What are the fruits of the sacrament of Extreme?
The Council of Trent explains them very clearly. “The effect is the grace of the Holy Ghost, whose anointing takes away sins, if there are any still to be expiated, and removes the trace of sin; and it comforts and strengthens the soul of the sick person. This anointing occasionally restores health to the body, if health would be of advantage to the salvation of the soul.”
Is there a difference between Extreme Unction and the Sacrament of the Sick?
It is difficult to not see a serious novelty in the new rite which takes the place of Extreme Unction. The Catechism of St. Pius X called it “a sacrament instituted for the spiritual as well as for the temporal comfort of the sick in danger of death.” Its effect is principally to cure the sickness of the sin, the traces of sin and to comfort the soul so as to withstand the last temptations and the fear of death. On the other hand, the new rite gives priority, if not exclusivity, to the bodily help.
Does the absence of the term “extreme” imply a change in those who are apt to receive the sacrament?
The traditional doctrine clearly brings up the presence of a danger of death, because of sickness or old age (Old Canon Law, c. 940), whereas the new code, while speaking of danger, omits the key term ‘death’ as a necessary condition for its reception (New Code c. 1004). In olden days, whoever was not in danger of death was inapt to receive Extreme Unction.
If St. James in his letter speaks of the ‘sick’ who receive the anointing from the priest for his recovery, this was soon understood to mean a sickness to death. And the Church cannot change the substance of the sacrament which includes the subject which alone is apt to receive it. There is today a tendency to cover up the eventuality of death, under strange trappings as mere sickness, bodily health, when the sacrament is given in fact for people who are at death throes and need all the graces they can get.
Has this change of definition affected the practice of the sacrament?
There is little doubt about the change of practice and many have witnessed it. So as to defuse the fear of associating the coming of the priest with death, the sacrament is commonly given as a community exercise for all people over 70 years of age. Presently, it allows virtually any elderly to receive it, “as long as they are weak, though not dangerously ill” (Introd. to rite of anointing the sick, Dec. 7, 1972). Now, we see this anointing frequently given to persons, although not in danger of death, before a surgery. It is also commonly provided during the same sickness without sufficient recovery from death danger. All these practices would have been deemed invalid, or at the very least illicit, before Vatican II.
What about the administration of the sacrament itself?
There have been important changes also in the rite of anointing. If olive oil was formerly necessary ad validitatem, today any oil is permitted. The change in the form itself indicates the the change of stress. The new form begs “that, delivered from your sins, God save you and restore you in his goodness.” The old form was more clearly asking: “may God forgive thee whatever sins thou hast committed by the evil use of sight (hearing, smell, taste and speech, touch).” Although the new form still holds the main effect of the sacrament (the curing of the sickness of sins), it puts the stress on bodily healing.
Is there any difference in the anointing itself?
The most suggestive changes occur in the anointing themselves. Says the Council of Florence: “The anointing should be done on these parts: on the eyes because of sight, on the ears because of hearing, on the nose because of smelling, on the mouth because of taste or speech, on the hands because of touch, on the feet because of walking. “ Pope Paul VI changed it: “The sick are to be anointed on the forehead and hands.” It is very possible that this ritual modification lines up with the doctrine moving from healing the remnants of sin to bodily cure. The traditional anointing of the five senses means that this sacrament cures the sickness of the sins committed by the means of the five senses. The new rite insists on the cure of the body, and two bodily anointments are sufficient.
What do you suggest that children do when their parents are seriously ill?
In any serious case, I suggest that they contact their pastor ASAP, if only to inform him of a potential case. It is also good to get the advice of a wise doctor so as to ascertain the existence of a danger of death, however remote. It is important that the patient be also in full possession of his senses so as to receive all the fruits of the sacrament in the best disposition of mind, spiritual and corporal, to fulfill God’s will. They are truly comforted when they know that they have made their peace with God, and have received all the spiritual blessings of the Church before the great journey.
If, perchance, the parents have been administered the sacraments in the new rite by the local priest (not by a nun!), the simplest thing is to mention it to your Pastor and let him decide what is to be done.