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About Holy Unction (anointing the sick)

What is Holy Unction?
Holy Unction is the rite of anointing the sick with oil, and/or the laying on of hands, by which God's grace is given for the healing of spirit, mind, and body. 

How is Holy Unction Administered? Holy Unction consists of the laying on of hands and anointing with oil; while the form consists of prayers. In this sacrament, the priest acts as the purveyor of Christ’s grace. When circumstances permit, the Church recommends that the sacrament take place during a Celebration of Holy Eucharist or at least that it be preceded by Confession and followed by the reception of Holy Communion. 

Is it Anointing with Oil Biblical? The modern celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Unction (the Anointing of the Sick) recalls the early Christian use, going back to biblical times. When Christ sent His disciples out to preach, “they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them” (Mark 6:13). 

Who may Receive Holy Unction? Contrary to popular belief, Holy Unction is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. In modern times, its use has been expanded to ALL who are gravely ill or are about to undergo a serious operation, and the Church stresses a secondary effect of the sacrament: to help a person recover their health. Like Confession and Holy Communion, to which it is closely linked, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick can be repeated as often as is necessary. The sacrament should be administered as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be ill, is in sickness, old age, or near the point of death. 

What is the Oil that is Used for Holy Unction? The Oleum Infirmorum (Oil of the Infirm) used in the sacrament is duly blessed oil pressed from olives. It is either blessed by the bishop of the diocese at the Chrism Mass celebrated on Holy Thursday (or on a day close to it), or it is blessed by the priest administering the sacrament within the framework of the celebration. 

Do I have to be A Member the Episcopal Church to Receive Holy Unction? No. The Sacrament of Holy Unction may be provided to any faithful person who requests it. 

Who may Administer Holy Unction? Only bishops, priests, and those licensed by the bishop can administer the Sacrament of Holy Unction (the Anointing of the Sick), since, when the sacrament was instituted during Christ's sending out of His disciples, it was confined those who became the original bishops of the Church. 

What are the Benefits of Holy Unction? Received in faith and in a state of grace, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick provides you with a number of graces, including the fortitude to resist temptation in the face of death, when you are the weakest; a union with the Passion of Christ, which makes suffering holy; and the grace to prepare for death, so that you may meet God in hope rather than in fear. If you are not able to receive the Sacrament of Confession, anointing also provides forgiveness of sins. And, if it will aid in the salvation of souls, anointing may also restore the recipient's health. 

What is the Difference between Holy Unction and Last Rites? Holy Unction was traditionally referred to as ‘Extreme Unction’ or ‘Last Rites.’ The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick was previously most commonly administered to the dying, for the remission of sins and the provision of spiritual strength and health. The term “Last Rites” refers to the final earthly reception of the assurance of God’s grace in a sacramental act. The ministration known as the last rites does not constitute a distinct sacrament itself. It is rather a set of sacraments given to people who are perceived to be near death. These are the sacraments of Holy Unction, Penance and the Eucharist (or Viaticum). If all three are administered immediately one after another, the normal order of administration is: first Penance, then Anointing, then Viaticum. 

How do I arrange for Holy Unction? Those who are ill or infirm, in need of Holy Unction, should contact the priest immediately. The priest will bring the Holy Oil (Oleum Infirmorum) when they visit. In addition, St. James Episcopal Church celebrates a public service of Holy Eucharist each Wednesday at noon where the administration of Holy Unction and the Laying on of Hands and prayers for healing is the central portion of the service. 

The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. God does not limit God’s self to these rites; they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us. 

Other questions? Please feel free to ask the priest about specific questions regarding Holy Unction and other aspects of the Episcopal Church. 

The Rite of Ministration to the Sick including Prayers for the Sick can be found on pp. 453-461 of the Book of Common Prayer 1979.