Anointing of the sick fosters awareness of the ill in our midst

Two-year-old Milagros Perez takes part in the sacrament of the sick with her mother, Rosa Perez, and Fr. Eugene Lee at St. Columban Church in Garden Grove, Calif., Feb. 8. (Newscom/ZUMA Press/Mindy Schauer)

Most people associate the sacrament of anointing of the sick with a priest visiting a dying person in a hospital bed.

But the sacrament goes beyond this typical concept. According to the Catholic church's 1983 instruction on the sacrament, the optimal place to receive the rite is during Mass itself, when church members can participate. There is also room for interpretation as to who can and should receive the sacrament.

"I call it the least of the sacraments," said M. Therese Lysaught, professor and associate director for Loyola University Chicago's Institute for Pastoral Studies, and professor at the Loyola's Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics. "That's why I work on it. It doesn't get enough press. It doesn't get a ton of attention."

Fr. Mike Barrett, pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope Parish in Milwaukee, said anointing of the sick is "the church's venue — and I say 'church' I mean all of us, the people of God -- it's the church's venue for touching the heart and the soul and the body of someone who is struggling with life. It's touching and making sacred and holy and blessing and uniting those who are sick, with the faith community and with the suffering Christ."

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A version of this story appeared in the Sept 12-25, 2014 print issue under the headline: 'We all become ministers of healing' .

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