A practice I have recently heard more and more about is the use of the Sacrament of Anointing in the course of the Eucharist. However, this Anointing is not being offered in the course of a Mass a the Prayers of the People, but is now frequently being offered after a person receives Communion.
The intent seems to be that the individual receives the concentrated prayers of the community and/or a priest. I read a comment that said “it makes me feel special” and “I get more attention to my need for healing.”
I worry, however, that this understanding of the Sacrament of Anointing distorts our understanding of the Sacrament of Communion.
Jesus is our healing. All of our Sacraments find their source and power in the person of Jesus Christ.
Saint Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “Power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (12:9). This is not to say that pain is something to boast of or exult in, but it is something that is shared with Christ. One of the realities of the Incarnation is that our glory is not only in the image of Christ but our pains as well. Our human frailty is borne by the one who came among us again bearing those awful wounds.
In Communion, we come to receive the one that is the source of healing and is our triumph over the wounds of this world. We are offered the one who knows our suffering and that bears our pain. Christ, who visited and healed the sick, comes to us in Communion in a way like none other. It is in that moment that we are offered union with the one who continues to visit, heal, and defend the sick. We come to receive, be visited by, and to commune with the one who heals.
That healing is not restricted to physical healing. So often the healing we receive is a spiritual one that gives us the strength to bear our pain. Christ bore pain for us and we are called to bear it with him in mind and heart. The healing we receive is a spiritual one that calls us to allow our heart and mind to be turned to the world to come – the world yet unseen. Pain can often focus the soul on what matters most deeply to us.
A healing Mass is a holy experience. That healing should be placed in the context of the whole of the Eucharistic liturgy though. Prayers and anointing should be offered along with all of the other prayers of the people. Those prayers find their consummation in the receiving of Communion. Healing, an integral part of the encounter with Jesus, should not be something that is done after the encounter with Jesus in the Sacrament but before as we gather all of our prayers and present them to the one who comes among us and hears them all.
Anointing is a Sacrament that offers our pain and longing for wholeness to God to transform in whatever way He will. In the tradition, when Anointing was done primarily at the end of life, it was a Sacrament that offered eschatalogical hope. It was a Sacrament of the completion of our earthly struggle. It was a configuration of our suffering with Christ’s in the final moments of our life.
In the fuller understanding of Anointing we now have all of our life’s infirmities and pain, not just those at the end of it, are offered to God. Healing is not simply an end-of-life concern in this fuller understanding but a grace bestowed throughout our lives. That grace comes, however, not in an instantaneous healing but in a conforming of the entirety of our lives to God’s will.
Anointing is like Confession in that its chief fruit is not an immediate transformation but a gradual turning of the heart to perceive the fullness of God – a fullness always offered in the Eucharist. The healing ministry of Jesus was not simply a momentary transformation but an invitation to know God so that permanent healing could be had.
This turning of the heart and mind happens is part of the Eucharistic life. We are drawn to a living Jesus who was broken for us and who knows our struggles and we are made one with the resurrected Lord. This is the fulfillment of all Anointing and Healing – a oneness with Christ. Think of the healing of the blind, it was not offered simply so that they could see, but so that they could Behold.
All of the Sacraments should be viewed in the context of the others and especially in the context of Baptism. Each Sacrament builds upon the grace bestowed in the very beginning of our life with Christ. Each Sacrament gives us further growth in our life with Him as we are drawn ever more fully into a life of trust, service, and self-offering. Anointing is one part of the pattern of holiness.
The Eucharist is that place where we meet Christ and He meets us. It is that regular conformation of our life with Christ’s. Healing takes place, in its fullest spiritual sense, at the altar rail. Immediately after that most intimate encounter with God there is no need of another healing – just thanksgiving for all the healing and reconciling work of God in Christ.
This is a more intimate sustenance than physical necessities being provided, it is the Lord himself coming to be among and in His people, offering healing and wholeness.
We feed on Christ. In that moment, we are open to the Lord and Him to us. We are reminded that we depend wholly on God and rest assured of His constant love. There is always healing to be found in the Eucharist and we should always be offering prayers for healing but we should also remember that true healing is ever on offer in Body and Blood.