Holy Unction (Anointing of the sick)



All over the Mediterranean lands you will find groves of olive trees.  The berries are picked and crushed, and in this way olive oil is produced.  In Our Lord’s day olive oil was used for all sorts of purposes, including the treatment of wounds and various diseases.  You will remember how, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Good Samaritan bandaged the wounds of the bandits’ victim, “having poured oil…on them” (NRSV, Luke 10:34).

During the early days of Our Lord’s Ministry in Galilee he sent his Apostles out in pairs to preach and to heal the sick; and, as St Mark tells us, they “…anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (NRSV, 6:13).  This prepared the way for the Sacrament of Holy Unction, or the anointing of the sick with oil, which we find in the earliest days of the Church.  St James refers to it in his letter in the New Testament.  This is what he says: “Are any among you sick?  They should call for the elders of the Church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven” (NRSV, 5:14,15).  You will notice that the oil is no longer used as a medicine for the body, but is the means by which health of soul and body is given by God to the sick person.

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