As the Church prepares to celebrate the World Day of the Sick tomorrow, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Pope Benedict XVI issued a message reminding the faithful about the importance of the “sacraments of healing” – penance and Anointing of the Sick.
“A time of suffering, in which one could be tempted to abandon oneself to discouragement and hopelessness, can thus be transformed into a time of grace so as to return to oneself, and like the prodigal son of the parable, to think anew about one’s life, recognizing its errors and failures, longing for the embrace of the Father, and following the pathway to his home.”
He uses the words of Jesus in His encounter with the ten lepers, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (Lk 17:19), as the theme for this year’s message. These words “help us to become aware of the importance of faith for those who, burdened by suffering and illness, draw near to the Lord,” he explains. “In their encounter with him they can truly experience that he who believes is never alone! God, indeed, in his Son, does not abandon us to our anguish and sufferings, but is close to us, helps us to bear them, and wishes to heal us in the depths of our hearts (cf. Mk 2:1-12).”
He also placed great emphasis on the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, formerly known as extreme unction, reminding the faithful that this sacrament may be administered in “various human situations connected with illness, and not only when a person is at the end of his or her life.”
He explains that the anointing with olive oil that takes place during this sacrament recalls the “double mystery of the Mount of Olives,” as both the location of the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus confronted his passion, and the place where he ascended into heaven. Oil thus acts “as God’s medicine … offering strength and consolation, yet at the same time (pointing) beyond the moment of the illness toward the definitive healing, the resurrection.”
Both penance and the sacrament of the sick “have their natural completion in Eucharistic Communion,” he said. “Received at a time of illness,” Communion associates the “person who partakes of the body and blood of Christ to the offering that he made of himself to the Father for the salvation of all.”
He refers to these sacraments as “precious instruments of God’s grace which help a sick person to conform himself or herself ever more fully to the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ.”
His message concludes with a prayer to Our Lady: To Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Sick, we raise our trusting gaze and our prayer; may her maternal compassion, manifested as she stood beside her dying Son on the Cross, accompany and sustain the faith and the hope of every sick and suffering person on the journey of healing for the wounds of body and spirit!”
Click here to read the full message.
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