The anointing of the sick,1 also known as “extreme unction,” is the anointing of the infirm by the presbytery accompanied by prayer.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,2
“By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of the priests the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them. And indeed she exhorts them to contribute to the good of the People of God by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ.”
This sacrament was instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ.3
And he summoned the twelve and began to send them forth two by two, and he was giving them power over unclean spirits...and after they went out, they were preaching that men should repent, and they were casting out many demons, and they were anointing many sick with oil and healing them.
καὶ προσκαλεῖται τοὺς δώδεκα καὶ ἤρξατο αὐτοὺς ἀποστέλλειν δύο δύο καὶ ἐδίδου αὐτοῖς ἐξουσίαν τῶν πνευμάτων τῶν ἀκαθάρτων...καὶ ἐξελθόντες ἐκήρυσσον ἵνα μετανοήσωσινκαὶ δαιμόνια πολλὰ ἐξέβαλλον καὶ ἤλειφον ἐλαίῳ πολλοὺς ἀῤῥώστους καὶ ἐθεράπευον
Being a sacrament, it is performed “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” by the presbytery.4
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him, and if he had committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Confess faults to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. A righteous man’s fervent prayer is very powerful.
ἀσθενεῖ τις ἐν ὑμῖν προσκαλεσάσθω τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους τῆς ἐκκλησίας καὶ προσευξάσθωσαν ἐπ᾽ αὐτὸν ἀλείψαντες αὐτὸν ἐλαίῳ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου καὶ ἡ εὐχὴ τῆς πίστεως σώσει τὸν κάμνοντα καὶ ἐγερεῖ αὐτὸν ὁ κύριος κἂν ἁμαρτίας ᾖ πεποιηκώς ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ ἐξομολογεῖσθε ἀλλήλοις τὰ παραπτώματα, καὶ εὔχεσθε ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων ὅπως ἰαθῆτε πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη
There is still a seventh remission of sins through penitence, although hard and laborious, when the sinner washes his “couch in tears,”6 and his tears become his “bread day and night,”7 when he is not ashamed to declare his sin to the priest of the Lord (sacerdoti Domini) and seek medicine according to the one who says,8 “I said, ‘I will proclaim to the Lord my injustice against myself,’ and you forgave the impiety of my heart.”
Wherein that also is fulfilled which the apostle James said,9 “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick...and if he had committed sins, they will be forgiven him.”
Est adhuc et septima, licet dura et laboriosa, per pœnitentiam remissio peccatorum, cum lavat peccator “in lacrimis stratum” suum, et fiunt ei lacrimæ suæ “panes die ac nocte,” cum non erubescit sacerdoti Domini indicare peccatum suum, et quærere medicinam, secundum eum, qui ait: “Dixi: Pronuntiabo adversum me iniustitiam meam Domino, et tu remisisti impietatem cordis mei.”
In quo impletur et illud, quod Iacobus apostolus dicit: “Si quis autem infirmatur, vocet presbyteros Ecclesiæ, et imponant ei manus ungentes eum oleo in nomine Domini. Et oratio fidei salvabit infirmum, et si in peccatis fuerit, remittentur ei.”
John Chrysostom wrote,10
For those [beget us] in this [present life], but these beget [us] into that [coming life]. And those cannot even ward off bodily death from [their offspring], nor repeal an assaulting disease. But these often save the soul both sick and about to perish, producing the milder punishment for some, but preventing others from even beginning to fall, not only by teaching and admonishing, but also by assisting through prayers. For not only when they beget us, but also afterwards, they have authority to forgive sins. It says,11 “For is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him, and if he committed sins, they will be forgiven him.”
οἱ μὲν γὰρ εἰς ταύτην, οἱ δὲ εἰς ἐκείνην γεννῶσι. Κἀκεῖνοι μὲν οὐδὲ τὸν σωματικὸν αὐτοῖς δύναιντ' ἂν ἀμύνασθαι θάνατον, οὐ νόσον ἐπενεχθεῖσαν ἀποκρούσασθαι· οὗτοι δὲ καὶ κάμνουσαν καὶ ἀπόλλυσθαι μέλλουσαν τὴν ψυχὴν πολλάκις ἔσωσαν, τοῖς μὲν πραοτέραν τὴν κόλασιν ἐργασάμενοι, τοὺς δὲ οὐδὲ παρὰ τὴν ἀρχὴν ἀφέντες ἐμπεσεῖν, οὐ τῷ διδάσκειν μόνον καὶ νουθετεῖν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῷ δι' εὐχῶν βοηθεῖν. Οὐ γὰρ ὅταν ἡμᾶς ἀναγεννῶσι μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ μετὰ ταῦτα συγχωρεῖν ἔχουσιν ἐξουσίαν ἁμαρτήματα. «Ἀσθενεῖ γάρ τις, φησίν, ἐν ὑμῖν; Προσκαλεσάσθω τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους τῆς Ἐκκλησίας, καὶ προσευξάσθωσαν ἐπ' αὐτόν, ἀλείψαντες αὐτὸν ἐλαίῳ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ Κυρίου· καὶ ἡ εὐχὴ τῆς πίστεως σώσει τὸν κάμνοντα καὶ ἐγερεῖ αὐτὸν ὁ Κύριος, κἂν ἁμαρτίας ᾖ πεποιηκώς, ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ.»
Pope Innocent I wrote,12
And as your friendliness has chosen to take advice concerning this, amongst other things, my son, the deacon Caelestin, has added in his letter that you have set down what is written in the epistle of the blessed apostle James,13 “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him, and if he had committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” Which, there is no doubt, ought to be taken, or understood, of the faithful who are sick, who can be anointed with the holy of chrism, which, having been prepared by a bishop, may be used not only for priests, but for all Christians, for anointing in their own need, or in that of their connections. But we observe that something superfluous is added, even the doubt whether that be lawful for priests. For the words are addressed to priests for this reason, that bishops, hindered by their engagements, cannot go to every sick person. Whereas if a bishop be able, or think fit to visit any such, and to bless, and touch him with chrism, he can do so without any hestitation, as it is his to prepare the chrism. For this chrism cannot be poured upon penitents, in as much as it is a kind of sacrament. For to persons to whom the other sacraments are denied, how can it be fancied that one kind (of sacrament) can be granted?
Sane quoniam de hoc, sicuti de cæteris, consulere voluit dilectio tua, adiecit etiam filius meus Cœlestinus diaconus in epistola sua, esse a tua dilectione positum illud, quod in beati apostoli Iacobi epistola conscriptum est: “Infirmatur quis in vobis inducat presbiteros et orent super eum unguentes eum oleo in nomine Domini: et oratio fidei salvabit infirmum. Et suscitabit illum Dominus, et si in peccatis fuerit, remittentur ei.” Quod non est dubium de fidelibus egrotantibus accipi vel intellegi debere qui sancto oleo chrismatis perungui possunt, quod ab episcopo confectum, non solum sacerdotibus sed omnibus uti Christianis licet, in sua aut suorum necessitate unguendo. Cæterum illud superfluum videmus adiectum ut de episcopo ambigatur, quod presbiteris licere non dubium est. Nam idcirco presbiteris dictum est, quia episcopi occupationibus aliis impediti, ad omnes languidos ire non possunt. Cæterum si episcopus aut potest, aut dignum ducit, aliquem a se visitandum, et benedicere et tangere chrismate; sine cunctatione potest, cuius est ipsum chrisma conficere. Nam pœnitentibus istud infundi non potest, quia genus est sacramenti. Nam quibus reliqua sacramenta negantur, quomodo unum genus putatur posse concedi?
Berington, Joseph; Kirk, John. The Faith of Catholics: Confirmed by Scripture and Attested by the Fathers of the First Five Centuries of the Church. 5th ed. Ed. Capel, Thomas John; Waterworth, James. Vol. 3. New York: Pustet, 1910. (206–210)
Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1499–1532
Gibbons, James. The Faith of Our Fathers: Being a Plain Exposition and Vindication of the Church Founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ. 10th ed. Baltimore: Murphy, 1879. (394–397)
John Chrysostom (Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος). “Regarding the Accusation because He Hid from the Priesthood” (Πρὸς τὸν Ἐγκαλοῦντα ἐπὶ τῷ Διαφυγεῖν τὴν Ἱερωσύνην). Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Græca. Ed. Migne, Jacques Paul. Vol. 48. Petit-Montrouge: Imprimerie Catholique, 1862.
Origen (Ὠριγένης). “Homily on Leviticus, 2” (In Leviticum Homilia II). Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Græca. Ed. Migne, Jacques Paul. Vol. 12. Petit-Montrouge: Imprimerie Catholique, 1862.
Pope Innocent I. “Epistle 25” (Epistola XXV). Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Prima. Ed. Migne, Jacques Paul. Vol. 20. Petit-Montrouge: Imprimerie Catholique, 1845.
1 Latin unctio infirmorum; Greek ἡ ἄλειψις τῶν ἀρρώστων or ἡ ἄλειψις τῶν ἀσθενῶν
2 CCC, §1499
3 Mark 6:7, 6:12–13
4 Jam. 5:14–16
5 Homily on Leviticus, 2. (418-419)
6 Psa. 6:6 (6:7 Vulgate)
7 Psa. 42:3 (41:4 Vulgate)
8 Psa. 32:5 (31:5 Vulgate)
9 Jam. 5:14–15
10 Regarding the Accusation because He Hid from the Priesthood. Book 3, Ch. 6. (646)
11 Jam. 5:14–15
12 Epistle 25. (559–561)
13 Jam. 5:14–15