Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week I wrote to you about who should receive the Sacrament of the Sick and what exactly is the Sacrament of the Sick. This week, I want to offer a few practical “helpful hints.”
1. Do not wait until a loved one is close to death to request the Sacrament of the Sick. Once a serious illness has come upon someone, then is the time to request this Sacrament. Firstly, it is because, as mentioned last week, the Sacrament gives us graces during our illness. So, we should rely upon those graces while we are seriously ill and not only at the end of life.
2. Another reason you should not wait until death is imminent is because there is never a guarantee that a priest will make it to you in time. It is not always going to be the case that a priest is readily available or reachable. Priests go on vacation, have days away, and have other commitments. I hope that I will have a priest at my deathbed, but delaying the Sacrament is foolhardy.
3. Another reason you should not wait until the very end is because the ideal situation is that the sick person be conscious during the administration of the Sacraments. Ideally, at the end of our life, we want to have received the Sacrament of Confession, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, and the reception of the Holy Eucharist. That is what I want for myself. It is what I pray will happen to me. It is what we should all desire.
4. Sometimes families don’t call the priest because they “don’t want our mother to know that she is dying.” I’ve been present at many, many deathbeds over the years. Believe me when I tell you that the person knows she is dying. For a person of faith, the presence of a priest bringing the Sacraments is a source of consolation and hope. Do not deny a loved one that privilege. Let them see and talk to a priest while they are still alert. Let them go to Confession if they are still able. Let them receive the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes, if people wait until it is too late, the person cannot confess because they are unconscious or they cant receive the Eucharist because they are unable to swallow. That is why it is better to make the request when the person begins a serious illness rather than delaying.
5. If you didn’t catch the theme of numbers 1-4: Don’t put off the Sacrament!!! Receive it as soon as a serious illness is present, before serious surgery, or as old age has made one significantly frail. If a condition worsens significantly, the person can be anointed again. But, it is better to receive it when needed and not to delay it! It gives you graces!
If you are seriously ill, facing serious surgery, or if you have become frail due to being elderly, you should go to confession, receive the Sacrament of Anointing, and receive Holy Communion.
The priest administering the Sacrament of the Sick is not like you’ve thrown in the towel and called the Grim Reaper. Two thousand years ago, Jesus drew close to those who were ill and suffering. He drew near to them and brought them healing and forgiveness. Jesus continues to do that today through the ministry of priests as they anoint the sick. Why would anyone delay such an encounter with Jesus? Why put off receiving healing and forgiveness?
Your Brother in Christ,
Fr. David Barnes