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Sacrament of Unction

I. Definition

         Unction of the sick is the sacrament through which the priest anoints the body of the sick, asking for divine grace to heal both body and soul.

The difference between this sacrament and that of penance is that the latter is administered for all Christians and for healing spiritual diseases; while the former is administered only for the sick and for healing both bodily and spiritual diseases.Some think that St. James mentioned this unction as an ordinary means of healing diseases.


      However, it's important to note: Had it been an ordinary means of healing diseases, it would have been said that anyone could anoint with oil. But St. James specifies that it is the priests who should anoint.

      The healing power is attributed not to the oil but to the prayer: “Let them pray over him,  anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick.”
It is also stated, “And if he has committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” This forgiveness cannot be granted through mere oil.


         Others argue that it was a healing gift given only to the Apostles. However, St. James speaks of this unction not as a special privilege given to the Apostles but as a sacrament to be administered by the priests.

         The Church of Rome calls this sacrament “Extreme (or last) Unction” based on the notion that it is administered only at the point of death. This interpretation is incorrect because the Bible speaks of it as a means of healing, not merely as assistance at the point of death.

II. Institution of the Sacrament

        This sacrament was instituted by the Lord Himself: The Apostles “cast out many devils and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them,” under the instruction received from the Lord for their mission.

        St. James’ instructions in his Epistle to call the elders (priests) of the church for anointing the sick with oil, with the assurance that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick,” indicates that the Apostles were conveying the teachings they received directly from Christ.

         The Apostles identified themselves as “Stewards of the mysteries of God,” not the originators of church sacraments, indicating that the sacraments, including the Unction of the Sick, were instituted by Christ.

         Church Fathers attested to its use as a sacrament since the early centuries.
Protestant historians also acknowledged the early Christian practice of calling priests for anointing the sick after confession.


III. The Visible Sign

  • The sacrament has two outward signs:

  • The oil used for anointing the sick is consecrated through specific prayers passages.         

  • The prayers offered for the healing of the sick, along with the reading of certain Bible.

IV. The Invisible Grace

        The invisible grace granted through this sacrament is the healing of both body and soul.

V. Who Has the Right to Celebrate the Sacrament?

       While primarily given to priests due to their direct contact with the congregation, bishops can also celebrate the sacrament if they choose.

More about the Unction of the sick

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