Theology often follow pastoral practice. Most people who receive the Sacrament of the sick don’t go to confession even if they are able. But the priest still gives the person the sacrament of anointing. Why? The answer is simple on a gut level we know that the sacrament of anointing is about healing and not primarily about forgiveness of sins.
The sacrament of anointing of the sick is meant to prolong in time the healing ministry of Jesus. When administering the sacrament to a sick person the ritual book offers many reading from the healing ministry of Jesus. Such as this reading.
“Jesus went along the Sea of Galilee. He went up on the mountainside and sat down there. Large crowds of people came to him bringing with them cripples, the deformed, the blind, the mute, and many others besides. They laid them at his feet and he cured them. The result was great astonishment in the crowds as they beheld the mute speaking, the deformed made sound, cripples walking about, and the blind seeing. They glorified the God of Israel.” (Mat 15:29-31)
The sacrament of anointing is meant to prolong in time this healing ministry of Jesus.
St Thomas Aquinas offers some beauty thoughts on anointing. We read in the book ‘Rediscovering Aquinas and the Sacraments’ ” But this raises a question: How does extreme Unction differ from Baptism and Penance, both of which also directly heal man of sin? Thomas distinguishes these according to three different analogies: Baptism brings new life, Penance raises from the dead, Extreme Unction heals the sick. In distinguishing Penance and Extreme Unction, Thomas says that Penance is ordered to the resuscitation of the spiritually dead, while Extreme Unction is ordered to the healing of the spiritually living but sick.
If Baptism forgives original and mortal sins, and Penance forgives post baptismal mortal sins, does this mean then that Extreme Unction is ordered to the forgiveness of venial sins? No. Penance of properly ordered to the forgiveness of sin; there is no need for a further sacrament directly ordered to forgiving sins, including venial sins, which, in fact , are forgiven by any increase in grace and devotion. So precisely to what is the medicine of Extreme Unction ordered? It is ordered to the remains of sin, the reliquiae peccatu, which Saint Thomas here describes as a weakness of mind that remains after the forgiveness of sins….The sacrament may heal the body as well as the soul, provided it serves the spiritual good of the soul….”For St Thomas anointing is about healing. “Penance is spiritual medicine; Extreme Unction is both spiritual and corporeal medicine,…But also links it directly to the corporal healing of the sacrament.”
“He says that some sin directly affects the heath of the body. Conversely, while bodily illness may be an occasion if spiritual good, as a form of satisfaction for sin, for example, such illness may also impede spiritual health as when the weakness of the body impedes the exercise of the virtues. Because therefore the body ought to be properly disposed to the soul, it is only fitting that there be a spiritual medicine directed to corporeal illness as it arises from sin. Thus Thomas specifies Extreme Unction as the sacrament that is ordered against the weakness of the body as it arises from sin.”
St Thomas gives us new insights “The specification of the Summa Contra Gentiles by which Penance was ordered to spiritual health and Extreme Unction to both spiritual health is gone, replaced by a new distinction between health and robustness of health. In physical life we distinguish between health and robustness of health. One might be without illness and in this sense healthy, but lack the robustness of health that comes from exercise and a good diet.”
If Extreme Unction, Anointing of the sick is meant to give us not only health but robustness of health. Does not this choice of word invoke physical healing.