to remit post-baptismal sins; a power which St. Chrysostom
proves by quoting the text of St. James. This passage, like that of
Origen discussed above, has given rise to no little controversy, and it
is claimed by Mr. Puller (op. cit., pp. 45 sqq.) as a proof that St.
Chrysostom, like Origen, understood St. James as he (Mr. Puller) does.
But if this were so it would still be true that only clinical penance
is referred to, for it is only of the sick that St. James can be
understood to speak; and the main point of Mr. Puller's argument, viz.,
that it is inconceivable that St. Chrysostom should pass over the
Sacrament of Penance in such a context, would have lost hardly any of
its force. We know very little, except by way of inference and
assumption, about the practice of clinical penance in that age; but we
are well acquainted with canonical penance as administered to those in
good health, and it is to this obviously we should expect the saint to
refer, if he were bound to speak of that sacrament at all. Mr. Puller
is probably aware how very difficult it would be to prove that St.
Chrysostom anywhere in his voluminous writings teaches clearly and
indisputably the necessity of confessing to a priest: in other words,
that he recognizes the Sacrament of Penance as Mr. Puller recognizes
it; and in view of this general obscurity on a point of fundamental
importance it is not at all so strange thatpenance should be passed
over here. We do not pretend to be able to enter into St. Chrysostom's
mind, but assuming that he recognized both penance and unction to be
efficacious for the remission of post-baptismal sins--and the text
before us plainly states this in regard to the unction--we may perhaps
find in the greater affinity of unction with baptism, and in the
particular points of contrast he is developing, a reason why unction
rather than penance is appealed to. Regeneration by water in baptism is
opposed to parental generation, and saving by oil from spiritual
disease and eternal death to the inability of parents to save their
children from bodily disease and death. St. Chrysostom might have added
several other points of contrast, but he confines himself in this
context to these two; and supposing, as one ought in allcandor to
suppose, that he understood the text of St. James as we do, in its
obvious and natural sense, it is evident that the prayer-unction, so
much more akin to baptism in the simplicity of its ritual character and
so naturally suggested by the mention of sickness and death, supplied a
much apter illustration of the priestly power of remitting
post-baptismal sins than the judicial process of penance. And a single
illustrative example was all that the context required.
of Antioch (fifth century) is one of the ancient witnesses who, in the
general terms they employ in speaking of the Jacobean unction,
anticipate more or less clearly the definition of a sacrament in the
strict sense. Commenting on St. Mark, vi, 13, Victor quotes the text of
St. James and adds: "Oil both cures pains and is a source of light and
refreshment. The oil, then, used in anointing signifies both the mercy
of God, and the cure of the disease, and the enlightening of the heart.
For it is manifest to all that the prayer effected all this; but the
oil, as I think, was the symbol of these things" (Cramer, Caten. Græc.
Patrum, I, p. 324). Here we have the distinction, so well known in
later theology, between the signification and causality of a sacrament;
only Victor attributes the signification entirely to the matter and the
causality to the form (the prayer). This was to be corrected in the
fully developed sacramental theory of later times, but the attribution
of sacramental effects to the form (the prayer, the word, etc.) is
characteristic of patristic suggestions of a theory. Victor clearly
attributes both spiritual and corporal effects to the prayer-unction;
nor can the fact that he uses the imperfect tense (energei, "effected";
hyperche, "was") be taken to imply that the use of the unction had
ceased at Antioch in his day. The use of the present tense in
describing the signification of the rite implies the contrary, and
independent evidence is clearly against the supposition. In the passage
from John Mandakuni, referred to above, the prayer-unction is
repeatedly described as "the gift of grace", "the grace of God",
Divinely instituted and prescribed, and which cannot be neglected and
despised without incurring "the curse of the Apostles"; language which
it is difficult to understand unless we suppose the Armenian patriarch
to have reckoned the unction among the most sacred of Christian rites,
or, in other words, regarded it as being what we describe as a
sacrament in the strict sense (cf. Kern, op. cit., pp. 46, 47).
remains to be noticed under this head the most celebrated of all
patristic testimonies on extreme unction, the well-known passage in the
Letter of Pope Innocent I (402-417), written in 416, to Decentius,
Bishop of Eugubium, in reply to certain questions submitted by the
latter for solution. In answer to the question as to who were entitle
to the unction, the pope, having quoted the text of St. James, says:
"There is no doubt that this text must be received or understood of the
sick faithful, who may be [lawfully] anointed with the holy oil of
chrism; which, having been blessed by the bishop, it is permitted not
only to priests but to all Christians to use for anointing in their own
need or that of their families." Then he diverges to point out the
superfluous character of a further doubt expressed by Decentius: "We
notice the superfluous addition of a doubt whether a bishop may do what
is undoubtedly permitted to priests. For priests are expressly
mentioned [by St. James] for the reason that bishops, hindered by other
occupations, cannot go to all the sick. But if the bishop is able to do
so or thinks anyone specially worthy of being visited, he, whose office
it is to consecrate the chrism, need not hesitate to bless and anoint
the sick person." Then, reverting to the original question, he explains
the qualification he had added in speaking of "the sick faithful": "For
this unction may not be given to penitents [i.e. to those undergoing
canonical penance], seeing that it is a sacrament (quia genus
sacramenti est]. For how is it imagined that one sacrament [unum genus]
may be given to those to whom the other sacraments are denied?" The
pope adds that he has answered all his correspondent's questions in
order that the latter's Church may be in a position to follow "the
Roman custom" (P.L., XX, 559 sq., Denzinger, no. 99--old no. 61). We do
not, of course, suggest that Pope Innocent had before his mind the
definition of a sacrament in the strict sense when he calls the
Jacobean unction a sacrament, but since "the other sacraments" from
which penitents were excluded were the Holy Eucharist and certain
sacred offices, we are justified in maintaining that this association
of the unction with the Eucharist most naturally suggests an implicit
faith on the part of Pope Innocent in what has been explicitly taught
by Scholastic theologians and defined by the Council of Trent. It is
interesting to observe that Mr. Puller, in discussing this text (op.
cit., pp 53 sqq.), omits all reference to the Holy Eucharist, though it
is by far the most obvious and important of "the other sacraments" of
which Innocent is speaking, and diverts his reader's attention to the
eulogia, or blessed bread (pain bénit), a sacramental which was in use
in many churches at that time and in later ages, but to which there is
not the least reason for believing that the pope meant specially to
refer. In any case the reference is certainly not exclusive, as Mr.
Puller leaves his reader to infer. What Pope Innocent, following the
"Roman custom", explicitly teaches is that the "sacrament" enjoined by
St. James was to be administered to the sick faithful who were not
doing canonical penance; that priests, and a fortiori bishops, can
administer it; but that the oil must be blessed by the bishop. The
exclusion of sick penitents from this "sacrament" must be understood,
of course, as being subject to the same exception as their exclusion
from "the othersacraments", and the latter are directed to be given
before the annual Easter reconciliation when danger of death is
imminent: "Quando usque ad desperandum venerit, ante tempus paschæ
relaxandum [est] ne de sæculo [ægrotus] absque communione discedat." If
the words of Innocent--and the same observation applies to other
ancient testimonies, e.g. to that of Cæsarius of Arles referred to
above--seem to imply that the laity were permitted to anoint themselves
or members of their household with the oil consecrated by the bishop,
yet it is clear enough from the text of St. James and from the way in
which Pope Innocent explains the mention of priests in the text, that
this could not have been considered by him to be identical with the
Jacobean rite, but to be at most a pious use of the oil allowable for
devotional, and possibly for charismatic, purposes. But it would not be
impossible nor altogether unreasonable to understand the language used
by Innocent and others in a causative sense, i.e. as meaning not that
the laity were permitted to anoint themselves, but that they were to
have the blessed oil at hand to secure their being anointed by the
priests according to the prescription of St. James. We believe,
however, that this is a forced and unnatural way of understanding such
testimonies, all the more so as there is demonstrative evidence of
thedevotional and charismatic use of sacred oil by the laity during the
It is worth adding, as a conclusion to our
survey of this period, that Innocent's reply to Decentius was
incorporated in various early collections of canon law, some of which,
as for instance that of Dionysius Exiguus (P.L., LXVII, 240), were made
towards the end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century. In
this way Innocent's teaching became known and was received as law in
most parts of the Western Church.
(c) The Seventh Century and
Later.--One of the most important witnesses for this period is St. Bede
(d. 735), who, in his commentary on the Epistle of St. James, tells us
(P.L., XCIII, 39) that, as in Apostolic times, so "now the custom of
the Church is that the sick should be anointed by the priests with
consecrated oil and through the accompanying prayer restored to
health". He adds that, according to Pope Innocent, even the laity may
use the oil provided it has been consecrated by the bishop; and
commenting on the clause, "if he be in sins they shall be remitted to
him", after quoting 1 Corinthians 11:30, to prove that "many because of
sins committed in the soul are stricken with bodily sickness or death",
he goes on to speak of the necessity of confession: "If, therefore, the
sick be in sins and shall have confessed these to the priests of the
Church and shall have sincerely undertaken to relinquish and amend
them, they shall be remitted to them. For sins cannot be remitted
without the confession of amendment. Hence the injunction is rightly
added [by James], 'Confess, therefore, your sins one to another.'" St.
Bede thus appears to connect the remission of sins in St. James's text
with penance rather than the unction, and is therefore claimed by Mr.
Puller as supporting his own interpretation of the text. But it should
be observed that in asserting thenecessity of confessing post-baptismal
sins, a necessity recognized in Catholic teaching, Bede does not deny
that the unction also may be efficacious in remitting them, or at least
in completing their remission, or in remitting the lighter daily sins
which need not be confessed. The bodily sickness which the unction is
intended to heal is regarded by St. Bede as being, often at any rate,
the effect of sin; and it is interesting to notice that Amalarius of
Metz, writing a century later (De Eccles. Offic., I, xii, in P.L., CV,
1011 sq.), with this passage of Bede before him, expressly attributes
to the unction not only the healing of sickness due to the unworthy
reception of the Eucharist, but the remission of daily sins: "What
saves the sick is manifestly the prayer of faith, of which the sign is
the unction of oil. If those whom the unction of oil, i.e. the grace of
God through the prayer of the priest, assists are sick for the reason
that they eat the Body of the Lord unworthily, it is right that the
consecration [of the oil] of which there is question should be
associated with the consecration of the Body and Blood of the Lord,
which takes place in commemoration of the Passion of Christ, by Whom
the author of sin has been eternally vanquished. The Passion of Christ
destroyed the author of death; His grace, which is signified by the
unction of oil, has destroyed his arms, which are daily sins."
confusing way in which St. Bede introduces penance in connection with
the text of St. James is intelligible enough when we remember that the
unction was regarded and administered as a complement of the Sacrament
of Penance, and that no formal question had yet been raised about their
respective independent effects. In the circumstances of the age it was
more important to insist on thenecessity of confession than to discuss
with critical minuteness the effects of the unction, and one had to be
careful not to allow the text of St. James to be misunderstood as if it
dispensed with this necessity for the sick sinner. The passage in St.
Bede merely proves that he was preoccupied with some such idea in
approaching the text of St. James. Paschasius Radbertus (writing about
831) says from the same standpoint that "according to the Apostle when
anyone is sick, recourse is to be had in the first place to confession
of sins, then to the prayer of many, then to the sanctification of the
unction [or, the unction of sanctification]" (De Corp. et Sang. Domini,
c. viii, in P.L., CXX, 1292); and the same writer, in what he tells us
of the death of his abbot, St. Adelhard of Corbie, testifies to the
prevalence of an opinion that it was only those in sins who had need of
the unction. The assembled monks, who regarded the holy abbot as "free
from the burdens of sins", doubted whether they should procure the
Apostolic unction for him. But the saint, overhearing the debate,
demanded that it should be given at once, and with his dying breath
exclaimed: "Now dismiss thy servant in peace, because I have received
all the sacraments of Thy mystery" (P.L., CXX, 1547).
the uninterrupted universality during this period of the practice of
the Jacobean rite, with a clear indication in some instances of its
strictly sacramental efficacy, we shall add some further testimonies
from writers, synods, and the precepts of particular bishops. As doubts
may be raised regarding the age of any particular expression in the
early medieval liturgies, we shall omit all reference to them. There is
all the less need to be exhaustive as the adversaries of Catholic
teaching are compelled to admit that from the eighth century onwards
the strictly sacramental conception of the Jacobean rite emerges
clearly in the writings and legislation of both the Eastern and the
Western Churches. Haymo, Bishop of Halberstadt (841-853), in his Homily
on Luke, ix, 6 (P.L., CXVIII, 573), and Amulo. Bishop of Lyons (about
841), in his letter Theobald (P.L., CXVI, 82), speak of the unction of
the sick as an Apostolic practice. Prudentius, Bishop of Treves (about
843- 861), tells how the holy virgin Maura asked to receive from his
own hands "the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Extreme Unction"
(P.L., CXV, 1374; cf. Acta SS., 21 Sept., p. 272); and Jonas, Bishop of
Orléans, in his "Institutio Laicalis" (about 829), after reprobating
the popular practice of recurring in sickness to magical remedies,
says: "It is obligatory on anyone who is sick to demand, not from
wizards and witches, but from the Church and her priests, the unction
of sanctified oil, a remedy which [as coming] from Our Lord Jesus
Christ will benefit him not only in body but in soul" (III, xiv, in
P.L., CVI, 122 sq.). Already the Second Council of Châlon-sur-Saône
(813), in its forty-eighth canon, had prescribed as obligatory the
unction enjoined by St. James, "since a medicine of this kind which
heals the sicknesses of soul and of body is not to be lightly esteemed"
(Hardouin IV, 1040). The Council of Aachen in 836 warns the priest not
to neglect giving penance and unction to the sick person (once his
illness becomes serious), and when the end is seen to be imminent the
soul is to be commended to God "more sacerdotali cum acceptione sacræ
communionis" (cap. ii, can. v, ibid., 1397). The First Council of Mainz
(847), held under the presidency of Rhabanus Maurus (cap. xxvi),
prescribed in the same order the administration of penance, unction,
and the Viaticum (Hardouin V, 13); while the Council of Pavia (850),
legislating, as seems clear from the wording of the capitulary (viii),
according to the traditional interpretation of Pope Innocent's letter
to Decentius (see above), directs preachers to be sedulous in
instructing the faithful regarding "that salutary sacrament which James
the Apostle commends. . .a truly great and very much to be desired
mystery, by which, if asked for with faith, both sins are remitted and
as a consequence corporal health restored" (ibid., III, 27; Denzinger,
Freiburg, 1908, no. 315).
The statutes attributed to St.
Sonnatius, Archbishop of Reims (about 600-631), and which are certainly
anterior to the ninth century, direct (no. 15) that "extreme unction is
to be brought to the sick person who asks for it", and "that the pastor
himself is to visit him often, animating and duly preparing him for
future glory" (P.L., LXXX, 445; cf. Hefele, Conciliengesch., III, 77).
The fourth of the canons promulgated (about 745) by St. Boniface, the
Apostle of Germany (see Hefele, III, 580 sq.), forbids priests to go on
a journey "without the chrism, and the blessed oil, and the Eucharist",
so that in any emergency they may be ready to offer their
ministrations; and the twenty-ninth orders all priests to have the oil
of the sick always with them and to warn the sick faithful to apply for
the unction (P.L., LXXXIX, 821 sq.). In the "Excerptiones" of Egbert,
Archbishop of York (732-766), the unction is mentioned between penance
and the Eucharist, and ordered to be diligently administered (P.L.,
LXXXIX, 382). But no writer of this period treats of the unction so
fully as, and none more undeniably regards it as a true sacrament in
the strict sense that, Theodulf, Bishop of Orléans, and with him we
will conclude our list of witnesses. A long section of his second
Capitulare, published in 789, is taken up with the subject (P.L., CV,
220 sq.): "Priests are also to be admonished regarding the unction of
the sick, and penance and the Viaticum, lest anyone should die without
the Viaticum." Penance is to be given first, and then, "if the sickness
allow it," the patient is to be carried to the church, where the
unction and Holy Communion are to be given. Theodulf describes the
unction in detail, ordering fifteen, or three times five, crosses to be
made with the oil to symbolize the Trinity and the five senses, but
noting at the same time that the practice varies as to the number of
anointings and the parts anointed. He quotes with approval the form
used by the Greeks while anointing, in which remission of sins is
expressly mentioned; and so clearly is the unction in his view intended
as a preparation for death that he directs the sick person after
receiving it to commend his soul into the hands of God and bid farewell
to the living. He enjoins the unction of sick children also on the
ground that it sometimes cures them, and thatpenance is (often)
necessary for them. Theodulf's teaching is so clear and definite that
some Protestant controversialists recognize him as the originator in
the West of the teaching which, as they claim, transformed the Jacobean
rite into a sacrament. But from all that precedes it is abundantly
clear that no such transformation occurred. Some previous writers, as
we have seen, had explicitly taught and many had implied thesubstance
of Theodulf's doctrine, to which a still more definite expression was
later to be given. The Scholastic and Tridentine doctrine is the only
goal to which patristic and medieval teaching could logically have led.
Matter and form
(For the technical meaning of these terms in sacramental theology see SACRAMENTS.)
The remote matter of extreme unction is consecrated oil. No one has
ever doubted that the oil meant by St. James is the oil of olives, and
in the Western Church pure olive oil without mixture of any other
substance seems to have been almost always used. But in the Eastern
Church the custom was introduced pretty early of adding in some places
a little water, as a symbol of baptism, in others a little wine, in
memory of the good Samaritan, and, among the Nestorians, a little ashes
or dust from the sepulchre of some saint. But that the oil must be
blessed or consecrated before use is the unanimous testimony of all the
ages. Some theologians, however, have held consecration to be necessary
merely as a matter of precept, not essential for the validity of the
sacrament, e.g. Victoria (Summ. Sacramentorum, no. 219), Juénin (Comm.
hist. et dogm. de Sacram., D. vii, q. iii, c. i), de Sainte-Beuve (De
Extr. Unct., D. iii, a. 1), Drouven (De Re Sacramentariâ, Lib. VII, q.
ii, c. i, 2); indeed Berti, while holding the opposite himself,
admitted the wide prevalence of this view among the recent theologians
of his day. But considering the unanimity of tradition in insisting on
the oil being blessed, and the teaching of the Council of Trent (Sess.
XIV) that "the Church has understood the matter [of this sacrament] to
be oil blessed by the bishop", it is not surprising that by a decree of
the Holy Office, issued 13 Jan., 1611, the proposition asserting the
validity of extreme unction with the use of oil not consecrated by the
bishop should have been proscribed as "rash and near to error"
(Denzinger, no. 1628--old no. 1494), and that, to the question whether
a parish priest could in case of necessity validly use for this
sacrament oil blessed by himself, the same Holy Office, reaffirming the
previous decree, should have replied in the negative (14 Sept., 1842;
ibid., no. 1629--old no. 1495). These decisions only settle the
dogmatic question provisionally and, so far as they affirm the
necessity of episcopal consecration of the oil, are applicable only to
the Western Church. As is well known it is the officiating priest or
priests who ordinarily bless the oil in the Eastern Orthodox Church,
and there is no lack of evidence to prove the antiquity of this
practice (see Benedict XIV, De Synod. Dioec., VIII, i, 4). For
Italo-Greeks in communion with the Holy See the practice was sanctioned
by Clement VIII in 1595 and by Benedict XIV (see ibid.) in 1742; and it
has likewise been sanctioned for various bodies of Eastern Uniats down
to our own day (see "Collect. Lacensis", II, pp. 35, 150, 582, 479 sq.;
cf. Letter of Leo XIII, "De Discipl. Orient. conservandâ" in "Acta S.
Sedis", XXVII, pp. 257 sq.). There is no doubt, therefore, that priests
can be delegated to bless the oil validly, though there is no instance
on record of such delegation being given to Western priests. But it is
only the supreme authority in the Church that can grant delegation, or
at least it may reserve to itself the power of granting it (in case one
should wish to maintain that in the absence of reservation the ordinary
bishop would have this power). The Eastern Uniats have the express
approbation of the Holy See for their discipline, and, as regards the
schismatical Orthodox, one may say either that they have the tacit
approbation of the pope or that the reservation of episcopal power does
not extend to them. In spite of the schism the pope has never wished or
intended to abrogate the ancient privileges of the Orthodox in matters
of this kind.
The prayers for blessing the oil that have come
down to us differ very widely, but all of them contain some reference
to the purpose of anointing the sick. Hence, at least in the case of a
bishop, whose power is ordinary and not delegated, no special form
would seem to be necessary for validity, provided this purpose is
expressed. But where it is not at all expressed or intended, as in the
forms at present used for blessing the chrism and the oil of
catechumens, it appears doubtful whether either of these oils would be
valid matter for extreme unction (cf. Kern, op. cit., p. 131). But in
the nature of things there does not seem to be any reason why a
composite form of blessing might not suffice to make the same oil valid
matter for more than one sacrament.
(2) The proximate matter of
extreme unction is the unction with consecrated oil. The parts anointed
according to present usage in the Western and Eastern Churches have
been mentioned above (I), but it is to be observed that even today
there are differences of practice in various branches of the Orthodox
Church (see Echos d'Orient, 1899, p. 194). The question is whether
several unctions are necessary for a valid sacrament, and if so, which
are the essential ones. Arguing from the practice with which they were
acquainted and which they assumed to have existed always, the
Scholastics not unnaturally concluded that the unctions of the five
organs of sense were essential. This was the teaching of St. Thomas
(Suppl., Q. xxxii, a. 6), who has been followed pretty unanimously by
the School and by many later theologians down to our own day (e.g.
Billot, De Sacramentis, II, p. 231) who set the method and tradition of
the School above positive and historical theology. But a wider
knowledge of past and present facts has made it increasingly difficult
to defend this view, and the best theologians of recent times have
denied that the unction of the five senses, any more than that of the
feet or loins, is essential for the validity of the sacrament. The
facts, broadly speaking, are these: that no ancient testimony mentions
the five unctions at all, much less prescribes them as necessary, but
most of them speak simply of unction in a way that suggests the
sufficiency of a single unction; that the unction of the five senses
has never been extensively practiced in the East, and is not practiced
at the present time in the Orthodox Church, while those Uniats who
practice it have simply borrowed it in modern times from Rome; and that
even in the Western Church down to the eleventh century the practice
was not very widespread, and did not become universal till the
seventeenth century, as is proved by a number of sixteenth- century
Rituals that have been preserved (for details and sources see Kern, op.
cit., p. 133 sq.). In face of these facts it is impossible any longer
to defend the Scholastic view except by maintaining that the Church has
frequently changed the essential matter of the sacrament, or that she
has allowed it to be invalidly administered during the greater part of
her history, as she still allows without protest in the East. The only
conclusion, therefore, is that as far as the matter is concerned
nothing more is required for a valid sacrament than a true unction with
duly consecrated oil, and this conclusion may henceforth be regarded as
certain by reason of the recent decree of the Holy Office already
referred to (I), which, though it speaks only of the form, evidently
supposes that form to be used with a single unction. Besides the
authority of the Scholastic tradition, which was based on ignorance of
the facts, the only dogmatic argument for the view we have rejected is
to be found in the instruction of Eugene IV to the Armenians [see
above, III (A)]. But in reply to this argument it is enough to remark
that this decree is not a dogmatic definition but a disciplinary
instruction, and that, if it were a definition, those who appeal to it
ought in consistency to hold the unction of the feet and loins to be
essential. It is hardly necessary to add that, while denying the
necessity of the unctions prescribed in the Roman Ritual for the
validity of the sacrament, there is no intention of denying the grave
obligation of adhering strictly to the Ritual except, as the Holy
Office allows, in cases of urgent necessity.
(3)The forms of
extreme unction from the Roman Ritual and the Euchologion have been
given above(I). However ancient may be either form in its substance, it
is certain that many other forms substantially different from the
present have been in use both in the East and the West (see Martène,
"De Antiquis Eccl. Rit.", I, vii, 4; and Kern, op. cit., pp. 142-152);
and the controversy among theologians as to what precise form or kind
of form is necessary for the validity of the sacrament has followed
pretty much the same lines as that about the proximate matter. That
some form is essential, and that what is essential is contained in both
the Eastern and Western forms now in use, is admitted by all. The
problem is to decide not merely what words in either form may be
omitted without invalidating the sacrament, but whether the words
retained as essential must necessarily express a prayer--"the prayer of
faith" spoken of by St. James. Both forms as now used are deprecatory,
and for the West the Holy Office has decided what words may be omitted
in case of necessity from the form of the Roman Ritual. That the form,
whether short or long, must be a prayer-form, and that a mere
indicative form, such as "I anoint thee" etc., would not be sufficient
for validity, has been the opinion of most of the great Scholastics and
of many later theologians. But not a few Scholastics of eminence, and
nearly all later theologians who have made due allowance for the facts
of history, have upheld the opposite view. For the fact is that the
indicative form has been widely used in the East and still more widely
in the West; it is the form we meet with in the very earliest Church
Orders preserved, viz., those of the Celtic Church (see Warren,
"Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church", e.g. p. 168: "I anoint thee
with sanctified oil in the name of the Trinity that thou mayst be saved
for ever and ever"; cf. p. 223). Among contemporary theologians Kern
(op. cit., pp. 154 sq.), who is followed by Pohle (Lehrbuch der
Dogmatik, 3d ed., Paderborn, 1908, III, 534) suggests a compromise by
holding, on the one hand, that at least a virtual prayer-form is
required by the text ofSt. James and, on the other hand, that the
indicative forms that have been used are virtually deprecatory. But
this seems to be only a subtle way of denying the raison d'être of the
controversy; one might argue on the same principle that the forms of
baptism, penance, and confirmation are virtually prayer-forms. Some of
the so-called indicative forms may be reasonably construed in this way,
but in regard to others we may say, with Benedict XIV, that "we do not
know how a prayer can be discovered in certain other forms published
from very many ancient Rituals by Ménard and Martène, in which there is
used merely the words 'I anoint thee' without any thing else being
added from which a prayer can be deduced or fashioned" (De Synod.
Dioec., VIII, ii, 2). If it be insisted that prayer as such must be in
some way an element in the sacrament, one may say that the prayer used
in blessing the oil satisfies this requirement. What has been said in
regard to the matter is to be repeated here, viz., that the dogmatic
controversy about the form does not affect the disciplinary obligation
of adhering strictly to the prescriptions of the Ritual, or, for cases
of urgent necessity, to the decree of the Holy Office.
The Council of Trent has defined in accordance with the words of St.
James that the proper ministers (proprios ministros) of this sacrament
are the priests of the Church alone, that is bishops or priests
ordained by them (Sess. XIV, cap. iii, and can. iv, De Extr. Unct.).
And this has been the constant teaching of tradition, as is clear from
the testimonies given above. Yet Launoi (Opp., I, 569 sq.) has
maintained that deacons can be validly delegated by the bishop to
administer extreme unction, appealing in support of his view to certain
cases in which they were authorized in the absence of a priest to
reconcile dying penitents and give them the Viaticum. But in none of
these cases is extreme unction once mentioned or referred to, and one
may not gratuitously assume that the permission given extended to this
sacrament, all the more so as there is not a particle of evidence from
any other source to support the assumption. The Carmelite Thomas
Waldensis (d. 1430) inferred from the passage of Innocent I [see above,
under III (C), (2), (b)] that, in case of necessity when no priest
could be got, a layman or woman might validly anoint (Doctrinale Antiq.
Fidei, II, clxiii, 3), and quite recently Boudinhon (Revue Cath. des
Eglises, July, 1905, p. 401 sq.) has defended the same view and
improved upon it by allowing the sick person to administer the
sacrament to himself or herself. This opinion, however, seems to be
clearly excluded by the definition of the Council of Trent that the
priest alone is the "proper" minister of extreme unction. The word
proper cannot be taken as equivalent merely to ordinary, and can only
mean "Divinely authorized". And as to the unction of themselves or
others by lay persons with the consecrated oil, it is clear that Pope
Innocent, while sanctioning the pious practice, could not have supposed
it to be efficacious in the same way as the unction by a priest or
bishop, to whom alone in his view the administration of the Jacobean
rite belonged. This lay unction was merely what we call today a
sacramental. Clericatus (Decisiones de Extr. Unct., decis. lxxv) has
held that a sick priest in case of necessity can validly administer
extreme unction to himself; but he has no argument of any weight to
offer for this opinion, which is opposed to all sacramental analogy
(outside the case of the Eucharist) and to a decision of the
Congregation of Propaganda issued 23 March, 1844. These several
singular opinions are rejected with practical unanimity by theologians,
and the doctrine is maintained that the priests of the Church, and they
alone, can validly confer extreme unction.
(2) The use of the
plural in St. James--"the priests of the Church"--does not imply that
several priests are required for the valid administration of the
sacrament. Writing, as we may suppose, to Christian communities in each
of which there was a number of priests, and where several, if it seemed
well, could easily be summoned, it was natural for the Apostle to use
the plural without intending to lay down as a matter of necessity that
several should actually be called in. The expression used is merely a
popular and familiar way of saying: "Let the sick man call for priestly
ministrations", just as one might say, "Let him call in the doctors",
meaning, "Let him procure medical aid". The plural in either case
suggests at the very most the desirability, if the circumstances
permit, of calling in more than one priest or doctor, but does not
exclude, as is obvious, the services of only one, if only one is
available, or if for a variety of possible reasons it is better that
only one should be summoned. As is evident from several of thewitnesses
quoted above (III), not only in the West but in the East the unction
was often administered in the early centuries by a single priest; this
has been indeed at all times the almost universal practice in the West
(for exceptions cf. Martène, op. cit., I, vii, 3; Kern, op. cit., p.
259). In the East, however, it has been more generally the custom for
several priests to take part in the administration of the sacrament.
Although the number seven, chosen for mystical reasons, was the
ordinary number in many parts of the East from an earlier period, it
does not seem to have been prescribed by law for the Orthodox Church
before the thirteenth century (cf. Kern, op. cit., p. 260). But even
those Oriental theologians who with Symeon of Thessalonica (fifteenth
century) seem to deny the validity of unction by a single priest, do
not insist on more than three as necessary, while most Easterns admit
that one is enough in case of necessity (cf. Kern, op. cit., p. 261).
The Catholic position is that either one or several priests may validly
administer extreme unction; but when several officiate it is forbidden
by Benedict XIV for the Italo-Greeks (Const. "Etsi Pastoralis", 1742)
for one priest merely to anoint and another merely to pronounce the
form, and most theologians deny the validity of the unction conferred
in this way. The actual practice, however, of the schismatical churches
is for each priest in turn to repeat the whole rite, both matter and
form, with variations only in the non-essential prayers. This gives
rise to an interesting question which will best be discussed in
connection with the repetition of the sacrament (below, IX).
Extreme Unction may be validly administered only to Christians who have
had the use of reason and who are in danger of death from sickness.
That the subject must be baptized is obvious, since all the sacraments,
besides baptism itself, are subject to this condition. This is implied
in the text of St. James: "Is any man sick among you?" i.e. any member
of the Christian community; and tradition is so clear on the subject
that it is unnecessary to delay in giving proof. It is not so easy to
explain on internal grounds why extreme unction must be denied to
baptized infants who are sick or dying, while confirmation, for
instance, may be validly administered to them; but such is undoubtedly
the traditional teaching and practice. Except to those who were capable
of penance extreme unction has never been given. If we assume, however,
that the principal effect of extreme unction is to give, with
sanctifying grace or its increase, the right to certain actual graces
for strengthening and comforting and alleviating the sick person in the
needs and temptations which specially beset him in a state of dangerous
illness, and that the other effects are dependent on the principal, it
will be seen that for those who have not attained, and will not attain,
the use ofreason till the sickness has ended in death or recovery, the
right in question would be meaningless, whereas the similar right
bestowed with the character in confirmation may, and normally does,
realize its object in later life. It is to be observed in regard to
children, that no age can be specified at which they cease to be
incapable of receivingextreme unction. If they have attained sufficient
use of reason to be capable of sinning even venially, they may
certainly be admitted to this sacrament, even though considered too
young according to modern practice to receive their First Communion;
and in cases of doubt the unction should be administered conditionally.
Those who have always been insane or idiotic are to be treated in the
same way as children; but anyone who has ever had the use of reason,
though temporarily delirious by reason of the disease or even incurable
insane, is to be given the benefit of the sacrament in case of serious
(2) Grave or serious bodily illness is required for the
valid reception of extreme unction. This implied in the text of St.
James and in Catholic tradition (see above, III), and is formally
stated in the decree of Eugene IV for the Armenians: "This sacrament is
not to be given except to the sick person, of whose death fears are
entertained" (Denzinger, no. 700--old no. 595), and in the teaching of
the Council of Trent that "this unction is to be administered to the
sick, but especially to those who seem to be at the point of death [in
exitu vitæ]" (Sess. XIV, cap. iii, De Extr. Unct.). It is clear from
these words of Trent that extreme unction is not for the dying alone,
but for all the faithful who are seriously ill with any sickness as
involves danger of death (discrimen vitæ, ibid.), i.e. as may probably
terminate fatally. How grave must be the illness or how proximate the
danger of death is not determined by thecouncil, but is left to be
decided by the speculations of theologians and the practical judgment
of priests directly charged with the duty of administering the
sacrament. And there have been, and perhaps still are, differences of
opinion and of practice in this matter.
(3) Down to the twelfth
century in the Western Church the practice was to give the unction
freely to all (except public penitents) who were suffering from any
serious illness, without waiting to decide whether danger of death was
imminent. This is clear from many testimonies quoted above (III). But
during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries a change of practice took
place, and thesacrament came to be regarded by many as intended only
for the dying. The causes contributing to this change were: (a) the
extortionate demands of the clergy on the occasion of administering the
unction which prevented the poor or even those of moderate means from
asking for it except as a last resource; (b) the influence of certain
popular superstitions, as, for instance, that the person anointed could
not, in case of recovery, use the rights of marriage, eat flesh meat,
make a will, walk with bare feet, etc.; and (c) the teaching of the
Scotist School and of other theologians that, as the principal effect
of the sacrament was the final remission of venial sins, it should not
be given except to those who could not recover, and were no longer able
or at least likely to fall again into venial sin (St. Bonaventure,
"Breviloquium", P. VI, c. xi; Scotus, "Report. Parisien.", dist. xxiii,
Q. unica). It was doubtless under the influence of this teaching that
one or two provincial synods of the sixteenth century described the
subject of extreme unction as "the dangerously sick and almost dying"
(Hardouin X, 1848, 1535); and the neglect of the sacrament induced by
these several causes resulted, during the disturbances of the sixteenth
century, in its total abandonment in many parts of Germany and
especially of Bavaria (Knöpfler, "Die Kelchbewegung in Bayern unter
Herzog Albrecht V.", pp. 61 sq.; and on this whole matter see Kern, op.
cit., pp. 282 sq.). In view of these facts, the oft-repeated accusation
of the Eastern schismatics, that the Latins gave the sacrament only to
the dying and withheld it from the seriously ill who were capable of
receiving it, is not without foundation (Kern, op. cit., p. 274); but
they were wrong in assuming that the Western Church as a whole or the
Holy See is responsible for abuses of this kind. Church authority
earnestly tried to correct the avarice of the clergy and the
superstitions of the people, while the Scotist teaching, regarding the
chief effect of the unction, was never generally admitted in the
schools, and its post-Tridentine adherents have felt compelled to
modify the practical conclusion which St. Bonaventure and Scotus had
logically drawn from it. There still linger in the popular mind traces
of the erroneous opinion that extreme unction is to be postponed till a
sickness otherwise serious has taken a critical turn for the worse, and
the danger of death become imminent; and priests do not always combat
this idea as strongly as they ought to, with the result that possibly
in many cases the Divinely ordained effect of corporal healing is
rendered impossible except by a miracle. The best and most recent
theological teaching is in favor of a lenient, rather than of a severe,
view of the gravity of the sickness, or the proximity of the danger of
death, required to qualify for the valid reception ofextreme unction;
and this is clearly compatible with the teaching of the Council of
Trent and is supported by the traditional practice of the first twelve
But if the Easterns have had some justification for
their charge against the Westerns of unduly restricting the
administration of this sacrament, the Orthodox Church is officially
responsible for a widespread abuse of the opposite kind which allows
the euchelaion to be given to persons in perfect health as a complement
of penance and a preparation for Holy Communion. Many Western
theologians, following Goar (Euchologion, pp. 349 sq.), have denied
that this rite was understood and intended to be sacramental, though
the matter and form were employed precisely as in the case of the sick;
but, whatever may have been the intention in the past, it is quite
certain at the present time that at least in the Constantinopolitan and
Hellenic branches of the Orthodox Church the intention is to give the
sacrament itself and no mere sacramental to those in sound health who
are anointed (Kern, op. cit., 281). On the other hand, in the Russian
Church, except in the metropolitan churches of Moscow and Novgorod on
Maundy Thursday each year, this practice is reprobated, and priests are
expressly forbidden in their faculties to give the euchelaion to people
who are not sick (Kern, pp. 279 sq.; Fortescue, The Orthodox Eastern
Church, London, 1907, p. 425). We have already noticed (III) among
Nestorians what appears to have been a similar abuse, but in the
Orthodox Church till long after the schism there is no evidence of its
existence, and the teaching of Eastern theologians down to modern
times, to which the Russians still adhere, has been at one with the
Western tradition in insisting that the subject of this sacrament must
be labouring under a serious sickness.
(4) Nor will danger, or
even certainty, of death from any other cause than sickness qualify a
person for extreme unction. Hence criminals or martyrs about to suffer
death and other similarly circumstanced may not be validly anointed
unless they should happen to be seriously ill. But illness caused by
violence, as by a dangerous or fatal wound, is sufficient; and old age
itself without any specific disease is held by all Western theologians
to qualify for extreme unction, i.e. when senile decay has advanced so
far that death already seems probable. In cases of lingering diseases,
like phthisis or cancer, once the danger has become really
serious,extreme unction may be validly administered even though in all
human probability the patient will live for a considerable time, say
several months; and the lawfulness of administering it in such cases is
to be decided by the rules of pastoral theology. If in the opinion of
doctors the sickness will certainly be cured, and all probable danger
of death removed by a surgical operation, theologians are not agreed
whether the person who consents to undergo the operation ceases thereby
to be a valid subject for the sacrament. Kern holds that he does (op.
cit., p. 299), but his argument is by no means convincing.
decree of Eugene IV for the Armenians describes the effects of extreme
unction briefly as "the healing of the mind and, so far as it is
expedient, of the body also" (Denzinger, no. 700--old no. 595). In
Sess. XIV, can. ii, De Extr. Unct., the Council of Trent mentions the
conferring of grace, the remission of sins, and the alleviation of the
sick, and in the corresponding chapter explains as follows the effects
of the unction: "This effect is the grace of the Holy Ghost, whose
unction blots out sins, if any remain to be expiated, and the
consequences [reliquias] of sin, and alleviates and strengthens the
soul of the sick person, by exciting in him a great confidence in the
Divine mercy, sustained by which [confidence] he bears more lightly the
troubles and sufferings of disease, and more easily resists the
temptations of the demon lying in wait for his heel, and sometimes,
when it is expedient for his soul's salvation, recovers bodily health."
The remission of sins, as we have seen, is explicitly mentioned by St.
James, and the other spiritual effects specified by the Council of
Trent are implicitly contained, side by side with bodily healing, in
what the Apostle describes as the saving and raising up of the sick man
(see above, II).
(1) It is therefore a doctrine of Catholic
faith that sins are remitted by extreme unction, and, since neither St.
James nor Catholic tradition nor the Council of Trent limits this
effect to venial sins, it is quite certain that it applies to mortal
sins also. But according to Catholic teaching there is per se a grave
obligation imposed by Divine law of confessing all mortal sins
committed after baptism and obtaining absolution from them; from which
it follows that one guilty of mortal sin is bound per se to receive the
Sacrament of Penance before receiving extreme unction. Whether he is
further bound, in case penance cannot be received, to prepare himself
for extreme unction by an act of perfect contrition is not so clear;
but the affirmative opinion is more commonly held by the theologians,
on the ground that extreme unction is primarily a sacrament of the
living, i.e. intended for those in the state of grace, and that every
effort should be made by the subject to possess this primary
disposition. That the remission at least of mortal sins is not the
primary end of extreme unction is evident from the conditional way in
which St. James speaks of this effect; "and if he be in sins" etc.;
but, on the other hand, this effect is attributed, if conditionally and
secondarily, yet directly and per se to the unction--not indirectly and
per accidens as we attribute it to other sacraments of the
living--which means that extreme unction has been instituted
secondarily as a sacrament of the dead, i.e. for the purpose not merely
of increasing but of conferring sanctifying grace sacramentally. Hence,
if for any reason the subject in mortal sin is excused from the
obligation of confessing or of eliciting an act of perfect contrition,
extreme unction will remit his sin and confer sanctifying grace,
provided he has actual, or at least habitual, attrition, or provided
(say on recovering the use of reason) he elicits an act of attrition so
that the sacrament may take effect by way of reviviscence (see below,
X). By habitual attrition in this connection is meant an act of sorrow
or detestation for sins committed, elicited since their commission and
not retracted in the interval before the sacrament is received. The
ordinary example occurs when the act of attrition has been elicited
before the sick person lapses into unconsciousness or loses the use of
reason. That such attrition is necessary, follows from the teaching of
Trent (Sess. XIV, cap. i, De Poenit.) regarding the absolute and
universal necessity of repentance for the remission, even in baptism,
of personal mortal sins. Schell has maintained (Kathol. Dogmatik, III,
pp. 629 sq.) that such attrition is not required for the validity of
extreme unction, but that the general purpose and intention, which a
Christian sinner may retain even when he is sinning, of afterwards
formally repenting and dying in the friendship of God, is sufficient;
but this view seems irreconcilable with the teaching of Trent, and has
the whole weight of theological tradition against it.
unction likewise remits venial sins provided the subject has at least
habitual attrition for them; and, following the analogy of penance,
which with attrition remits mortal sins, for the remission of which
outside the sacrament perfect contrition would be required, theologians
hold that with extreme unction a less perfect attrition suffices for
the remission of venial sins than would suffice without the sacrament.
But besides thus directly remitting venial sins, extreme unction also
excites dispositions which procure their remission ex opere operantis.
relics or effects of sin mentioned by the Council of Trent are
variously understood by theologians to mean one, or more, or all of the
following: spiritual debility and depression caused by the
consciousness of having sinned; the influence of evil habits induced by
sin; temporal penalties remaining after the guilt of sin has been
forgiven; and venial, or even mortal, sins themselves. Of these only
the remission of temporal punishment is distinct from the other effects
of which the council speaks; and though some theologians have been
loath to admit this effect at all, lest they might seem to do away with
the raison d'être of purgatory and of prayers and indulgences for the
dying and dead, there is really no solid ground for objecting to it, if
passing controversial interests are subordinated to Catholic theory. It
is not suggested that extreme unction, like baptism, sacramentally
remits all temporal punishment due to sin, and the extent to which it
actually does so in any particular case may, as with baptism, fall
short of what was Divinely intended, owing to obstacles or defective
dispositions in the recipient. Hence there is still room and need for
Indulgences for the dying, and if the Church offers her prayers and
applies Indulgences for adults who die immediately after baptism, she
ought, a fortiori, to offer them for those who have died after extreme
unction. And if temporal punishment be, as it certainly is, one of the
reliquioe of sin, and if extreme unction be truly what the Council of
Trent describes (Sess. XIV, De Extr. Unct., introduct.) as "the
consummation not merely of [the Sacrament of] Penance, but of the whole
Christian life, which ought to be a perpetual penance", it is
impossible to deny that the remission of temporal punishment is one of
the effects of this sacrament.
(2) The second effect of extreme
unction mentioned by the Council of Trent is the alleviation and
strengthening of the soul by inspiring the sick person with such
confidence in the Divine mercy as will enable him patiently and even
cheerfully to bear the pains and worries of sickness, and with resolute
courage to repel the assaults of the tempter in what is likely to be
the last and decisive conflict in the warfare of eternal salvation. The
outlook on eternity is brought vividly before the Christian by the
probability of death inseparable from serious sickness, and this
sacrament has been instituted for the purpose of conferring the graces
specially needed to fortify him in facing this tremendous issue. It is
unnecessary to explain in detail the appropriateness of such an
institution, which, were other reasons wanting, wouldjustify itself to
the Christian mind by the observed results of its use.
Finally, as a conditional and occasional effect of extreme unction,
comes the restoration of bodily health, an effect which is vouched for
by the witness of experience in past ages and in our own day.
Theologians, however, have failed to agree in stating the condition on
which this effect depends or in explaining the manner in which it is
produced. "When it is expedient for the soul's salvation", is how Trent
expresses the condition, and not a few theologians have understood this
to mean that health will not be restored by the sacrament unless it is
foreseen by God that a longer life will lead to a greater degree of
glory--recovery being thus a sign or proof of predestination. But other
theologians rightly reject this opinion, and of several explanations
that are offered (cf. Kern, op. cit., pp. 195 sq.) the simplest and
most reasonable is that which understands the condition mentioned not
of the future and perhaps remote event of actual salvation, but of
present spiritual advantage which, independently of the ultimate
result, recovery may bring to the sick person; and holds, subject to
this condition, that this physical effect, which is in itself natural,
is obtained mediately through and dependently upon the spiritual
effects already mentioned. The fortifying of the soul by manifold
graces, by which over-anxious fears are banished, and a general feeling
of comfort and courage, and of humble confidence in God's mercy and
peaceful resignation to His Will inspired, reacts as a natural
consequence on the physical condition of the patient, and this reaction
is sometimes the factor that decides the issue of certain diseases.
This mediate and dependent way of effecting restoration of health is
the way indicated by the Council of Trent in the passage quoted above,
and the view proposed is in conformity with the best and most ancient
theoretical teaching on the subject and avoids the seemingly
unanswerable difficulties involved in opposing views. Nor does it
reduce this effect ofextreme unction to the level of those perfectly
natural phenomena known to modern science as "faith cures". For it is
not maintained, in the first place, that recovery will follow in any
particular case unless this result is spiritually profitable to the
patient--and of this God alone is the judge--and it is admitted, in the
second place, that the spiritual effect, from which the physical
connaturally results, is itself strictly supernatural (cf. Kern, loc.
(4) There remains the question, on which no little
controversy has been expended, as to which of these several effects is
the principal one. Bearing inmind the general theory that sacramental
grace as such is sanctifying grace as imparted or increased by the
sacrament, with the right or title to special actual graces
corresponding to the special end of each sacrament, the meaning of the
question is: Which of these effects is the sacramental grace imparted
in extreme unction primarily and immediately intended to produce, so
that the others are produced for the sake of, or by means of, it? Or,
more ultimately, what, according to Christ's intention in instituting
it, is the primary and distinctive purpose of this sacrament, its
particular raison d'être as a sacrament? Now, clearly this cannot be
either the remission of mortal sin or the restoration of physical
health, since, as we have seen, extreme unction is primarily a
sacrament of the living; and restoration of bodily health is not a
normal effect, but only brought about, when at all, indirectly. There
remain the remission of venial sins and of the temporal punishment due
for sins already forgiven, and the invigoration of the soul in face of
the probability of death. Reference has already been made to the
Scotist view (VI) which singles out the final and complete remission of
venial sin as the chief end or effect of extreme unction, and which
logically leads to the practical conclusion, adopted by St. Bonaventure
and Duns Scotus, that only the dying should receive the sacrament; and
the same conclusion, which must in any case be rejected, would also
follow from holding in a similarly exclusive sense that the principal
effect is the remission of temporal punishment. Thus we are left in
possession of the theory, held by many of the best theologians, that
the supernatural invigoration of the soul in view of impending death is
the chief end and effect of extreme unction. This effect, of course, is
actually realized only when the subject is sui compos and capable of
co-operating with grace; but the same is true of the principal effect
of several other sacraments. It is no argument, therefore, against this
view to point to the fact that sins are sometimes remitted by extreme
unction while the recipient is unconscious and incapable of using the
invigorating graces referred to. The infusion or increase of
sanctifying grace is an effect common to all the sacraments; yet it is
not by this of itself that they are distinguished from on another, but
by reference to the special actual graces to which sanctifying grace as
infused or increased gives a title; and if the realization of this
title is sometimes suspended or frustrated, this is merely by way of an
accidental exception to which, in general, sacramental efficacy is
liable. It does not seem, however, that this theory should be urged in
an exclusive sense, as implying, that is, that the remission of venial
sin or of temporal punishment is not also a primary effect which may be
obtained independently; rather should the theory be enlarged and
modified, and the primary andessential end of the sacrament so
described as to comprehend these effects.
This is the solution
of the whole question proposed by Kern (op. cit., pp. 81 sq., 215 sq.),
who, with no little learning and ability, defends the thesis that the
end ofextreme unction is the perfect healing of the soul with a view to
its immediate entry into glory, unless it should happen that the
restoration of bodily health is more expedient. This view is quite in
conformity with, and may even be said to be suggested by, the teaching
of the Council of Trent to the effect that extreme unction is "the
consummation of the whole Christian life"; and Kern has collected an
imposing weight of evidence in favor of his thesis from ancient and
medieval and modern writers of authority. Dr. Pohle (op. cit., pp. 535,
536) reviews Kern's suggestion sympathetically. Besides being
self-consistent and free from any serious difficulty, it is recommended
by many positive arguments, and in connection with the controverted
point we have been discussing it has the advantage of combining and
co-ordinating as parts of the principal effect--i.e.perfect spiritual
health--not only the remission of venial sins and the invigoration of
the soul, for which respectively Scotists and their opponents have
contended too exclusively, but also the remission of temporal
punishment, which not a few theologians have neglected.
are agreed that extreme unction may in certain circumstances be the
only, and therefore the necessary, means of salvation for a dying
person. This happens when there is question of a person who is dying
without the use of reason, and whose soul is burdened with the guilt of
mortal sin for which he has only habitual attrition; and for this and
similar cases in which other means of obtaining justification are
certainly or even probably unavailing, there is no doubt as to the
grave obligation of procuring extreme unction for the dying. But
theologians are not agreed as to whether or not a sick person in the
state of grace is per se under a grave obligation of seeking this
sacrament before death. It is evident ex hypothesi that there is no
obligation arising from the need of salvation (necessitate medii), and
the great majority of theologians deny that a grave obligation per se
has been imposed by Divine or ecclesiastical law. The injunction of St.
James, it is said, may be understood as being merely a counsel or
exhortation, not a command, and there is no convincing evidence form
tradition that the Church has understood a Divine command to have been
given, or has ever imposed one of her own. Yet it is recognized that,
in the words of Trent, "contempt of so great a sacrament cannot take
place without an enormous crime and an injury to the Holy Ghost
Himself" (Sess. XIV, cap. iii); and it is held to depend on
circumstances whether mere neglect or express refusal of thesacrament
would amount to contempt of it. The soundness, however, of the reasons
alleged for this common teaching is open to doubt, and the strength of
the arguments advanced by so recent a theologian as Kern (pp. 364 sq.)
to prove the existence of the obligation which so many have denied is
calculated to weaken one's confidence in the received opinion.
Council of Trent teaches that "if the sick recover after receiving this
unction, they can again receive the aid of this sacrament, when they
fall anew into a similar danger of death" (Sess. XIV, cap. iii, De
Extr. Unct.). In the Middle Ages doubts were entertained by some
ecclesiastics on this subject, as we learn from the correspondence
between Abbot (later Cardinal) Godfried and St. Yves, Bishop of
Chartres (d. 1117). Godfried considered the custom in vogue in the
Benedictine monasteries, of repeating extreme unction, reprehensible on
the ground that "no sacrament ought to be repeated" (P.L., CLVII, 87
sq.); but he wished to have St. Yves's opinion, and the latter quite
agreed with his friend (ibid., 88). Not long afterwards Peter the
Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, was asked by Abbot Theobald to explain "why
it was that the unction of the sick was the only unction [out of many]
repeated, and why this took place only atCluny", and Peter in reply
gave a convincing explanation of the Benedictine practice, his main
contention being that the person anointed may on recovery have sinned
again and be in need of the remission of sins promised by St. James,
and that the Apostle himself not only does not suggest that the unction
may be given only once, but clearly implies the contrary--"ut quoties
quis infirmatus fuerit, toties inungatur" (P.L., CLXXXIX, 392 sq.).
After this all opposition to the repetition of the sacrament
disappears, and subsequent writers unanimously teach, what has been
defined by the Council of Trent, that it may under certain conditions
be validly and lawfully repeated. It should be noted, moreover, that
the practice of repeating it at this period was not confined to the
Benedictines or to Cluny. The Cistercians of Clairvaux, for example,
were also in the habit of repeating it, but subject to the restriction
that it was not to be given more than once within a year; and several
Ordines of particular Churches dating from the ninth, tenth, eleventh,
and twelfth centuries, have a rubric prescribing the repetition of the
unction for seven successive days (cf. Kern, op. cit., pp. 334, 338
Coming to the more accurate determination of the
circumstances or conditions which justify the repetition of extreme
unction, theologians, following the authority of Trent, are agreed that
it may be validly and lawfully repeated as often as the sick person,
after recovery, becomes seriously ill again, or, in cases of lingering
illness where no complete recovery takes place, as often as the
probable danger of death, after disappearing, returns. For verification
of this lattercondition some theologians would require the lapse of a
certain interval, say a month, during which the danger would seem to
have passed; but there is really no reason for insisting on this any
more than on the year which medieval custom in some places was wont to
require. St. Bonaventure's remark, that "it is absurd for a sacrament
to be regulated by the motion of the stars" (in IV Sent., dist. xxiii,
a. 2, q. iv, ad 2), applies to a month as well as to a year. Not a few
theologians (among recent ones De Augustinis, "De Re Sacramentariâ, II,
408) understand, by the new danger of death, proximate or imminent
danger, so that, once imminent danger has passed and returned,
thesacrament may be repeated without waiting for any definite interval
to elapse. The majority of theologians, however, deny the validity of
extreme unction repeated while the danger of death remains the same,
and they assume that this is the implicit teaching of the Council of
Trent. But among contemporary authors, Kern, following the lead of
several positive theologians eminent for their knowledge of sacramental
history (Ménard, Launoi, Martène, Juénin, Drouven, Pouget, Pellicia,
Binterim, Heinrich.--See references in Kern, op. cit., pp. 357, 538),
maintains the probable validity of extreme unction repeated, no matter
how often, during the same danger of death; and it will be found easier
to ignore, than to meet and answer, the argument by which he supports
his view. He furnishes, in the first place, abundant evidence of the
widespread practice in the Western Church from the ninth to the
twelfth, and even, in some places, to the thirteenth century, of
repeating the unction for seven days, or indefinitely while the
sickness lasted; and he is able to claim the authority ofOriental
theologians for explaining the modern practice in the Eastern Church of
a sevenfold anointing by seven priests as being due to a more ancient
practice of repeating the unction for seven days--a practice to which
the Coptic Liturgy bears witness. By admitting the validity of each
repeated unction we are able to give a much more reasonable explanation
of the medieval Western and modern Eastern practice than can possibly
be given by those who deny its validity. The latter are bound to
maintain either that the repeated rite is merely a sacramental--though
clearly intended to be a sacrament--or that the repeated unctions
coalesce to form one sacrament--an explanation which is open to several
serious objections. In the next place, since extreme unction does not
imprint a permanent "character", there is no reason why its proper
sacramental effect may not be increased by repetition, as happens in
Penance and Holy Communion--that is, with an increase of sanctifying
grace, the right to spiritual invigoration may be increased, and more
abundant actual graces become due. And this, on internal grounds, would
suffice to justify repetition, although the effect of the previous
administration remains. Finally, in reply to the principal dogmatic
reason urged against his view--viz., the teaching of the Council of
Trent--Kern fairly maintains that the intention of the council was
merely positive, and not exclusive, i.e., it wished to define, in
opposition to more restrictive views that had been held, the validity
of extreme unction repeated in the circumstances it mentions, but
without meaning to deny its validity if repeated in other circumstances
not mentioned. The exhaustiveexamination of tradition which is supposed
to precede a definition had not, so far as this particular point is
concerned, been carried out at the time of Trent; and the point itself
was not ripe for definition. Modern discipline in the Western Church
can be explained on other than dogmatic grounds; and if it be urged as
dogmatically decisive, this will imply a very sweeping condemnation of
medieval Western and modern Eastern practice, which the prudent
theologian will be slow to pronounce.
question of reviviscence arises when any sacrament is validly
administered, but is hindered at the time from producing its effect,
owing to the want of due dispositions in the recipient. Thus, in regard
to extreme unction, the subject may be unconscious and incapable of
spiritual invigoration in so far as this requires co-operation with
actual grace. Or he may, for want of the necessary attrition, be
indisposed to receive remission of sins, or indisposed in case of
mortal sin for the infusion of sanctifying grace. And the want of
disposition--the obstacle to the efficacy of the sacrament--may be
inculpable or gravely culpable; in the latter case the reception of the
sacrament will be sacrilegious. Now the question is, does extreme
unction revive, that is does it afterwards (during the same serious
illness) produce such effects as are hindered at the time of reception,
if the obstacle is afterwards removed or the requisite disposition
excited? And theologians all teach that it certainly does revive in
this way; that for its reviviscence, if no sacrilege has been committed
in its reception nor any grave sin in the interval, all that is needed
is that the impeding defect should be removed, that consciousness, for
instance, should be recovered, or habitual attrition excited; but that,
when a grave sin has been committed at or since the reception, this sin
must be remitted, and sanctifying grace obtained by other means (e.g.
penance or perfect contrition) before extreme unction can take effect.
From this doctrine of reviviscence--which is not, however, defined as a
dogma--there follows an important practical rule in regard to the
administration of extreme unction, viz., that, notwithstanding doubts
about the dispositions of a certainly valid subject, the sacrament
should always be conferred absolutely, never conditionally, since a
condition making its validity dependent on the actual dispositions of
the recipient would exclude the possibility of reviviscence. The
conditionalform (si capax es) should be used only when it is doubtful
whether the person is a valid subject for the sacrament, e.g., whether
he is not already dead, whether he has been baptized, has attained the
use of reason, or has the implicit habitual intention of dying in a
From among, and in addition to,
sources mentioned in the course of this article see KERN, De Sacramento
Extremoe Unctionis Tractatus Dogmaticus (Ratisbon, 1907)--the best
recent treatise on the subject; SCHMITZ, De Effectibus Extremoe
Unctionis Dissert. Hist.- Dogmatica (Freiburg, 1893); LAUNOI, De Sacr.
Unctionis Infirmorum (Paris, 1673), in Opp., vol. I, pt. I; DE
SAINTE-BEUVE, Tractatus de Sacr. Unctionis Infirmorum Extr. (1686), in
MIGNE, Theol. Cursus, XXIV; the respective sections in PERRONE, PESCH,
TANQUEREY, and other standard courses of dogma, and in GURY, LEHMKUHL,
and other standard moralists; among writers in German: POHLE, Lehrbuch
der Dogmatik (3rd ed., Paderborn, 1908), III, pp. 523-548; among
Eastern Orthodox theologians: MALTZEW, Die Sakramente der
Orthodox-katholischen Kirche (Berlin, 1892), and others mentioned by
KERN, op. cit., 379; among non-Catholics: BLUNT, The Sacraments
(London, 1868); MORGAN DIX, The Sacramental System (New York, 1893);
PULLER, The Anointing of the Sick in Scripture and Tradition (London,
About this page
citation. Toner, P. (1909). Extreme Unction. In The Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved January 7,
2009 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05716a.htm
citation. Toner, Patrick. "Extreme Unction." The Catholic Encyclopedia.
Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 7 Jan. 2009
This article was transcribed for New Advent by Robert B. Olson. Offered
to Almighty God that the just would persevere in His grace and for the
conversion of all who are separated from God's friendship and receive
the sacraments instituted by Our Lord.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.