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'We all become ministers of healing': sacrament fosters awareness of the sick in our midst.

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."

When Barrett performs an anointing of the sick on a person in a sickbed, they pray together and Barrett offers the opportunity for general absolution. "Typically, what we do is we try to establish some sort of connection," he said.

"Those are very lonely occasions when it's only the priest and the person on a deathbed," Barrett said.

But when family and friends are present for the prayer during the anointing, there is a sense of hope and healing. "We all become ministers of healing," he said.

Our Lady of Good Hope celebrates the anointing of the sick during Mass about twice a year. "It seems to work much better when the assembly prays and lays on hands," Barrett said.

"We're able to raise our level of awareness. ... We become aware of the needs of people around the table, and also more aware that people who are sick are not always around the table with us. he said. "It piques the conscience and the consciousness of the assembly, when we do celebrate it as a family"

On the day of the anointing, Barrett and his staff invite those to be anointed to take their place anywhere in the church. "We don't segregate them or ask them to sit up front for the convenience of the priest or anything like that. We have plenty of handicap access, which is a blessing," he said.

The congregation comes forward and creates a chain of hands upon the person that is being anointed.

"It takes a long time," he added with a chuckle. "But it takes the time that we need to take to do this, and to make sure the assembly is involved in it."

After the ceremony, the Mass continues as usual, until the final blessing. Our Lady of Good Hope provides ministers of care and ministers of the Eucharist to come to the anointed at Communion, rather than ask them to come forward.

"We ask all of those who have been anointed to rise, if they can of course, and we impart a final blessing upon them," Barrett said. "The church, as Pope Francis says, would really like to come to them, rather than asking them in their infirmity to come to us."

Lysaught also emphasized the community aspect of the sacrament. "The rite clearly states over and over again that it is the community--the family, the parish, the medical community--who cares for the sick in a holistic, continuous way, and that the sacrament of anointing of the sick is just one part of the church's ministry of care and comfort to the sick," she told NCR in an email.

"It highlights in a new way the ministerial role of the family and everyone in the Christian community," she said.

According to the rite, the priest is the only proper minister to anoint the sick, which includes "those whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age." The rite also states that people may be anointed before surgery and "elderly people may be anointed if they have become notably weakened even though no serious illness is present."

But can the rite apply to the mentally ill, addicts, those suffering from grief, or people with nonlethal physiological conditions that impact daily life?

"This would be up to the prudential judgment of the priest," Lysaught said. "But I think there is room in the rite for broad interpretation. As our notion of illness evolves, I think other conditions certainly would qualify, especially as we gain a more biological understanding of mental illness, for example."

Barrett said that addiction and grief are appropriate examples of those who are in need of the anointing of the sick.

"It seems to me that, first of all, in the Gospels. Jesus named--oftentimes by looking into the heart of the person in need--the issue that needed healing," Barrett said. "He understood that there were ailments that needed his attention. Number two, in any sort of recovery, people, those who are addicted, also are required to name the ailment that they struggle with, and in some way or another to come out of the closet, so to speak.

"So [addiction and grief] are good reasons to come forward for that healing touch, not only for the grace that comes from the sacraments, but for the grace that comes from the people who support them," he said. "Those are really excellent reasons to seek healing, not only from God, but from the community"

'I call it the least of the sacraments. ... It doesn't get enough press. It doesn't get a ton of attention.'

--M. Therese Lysaught

Caption: --Newscom/ZUMA Press/Mindy Schauer

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.
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Author:Forgey, Mick
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 12, 2014
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