Today’s Catechism sections begin the explanation of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Supporting material comes from the “Summa Theologica”.

Article 5


1499 "By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of the priests the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them. And indeed she exhorts them to contribute to the good of the People of God by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ."97

I. Its Foundations in the Economy of Salvation

Illness in human life

1500 Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death.

1501 Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.

The sick person before God

1502 The man of the Old Testament lives his sickness in the presence of God. It is before God that he laments his illness, and it is of God, Master of life and death, that he implores healing.98 Illness becomes a way to conversion; God's forgiveness initiates the healing.99 It is the experience of Israel that illness is mysteriously linked to sin and evil, and that faithfulness to God according to his law restores life: "For I am the Lord, your healer."100 The prophet intuits that suffering can also have a redemptive meaning for the sins of others.101 Finally Isaiah announces that God will usher in a time for Zion when he will pardon every offense and heal every illness.102

Christ the physician

1503 Christ's compassion toward the sick and his many healings of every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that "God has visited his people"103and that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Jesus has the power not only to heal, but also to forgive sins;104 he has come to heal the whole man, soul and body; he is the physician the sick have need of.105 His compassion toward all who suffer goes so far that he identifies himself with them: "I was sick and you visited me."106 His preferential love for the sick has not ceased through the centuries to draw the very special attention of Christians toward all those who suffer in body and soul. It is the source of tireless efforts to comfort them.

1504 Often Jesus asks the sick to believe.107 He makes use of signs to heal: spittle and the laying on of hands,108 mud and washing.109 The sick try to touch him, "for power came forth from him and healed them all."110 and so in the sacraments Christ continues to "touch" us in order to heal us.

1505 Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases."111 But he did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. On the cross Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the "sin of the world,"112 of which illness is only a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion.


1526 "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (⇒Jas 5:14-15).

In the “Summa Theologica”, the Sacramental nature of the Anointing of the Sick is examined.

Article 1. Whether Extreme Unction is a sacrament?

Objection 1. It would seem that Extreme Unction is not a sacrament. For just as oil is used on sick people, so is it on catechumens. But anointing of catechumens with oil is not a sacrament. Therefore neither is the Extreme Unction of the sick with oil.

Objection 2. Further, the sacraments of the Old Law were figures of the sacraments of the New Law. But there was no figure of Extreme Unction in the Old Law. Therefore it is not a sacrament of the New Law.

Objection 3. Further, according to Dionysius (Eccl. Hier. iii, v) every sacrament aims at either cleansing, or enlightening, or perfecting. Now Extreme Unction does not aim at either cleansing, or enlightening, for this is ascribed to Baptism alone, or perfecting, for according to Dionysius(Eccl. Hier. ii), this belongs to Confirmation and the Eucharist. Therefore Extreme Unction is not a sacrament.

On the contrary, The sacraments of the Church supply man's defects sufficiently with respect to every state of life. Now no other than Extreme Unction does this for those who are departing from this life. Therefore it is a sacrament.

Further, the sacraments are neither more nor less than spiritual remedies. Now Extreme Unction is a spiritual remedy, since it avails for the remission of sins, according to James 5:15. Therefore it is a sacrament.

I answer that, Among the visible operations of the Church, some are sacraments, as Baptism, some are sacramentals, as Exorcism. The difference between these is that a sacrament is an action of the Church that reaches to the principal effect intended in the administration of the sacraments, whereas a sacramental is an action which, though it does not reach to that effect, is nevertheless directed towards that principal action. Now the effect intended in the administration of the sacraments is the healing of the disease of sin: wherefore it is written (Isaiah 27:9): "This is all the fruit, that the sin . . . should be taken away." Since then Extreme Unction reaches to this effect, as is clear from the words of James, and is not ordained to any other sacrament as an accessory thereto, it is evident that Extreme Unction is not a sacramental but a sacrament.

Reply to Objection 1. The oil with which catechumens are anointed does not convey the remission of sins to them by its unction, for that belongs to Baptism. It does, however, dispose them to receive Baptism, as stated above (III, 71, 3). Hence that unction is not a sacrament as Extreme Unction is.

Reply to Objection 2. This sacrament prepares man for glory immediately, since it is given to those who are departing from this life. And as, under the Old Law, it was not yet time to enter into glory, because "the Law brought nobody [Vulgate: 'nothing'] to perfection" (Hebrews 7:19), so this sacrament had not to be foreshadowed therein by some corresponding sacrament, as by a figure of the same kind. Nevertheless it was somewhat foreshadowed remotely by all the healings related in the Old Testament.

Reply to Objection 3. Dionysius makes no mention of Extreme Unction, as neither of Penance, nor of Matrimony, because he had no intention to decide any question about the sacraments, save in so far as they serve to illustrate the orderly disposition of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, as regards the ministers, their actions, and the recipients. Nevertheless since Extreme Unction confers grace and remission of sins, there is no doubt that it possesses an enlightening and cleansing power, even as Baptism, though not so copious.


97 LG 11; cf. ⇒ Jas 5:14-16; ⇒ Rom 8:17; ⇒ Col 1:24; ⇒ 2 Tim 2:11-12; ⇒ 1 Pet 4:13.
98 Cf. ⇒ Pss 6:3; ⇒ 38; ⇒ Isa 38.
99 Cf. ⇒ Pss 32:5; ⇒ 38:5; ⇒ 39:9, ⇒ 12; ⇒ 107:20; cf. ⇒ Mk 2:5-12.
100 ⇒ Ex 15:26.
101 Cf. ⇒ Isa 53:11.
102 Cf. ⇒ Isa 33:24.
103 ⇒ Lk 7:16; cf. ⇒ Mt 4:24.
104 Cf. ⇒ Mk 2:5-12.
105 Cf. ⇒ Mk 2:17.
106 ⇒ Mt 25:36.
107 Cf. ⇒ Mk 5:34, ⇒ 36; ⇒ 9:23.
108 Cf. ⇒ Mk 7:32-36; ⇒ 8:22-25.
109 Cf. ⇒ Jn 9:6-7.
110 ⇒ Lk 6:19; cf. ⇒ Mk 1:41; ⇒ 3:10; ⇒ 6:56.
111 ⇒ Mt 8:17; cf. ⇒ Isa 53:4.
112 ⇒ Jn 1:29; cf. ⇒ Isa 53:4-6.