Who Receives the Anointing of the Sick?

Matthew 9:12

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

There is a curious notion afoot that you have to be at death's door to receive the Anointing of the Sick.  The idea appears to be that it will annoy the Almighty or somehow use up the "magic" of the sacrament if one seeks its graces in anything less than dire circumstances.  Conversely, when the sacrament is offered by well-meaning priests, this can sometimes convince Catholics that they are doomed, since (it is thought) only dying people receive the sacrament of Anointing.  But the Catechism (par. 1514) tells us plainly that Anointing "is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death."  To be sure, we don't want to encourage spiritual hypochondria, with legions of people pestering Fr. So and So for Anointing over every cough, headache, cold, flu, or hangnail.  But on the other hand, it is quite legitimate to ask for it when seriously or chronically ill, or when struggling with old age, or when facing serious surgery.  Christ is not "chintzy" with his grace.  He wants us to have it.  If you are seriously ill, reach out and ask for that grace.  That's what it's there for!

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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