The Church has always understood this sacrament as a continuation of the healing ministry of Jesus. However, by the twelfth century, the sacrament related to dying, perhaps because of peoples’ preoccupation with “saving our souls”, and the last chance for sins to be forgiven. As a result, it was referred to as “extreme” or final “unction” or anointing. This meant that a priest would be present to administer extreme unction and to pray for our soul. Today, the connection between this sacrament and dying is still strong. Many people believe that when a person is anointed with the Oil of the Sick they are nearing the end of life. However, it rather connects us with the healing ministry of Jesus, who laid his hands on the sick and prayed over them.
The Laying on of Hands is central to the celebration of the sacrament and, as priests, we do this before the anointing with the oil. Throughout scripture there are references to healing – in the Letter of James, St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and in the Gospels.
While many still see this sacrament as an end of life moment, people can receive it at various times in their life – prior to surgery, for healing of the mind as well as the body, in case of death and so on.