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Sacrament of anointing: For disease and ‘dis-ease’

The universal church’s Year of Mercy will conclude in November, but several parishes 
in the Archdiocese of New Orleans this month will spotlight one of the church’s least-known sacraments – the anointing of the sick.
Parishes are being encouraged to celebrate the anointing of the sick either in the context of a Mass or a prayer service around the Feast of St. Luke (the physician), which is Oct. 18.

Dominican Father David Caron said while the anointing of the sick normally is conferred upon someone who is hospitalized or facing surgery, those availing themselves of the sacrament do not have to be in danger of imminent death.

“Many people don’t understand that you don’t have to have a doctor’s note to be anointed,” said Father Caron, vicar for evangelization for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “Healing can happen physically, but there is also psychological or spiritual healing. In my conversations with priests, it’s amazing how a lot of them say that their people are experiencing fear. It’s not only disease but ‘dis-ease.’ With terrorism and other things in the world, people are living out of a fear-based model. There’s just a lot of uncertainty. It’s the political reality of our country.”

The community’s prayer
Father Caron said the public celebration of the sacrament is a way for the entire parish community to join in the prayer for healing.

“Fear can paralyze us and cause us psychological or spiritual distress,” Father Caron said. “Healing liturgies are great because we get a chance to pray as a community for others’ healing, whether you receive the sacrament or not. The community can name various layers where healing needs to happen. It’s a chance for us to be prayed over and have our prayer anointed.”

As a practical matter, if there are many people who would like to be anointed, those coming forward to receive the sacrament could stand in the aisle with their backs to the pew while the priest works his way around the church to anoint them.

Or, Father Caron said, the people receiving the anointing could sit in every other pew, allowing the priest to move easily between pews.

Father Caron said some parishes already offer the communal anointing of the sick as part of their current pastoral practice. Others offer anointing when a parishioner who is sick or about to have surgery calls the parish.

“But a public celebration is a sign of a larger pastoral reality of taking care of those in the community,” he said.

Sacrament conferred by priest
Only a priest – and not a permanent deacon – can anoint because the sacrament involves the remission of sins. The anointing of the sick is one of two sacraments of healing in the church. The other is the sacrament of reconciliation.

The ritual involves the anointing of the person’s forehead and hands with the oil of the sick, which is blessed during Holy Week by the archbishop.

Father Caron said persons should not step forward to get anointed “for a cold or a headache or a hangnail, because the rite calls for ‘serious illness.’ But it is for disease and dis-ease, so there is a psychological component. We don’t ever want to abuse the sacrament, but at the same time, the priest is not the litmus test for whether or not the person comes forward.”

Father Caron also said the benefit of a communal celebration of the sacrament is that “now people who are sick have a name or a face” and can be prayed for by name.

List of healing liturgies
Here is the latest list of churches that will be offering a healing liturgy:

➤ St. Rita, 2729 Lowerline St., New Orleans, Oct. 15, 4 p.m. Mass.

➤ St. Francis of Assisi, 631 State St., New Orleans, Oct. 15, 4 p.m. Mass. For more information, contact Teresa Miller at 891-4479.

➤ St. Anselm, 306 St. Mary St., Madisonville, Oct. 17, during the 8 a.m. daily Mass. For more information, contact the parish office at (985) 845-7342.

➤ Immaculate Conception, 4401 Seventh St., Marrero, Oct. 18, 6 p.m. Mass.

➤ Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 8968 Hwy. 23, Belle Chasse, Oct. 18, 7 p.m. For more information, contact Dolly Roy at the church office at 394-0314.

➤ St. Pius X Church, 6666 Spanish Fort Blvd., New Orleans, Oct. 19, 6 to 7 p.m. Holy Hour with prayers for healing. The hour will include eucharistic exposition and will conclude with benediction. Confessions also will be heard during Holy Hour.

Other ‘Mercy’ celebrations
The Year of Mercy will end Nov. 20, but there are other archdiocesan celebrations coming:

➤ Father José Lavastida will host a seminar on “Encountering the God of Mercy in a Well-formed Conscience Oct. 29 at 10 a.m. at St. Pius X Church, 6666 Spanish Fort Blvd., New Orleans.

➤ The archdiocese will host a “Bridges of Mercy” interfaith prayer service Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Parish, 146 Fourth St., Westwego. The three monotheistic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – will be represented along with other faith traditions.

➤ The “Mercy Through Movies” series will conclude with the screening of “Philomena” Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the Siena Room of St. Dominic’s rectory, 775 Harrison Ave. Dominican Father Thomas Condon will lead the post-movie discussion. For more information, contact 837-2129, ext. 29.

➤ The Holy Year Door at St. Louis Cathedral will be closed Nov. 20 at the 11 a.m. Mass by Archbishop Gregory Aymond.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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