The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick finds its origin in the healing ministry of Jesus. Throughout his life Jesus would seek out the sick and offer them healing. For some who sought his healing touch, all they need to do was to reach out in faith and simply touch him and they would be healed. The apostles also served in this same ministry; merely being touched by their shadow some would be healed.

The author of the Letter of James invites the community: “Are there people sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church and let the priests pray over them anointing them with the oil in the name of the Lord”. From this invitation there developed the ritual for the Anointing of the Sick. The elders of the community would gather with the community to pray over the sick person and anoint them with oil that had been blessed by the Bishop.

As this practice developed, people began to delay its celebration till the sick person was nearing death. Thus, the understanding of the sacrament moved from prayer for the sick person to being usually celebrated at the time of death. Thus, the sacrament became known as the “Sacrament of the Dying”. The reform of Vatican II restored the sacrament to its rightful place in the life of the Christian by focusing upon the prayerful support of all who are sick who are anointed in the hope of enabling them to resume their former duties. Its celebration is often linked with the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance.

Vatican II also saw the restoration of Viaticum, the Sacrament of the Dying. The celebration of the Eucharist as Viaticum provided food for the passage through death to eternal life and is the sacrament proper to the dying Christian. It is the completion and crown of the Christian life on this earth, signifying that the Christian follows the Lord to eternal glory and the banquet of the heavenly kingdom. As the Christian has been fed throughout their life with the Bread of Life in the Eucharist, so as they drawn near to their final journey to eternal life they are sustained on this journey with Viaticum – the receiving of Communion to strengthen us with this food for our journey and comfort us by this pledge of our resurrection.

In Viaticum the dying person is united with Christ in his passage out of this world to the Father. The Church invites the family and community to support their beloved at this time with their prayer. Through the prayers for the commendation of the dying the Church helps to sustain this union until it is fulfilled.