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University of Chicago 

Sbe ffreagurg of tbe ffaftb Serieg: 28 

General Editor: 

Professor of Dogmatic Theology at St. Edmund's 
College, Old Hall. 






PH.D., D,D., M.A. 

Introduction by 







Censor Ltbrorum 



Archbishop, New York 

April 9, 1931. 


All rights reserved no part of this 

book may be reproduced in any form 

without permission in writing from 

the publisher. 

Set up and electrotyped. Published May, 1931. 





THAT hour in which Extreme Unction is adminis- 
tered is one of deep solemnity. There is no pomp 
in the rite, no splendor of setting, no dignity re- 
quired in the minister. Display, magnificence, 
honor are proved to be but vanities of vanities by the 
solemn simplicity of Extreme Unction. Death hov- 
ers near, and through death the mystery of eternity. 
The Church makes its final gesture, and resigns a 
soul to death and God. Loved ones and learned 
doctors stand helpless before the solemnity of the 
inevitable. Tear-soaked eyes watch the fingers of 
the priest as he anoints the five senses. Tongues are 
hushed and hearts feel gripped while the low voice 
of the priest prays God to forgive this servant of 
God whatsoever sin has been done by the eyes and 
the ears, by the nose and the lips and the palate, by 
the touch, of the hand and the step of the feet. In 
the black silences of the night, Extreme Unction 
seems to bring death nearer; in the brilliant, 
noisy noonday, it makes life seem something distant 
and alien* At all times, there accompanies it the 
deep solemnity of life's intensest moment. 


Though Extreme Unction is a sorrow-soaked 
Sacrament, it should be a Sacrament of consolation. 
Since one is born to die, one should be glad to die well 
and to be aided well in the last short step to God's 
presence. That Sacrament should console which 
has, for its effects, the remission of grievous sins 
against God as well as of those sins which are lesser 
offenses; the remission of the remnants of sin and 
of temporal punishment of forgiven sins; the po- 
tency of spiritual medicine giving strength and 
vigor to the soul wearied by bodily ills; the potency, 
oftentimes and in most amazing ways, of curing 
even the ills and the diseases of one who is on the 
threshold of eternity. In its effects, Extreme Unc- 
tion should give joy and peace of soul when the soul 
needs them most. 

In view of these certain results that follow 
the administration of Extreme Unction, we can 
agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Arendzen when he 
vigorously states: "The delay in asking for the Sac- 
rament till death is near or almost inevitable is a 
lamentable abuse, unfortunately all too frequent. 
It arises from lack of faith, foolish superstition, or 
false kindness, or from all these causes combined." 
Happily, the practice of calling the priest at the 
beginnings of a serious sickness is becoming more 
frequent and usual. The example of the wise vir- 
gins, with their oil, is more to be commended than 
that of the foolish virgins, even though the wait un- 
til the coming of the bridegroom might be long. 



Almost as lamentable as the abuse from delay is 
that from the lack of knowledge of the purpose and 
the meaning of Extreme Unction. Theologians, 
comparatively speaking, have written less about this 
Sacrament than about any of the other six. An 
authoritative catechism of intermediate grade sums 
up the necessary information about it in twelve 
questions and answers. There is not, really, much 
to be said; but what data there may be, is of ex- 
treme importance; and since the data is limited, 
there remains less excuse for ignorance. 

Dr. Arendzen omits nothing of importance in 
this brief treatise. He adduces, on the other hand, 
nothing that is unimportant. He discusses every- 
thing that is essential and wastes no words on mat- 
ters of impractical speculation. It is essential and 
important that we should know how and when 
Extreme Unction was instituted as a Sacrament; 
that we should have arrayed before us the testimony 
of tradition; that we should be conversant with the 
necessities for a valid and a licit administration of 
the Sacrament; that we should, finally, know defi- 
nitely what are the effects of the Sacrament. These 
matters, and those hiany practical matters that are 
allied, are treated by Dr. Arendzen in a compact, 
logical and authoritative fashion. 





INTRODUCTION . . . , . v 


(A) SCRIPTURE . . . .7 

(B) TRADITION . . . . .' 16 

MENT . . . '. 35 




GOD in his infinite mercy has encompassed 
the life of man on earth by the gracious net 
of his life-giving sacraments. Supernatural 
life is first opened to him by baptism. The 
sacrament of the new birth removes the stain 
of original and of any subsequent sin and it 
constitutes him the adopted son of God, his 
heir through the Beatific Vision and co-heir 
of Christ. In the first years of adolescence, 
when the struggle with sin begins, God 
sends him the Holy Ghost in Confirmation 
to strengthen his soul for the combat which 
continues all the years of his life. As no 
life is ever maintained unless sustained by 
appropriate food, God with gracious bounty 
supplies a celestial food for the support of the 
supernatural life of man; he gives him the 
Manna that comes from heaven in the Holy 

During man's sojourn on earth there occurs 
in the natural order no greater and more 


important change than marriage. A new 
world of duties and responsibilities as well as 
trials then begins to surround him and God 
created the mighty sacrament of Matrimony 
to support him in his task. 

As God knows the clay of which we are 
made and the frailty of our human nature, he 
foresaw the shipwreck many would make of 
their supernatural life. In the sacrament of 
Penance he gave man a plank of safety by 
which even those who sinned mortally after 
baptism might be rescued from being en- 
gulfed in eternal damnation. 

And finally with divine ingenuity God 
created the sacrament of Extreme Unction 
to be the complement and consummation of 
Penance. By this Unction at the end of life 
sin itself and the remnants of sin can be to- 
tally undone and man prepared for the im- 
mediate entrance into everlasting glory. 

In itself Extreme Unction is a sacrament 
of the living. It is meant for those whose 
souls are in the state of sanctifying^ grace, 
but who need support in the stress and strain 
of grave illness that leads to bodily death. 
But by an excess of long-suffering pity God 
made it avail even for those whose souls are 
in grievous sin but who have begun to return 
to him by imperfect repentance and who are 
so overcome by their illness that they can 


think and act no more. Extreme Unction 
may therefore be regarded as a final triumph 
of God's tenderness towards men, saving them 
to the uttermost, and almost in spite of their 
own weakness and the wiles of the evil one. 





THE Council of Trent teaches us * that the 
Unction of the sick was instituted by Christ 
our Lord, as truly and properly a sacrament 
of the New Law, insinuated indeed in the 
Gospel of St Mark, but recommended and 
promulgated to the faithful by St James. 

The words in St Mark vi, 13 are these: 
"Going forth they preached that men should 
do penance: and they cast out many devils 
and anointed with oil many that were sick 
and healed them." Some have seen in these 
words an account of the use of the sacrament 
of Extreme Unction during our Lord's life 
on earth, but the Council of Trent with 
great caution uses the term "insinuated in 
Mark," making the healing unction performed 
by the Apostles rather a forestalling and 

1 xiv, 9,1. 


prefiguring of this sacrament than the sacra- 
ment itself. It is indeed most likely that the 
unctions and healings performed then by the 
Apostles were not sacramental in character. 
Their anointings and prayers over the sick 
did not constitute an outward sign instituted 
by Christ signifying and effecting divine 
grace in the souls of the recipients in virtue 
of the v49iry sign performed. We need not 
doubt that the Apostles used unction in the 
healing of the sick at our Lord's own com- 
mand. Our Lord used his own spittle mixed 
with earth to anoint the eyes of the man he 
cured, he may well have commanded his 
Apostles to use unction in their healings, but 
such unction had as direct meaning and pur- 
pose the bodily health of the recipient and 
only indirectly the bestowal of divine grace 
on their souls. If divine grace was given, it 
was an uncovenanted mercy in accordance 
with the faith and repentance of the sick 
or their friends, not the outcome of a sacra- 

What the Apostles had practised during 
their missionary journeys when our Lord was 
on earth, was transformed and raised to the 
dignity of a sacrament when they went forth 
into all the world and preached Christ and 
his resurrection. 

We have no record when and how precisely 



our Lord thus instituted this Sacrament of the 
New Law, but we learn from St James, 
the Brother of the Lord, in his Epistle to the 
Jewish Christians, that if anyone were sick 
amongst them, he was exhorted to receive 
this sacramental rite. 

"Is any one sick amongst you, let him 
send for the priests of the Church and let 
them pray over him, anointing him^ith oil 
in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of 
faith shall save the sick man and the Lord 
shall raise him up, and should he be in sins, 
they shall be forgiven him; confess therefore 
your sins one to another and pray one for 
another that you may be healed, for the 
fervent supplication of a just man availeth 
much." 2 f . 

If we consider these words in detail we 
gather that the first condition for this sacra- 
ment is a state of bodily sickness, and that of 
a serious nature, for the Greek word used 
indicates some grave ailment. The sick man 
is' evidently in such a state of weakness that 
he cannot go to the church or the dwelling- 
place of the priests, but has to beg them to 
come to him. The English phrase "send for 
the priests" well renders the Greek ex- 
pression, which implies not a mere asking of 

2 v, 14-16. 


a favour as one might desire a pious and kind 
friend to come and pray, but an authoritative 
demand that these priests should come in 
their official capacity to do something for the 
sick man which he could not do for himself. 
It is to be noted that the word "priests" is 
in the plural. This fact is undoubtedly the 
reason why both in East and West, in many 
places and during many centuries, this sacra- 
ment was administered not by one, but by 
several priests, sometimes seven, or at least 
as many as were conveniently available. 
But though the text suggests, yet it does not 
absolutely demand, a plurality of priests. 
The priests are thought of as a group of men 
within reach of the sick person; to send for 
them can mean to bid them send any one, 
or several from their number to perform their 
required functions. For many centuries in 
the West the custom has prevailed that the 
sacrament be administered by one priest 
alone, and this is now the only one sanctioned 
by authority. This therefore constitutes an 
infallible interpretation of the meaning of the 

It is natural to ask whether the words "let 
him send" constitute a strict command, or 
merely a wholesome advice, which might be 
disregarded without serious sin. The words 
immediately preceding: "Is any of you sad? 



Let him pray! Is lie cheerful in mind? 
Let him sing!" suggest a counsel rather than 
a command, but the following words con- 
taining a promise of forgiveness of sin for 
the sick man point to something more than 
a mere counsel. For a more definite inter- 
pretation of the passage we must go beyond 
the text itself to the interpretation of the 

It is obvious that the expression "the 
priests of the Church" cannot mean "the 
elders" in the sense of people of more ad- 
vanced age, but must designate some special 
officials of the Church, who even in St James' 
day were designated by the term "presby- 
teroi," a word of which "priest" is but an 
abbreviation. 3 

These priests should pray over the sick 
man. Note that the expression is not "pray 
for" the sick man, which might be done by 
anyone anywhere, but over him, as if they 
were to recite some powerful formula of 
impetration, while standing over him recum- 
bent on his bed of sickness. This is in keep- 
ing with the words which follow: "anointing 
him with oil in the name of the Lord." 
The praying and the anointing go together 
and constitute one combined action. Now 

3 For information regarding the functions of the priest- 
hood see Vol. XXIX. 



this anointing is done "in the name of the 
Lord." It is not merely some expression of 
the personal faith either of the sick man, or 
the priests or the bystanders, some symbolic 
action indicative of their personal desires or 
some natural medicinal practice, but it is 
an actual use of the power of Christ and an 
exercise of his authority committed to the 
priests. They act in the name of their 
Master. It is their Master's power which is 
brought into play and they are but the func- 
tionaries or officials, instruments in the hands 
of the Lord of the Church. 

The effect of this use of divine power is 
thus indicated: "The prayer of the faith 
shall save the sick man and the Lord shall 
raise him up." The prayer is said to be "of 
the faith"; it is not the mere informal ex- 
pression of individual supplication by any- 
one, Jew, Pagan, or Christian, who might 
be asking a favour of the Almighty, but it 
is the official exercise of the Christian Faith. 
It is an appeal to the power of Christ, sanc- 
tioned by him and carried out by his repre- 
sentatives. It is most emphatically an act 
of believers, unmeaning and useless to those 
not of the faith. The sending for the priests, 
the acceptance of the Christian rite by the 
sick man, the administration of it by the 
functionaries of the Church are typical mani- 



festations of the faith, provoked by the ex- 
treme need of the ill person in danger of 
death. This prayer shall save the sick man. 

The word "saving" is quite a general term, 
as also the expression "the Lord shall raise 
him up," and considered in itself might refer 
to bodily healing as well as to spiritual, and 
to both. The Greek word rendered "raising 
up" implies awakening, resuscitation, stirring 
up, bringing to life from torpor or dullness. 
We must note that in the last verse another 
word is used, "that you may be healed or 
cured"; this is normally used of bodily heal- 
ing alone. If, then, St James here uses a 
wider term it is natural to conclude that 
it stands for a ' wider idea. In the first 
place the Epistle is throughout concerned 
with supernatural ideas: a merciful judge- 
ment, a happy coming of the Lord, saving 
the soul from death, the crown of life, the 
possession of the kingdom, the gift of patience 
and so oh; hence to interpret the word 
"save" exclusively as meaning the recovery 
of bodily health would be out of harmony 
with the mind of St James. Moreover a 
spiritual but conditional effect is next men- 
tioned, and it is in the highest degree im- 
probable that forgiveness of sins would be 
thus casually attached to bodily healing; and, 
finally, the verbs "to save" and "to raise" 



here indicate an unconditional result of the 
rite performed. Now St James cannot have 
spoken of the rite as an unconditional means 
of bodily healing, for it would mean an 
automatic escape from death, which is an 

"And if he be in sins, they shall be for- 
given him." St James here clearly suggests 
that the proper state of the sick man when 
receiving the sacrament should be such that 
there be no guilt of grave or venial sin upon 
his soul; but so great is the efficacy of the 
sacrament that should there be still some 
stains of sin they will be deleted. 

The text continues: "Confess therefore 
your trespasses one to another and pray one 
for another that you may be healed, for the 
fervent prayer of the just man availeth 
much." These words have led many to be- 
lieve that St James had in his mind the com- 
bination of the two sacraments: Penance and 
Extreme Unction. 

The priests of the Church administered the 
last rites to the sick man; but no technical 
distinction of the two sacraments of Penance 
and Extreme Unction seems to have been in 
St James' mind, especially as the early form 
of absolution was in deprecative form, not 
in that of a judicial verdict. Should there 
have been any grave matter to confess and 



thp sick man still capable of confessing it, 
th6 priests would remit this by a specific 
prayer for its forgiveness and thus reconcile 
the sinner to God before the anointing; but 
if the patient were speechless, if the priests 
knew of no grave fault which needed recon- 
ciliation, or if the sick man could recall no 
serious sin, then the prayer with unction 
would remit whatever sin there might be on 
the man's soul, which would prevent or re- 
tard his entrance into heaven. 

"Confess one to another" is an expression 
like "obey one another, instruct one another, 
help one another," with the obvious implica- 
tion that some are superiors, others inferiors, 
some teachers, some taught, some in need of 
help, others able to give it. As St James has 
mentioned presbyters in the plural, the ex- 
pression is a natural one; in the Christian 
community people have to confess one to 
another, some to make and others to accept 
the confession. But as St James is not writing 
a technical treatise on the sacraments but 
giving homely advice about well-known mat- 
ters, the mention of forgiveness of sins brings 
him to urge open avowal of them in the 
Christian community, but in the proper way 
and to the proper persons. Then again the 
prayer of the priests suggests to him the uni- 
versal power of prayer and its suitability in 




days of illness: "pray one for another tjiat 
you may be cured." This cure may hot 
always be infallibly obtained, but the priyer 
of just men is of great power. 

Some interpreters detach the words "Con- 
fess ye therefore ..." from the preceding 
and suggest that St James therewith begins 
a new train of thought unconnected with 
Extreme Unction. There can be little doubt, 
however, that the particle therefore, though 
lacking in some manuscripts, is part of the 
true text, and in consequence we must 
postulate some connection with what goes be- 
fore. Nor is this difficult if we keep in mind 
St James' unstudied flow of thoughts and 
expressions, so different from the elaborate 
treatises of later centuries. The attempts of 
non-Catholics to utilize the last sentence to 
rob the previous ones of their sacramental 
meaning, and on the other hand the en- 
deavour of some Catholics to prove sacra- 
mental confession from the last sentence apart 
from its context or the interpretation of the 
Church, are alike fruitless. 


The existence of this sacrament, which is 
thus so clearly indicated in Holy Scripture, 
is also taught by Christian tradition. Scarcity 



of direct references to Extreme Unction in 
the extant literature of the early Church is 
only what we might expect. The Epistle of 
St James is not a New Testament writing to 
which early commentators would first turn 
their exegetical or homiletic efforts. Didy- 
mus the Blind, born in A.D. 313 at Alexan- 
dria, is the only early Father who is known 
to have written a commentary on St James, 
and this, with the exception of a few frag- 
ments in a Latin translation, is lost. We have 
to wait four hundred years for the next com- 
mentator, St Bede. In Apologetic literature 
the defence of the Christian faith against 
Paganism would not naturally call for a refer- 
ence to Extreme Unction. Great sermons, 
that are handed down to posterity, usually 
deal either with great historical occasions or 
with topics which need lengthy and repeated 
exposition to the faithful. They deal with 
public functions, feast days, or such parts 
of the life of the faithful as need considerable 
preparation. Hence reference to Baptism, 
Confirmation, Eucharist and the Penitential 
discipline are not infrequent. 

Extreme Unction is in some sense a private 
matter withdrawn from the public life of the 
Church; though the sick were sometimes 
brought to the Church, this was of necessity 
a very rare occurrence. Moreover, Christians 



of the first four centuries living in over- 
whelmingly pagan surroundings and at a 
great distance from priests would very often 
be unable to call them to their sick-bed for 
the purpose of anointing. In our own 
day public references to Extreme Unction, 
whether in the pulpit or in print, are not 
frequent, and we cannot expect them to 
have been more frequent in the early days. 
The bulk of the faithful now have easy access 
to their priests and there are not many ob- 
stacles to the reception of this sacrament. 
Most of our present-day references consist in 
exhortations to call the priest to the sick in 
good time and the Last Sacraments are re- 
ferred to generally without separate and ex- 
press mention of the Unction. 

In early days the technical term, Extreme 
Unction, had not yet been invented; the rite 
was often called the "imposition of hands." 
But as the same name was also given to 
Reconciliation, or Penance, as we now call 
it, it is not always possible to prove that 
Extreme Unction is meant; the more so as 
the imposition of hands for the Unction was 
regarded as supplemental to the Reconcilia- 
tion and as constituting one whole with it, 
just as Confirmation was attached to Baptism 
as the complete initiatory rite. Thus the dis- 
tinctness of the sacrament is often not di- 
rectly emphasized. 



If we take all this in consideration it is 
rather surprising that allusions to Extreme 
Unction should be so frequent as they are. 
A number of early Latin, Greek, and Syrian 
Fathers refer to the unction of the sick, 
though only incidentally. These indications 
are indeed clear enough, especially in their 
cumulative force, for Catholics who already 
believe that Christ instituted this sacrament, 
but hardly strong enough to convince a gain- 

Tertullian rebukes heretics for abolishing 
the distinction between priests and laity, 
and says that they even permit women "to 
teach, to dispute, to perform exorcisms, to 
undertake cures, perhaps even to baptize." 
This is evidently a series of specifically 
clerical functions. There was therefore a 
function of healing the sick which was 
exclusive to the clergy. This cannot be 
miraculous or charismatic healing, which 
Tertullian, even if oil were used for the pur- 
pose, did not limit to the priests. He can 
therefore only be alluding to sacramental 
healing according to the prescription of St 
James: "let them send for the priests." 4 

A direct reference to the texts dealing with 
Extreme Unction occurs in Origen's second 
homily on Leviticus (c. A.D. 240) and, re- 

*De Praescr., c. 41, compared with Ad Scap., c. 4. 



markably enough, in a list of means of the 
forgiveness of sins after baptism. 

Aphraates, born in Persia in A.D 336, ex- 
tolling the power of oil in the Christian re- 
ligion, writes of it as the token "of the 
sacrament of life by which Christians (in 
baptism) , priests (in ordination) , kings, and 
prophets are made perfect, it (oil) illuminates 
darkness (in confirmation 5 ) , anoints the sick, 
and by its secret sacrament restores peni- 
tents." 6 

Non-sacramental anointings are here in- 
cluded, but in any case they are an enumera- 
tion of spiritual effects of the use of Holy 
Oil among Christians, and the natural im- 
plication of the words is the existence of a 
grace-giving rite administered by unction to 
the sick for a spiritual purpose and not 
merely for bodily healing. 

St John Chrysostom (about A.D. 380), in 
the third book of his famous treatise on the 
Priesthood, has a passage the significance of 
which can hardly be overlooked. He wishes 
to show that we owe to priests even more 
than to our parents; the latter gave us natural 
birth, but the former a supernatural one. 
"There is between the former and the latter 

5 This initiatory rite is called in the East photismos: il- 

6 Dem. xxiii, 3. 



as much difference as there is between the 
present life and the life to come. For our 
parents cannot shield their children against 
bodily death, or drive away oncoming illness; 
but priests have often saved the soul that is 
sick and about to die." 

For some souls they have lightened the 
punishment, others they did not allow to fall 
at all, and this not only by their teaching 
and their advice, but by the help of their 
prayers. Nor is this only so when they re- 
generate us (by baptism) , but afterward also 
they have the power to forgive sins, for in- 
deed, "Is any one sick amongst you, let him 
send . . ." 7 

The attestations increase in number and 
clearness as the centuries pass on, and by 
about A.D. 700 it is historically demonstrable 
that amongst Christians there existed a 
sacramental, grace-giving rite conferred upon 
the sick to purify their soul and restore their 
bodily health, if God sees fit. Our own St 
Bede is a conspicuous witness, attesting the 
faith of Celts and Saxons, less than a century 
after the arrival of St Augustine from Rome 
and the death of St Columba in lona. It is 
worth while to quote his commentary on 
St James: "As he (St James) had given his 

7 In Greek "saved" and "sick" are the identical terms of 
St James. 



counsel to the man who is sad, so he gives 
it also to the man who is sick, how he has to 
guard against the folly of murmuring, and he 
accommodates the kind of medicine to the 
kind of wound. ... If anyone is sick in 
body or in faith he commands that he who 
received the greater injury should remember 
to cure himself with the help of many, and 
indeed of priests . . . and let them pray 
over him. We read in the Gospel, 8 that the 
Apostles did this also, and now the custom 
of the Church holds that the sick should be 
anointed with consecrated oil by the priests 
and that by the added prayer they should be 

So normal in those days was the adminis- 
tration to the sick of the three sacraments, 
Penance, Viaticum, and Extreme Unction, 
that in a capitulary of Charlemagne of 769, 
amongst the ordinary duties of the clergy 
this threefold administration is inculcated. 
Nor was this custom limited to the West, it 
existed also in the East, and even sects sep- 
arated from the Church since the fifth cen- 
tury retained it, and referred its origin to 
Apostolic times. It is inconceivable that this 
universal practice should not be what it claims 
to be: part of the grace-giving system of out- 
ward signs derived from Christ himself. 

8 ML vi, 13. 


Sometimes indeed there may be doubt in 
an individual case whether the sacrament of 
Extreme Unction is meant, or merely some 
sacramental, a pious rite instituted by the 
Church for the restoration of bodily health. 
It is certain that at least for some five hundred 
years the use of blessed oil as a sacramental, 
apart altogether from the sacrament, was in 
use in many places. 

This is parallel to the use of Holy Water or 
even of Baptismal Water, consecrated on Holy 
Saturday, as a sacramental, independently 
of Baptism itself. It was customary for the 
faithful during the Mass to offer and for the 
priests to bless oil, which the faithful then 
took home with them and used either as a 
drink or a liniment in case of illness, with 
pious trust in the prayers of the Church for 
those who used it in faith and reverence. 
It seems also that locally and for a time even 
oil consecrated for Extreme Unction was 
allowed so to be used by the faithful, obvi- 
ously on the understanding that, unless it 
were used officially by the priests of the 
Church with the proper prayers for the ad- 
ministration of the sacrament referred to by 
St James, it was no sacrament, but only a sac- 
ramental for private use. Such at least is the 
almost unavoidable implication of the famous 
letter of Pope Innocent I (A.D. 416) to the 



Bishop of Eugubium in which he speaks of 
"the holy oil, which, blessed by the bishop, 
not only priests but all Christians may use 
for anointing themselves and theirs when in 
need." The oil here spoken of is certainly 
that blessed for Extreme Unction, which, ac- 
cording to this Pope, bishops and priests use in 
carrying out St James' behest, and which may 
be used only for the faithful, not for those 
who are excluded from the sacraments. 

There are instances on record in the lives 
of the saints which show that in practice 
sacramental use of Holy Oil for the sick was 
clearly distinguished from charismatic use. 
A telling example is that of St Hypatius, who 
died about the year 446 in the East. This 
saint before he was ordained used to perform 
miracles of healing by anointing the sick with 
consecrated oil, though he was not in Orders. 
Yet he was fully aware of another kind of 
anointing" which only priests could perform. 
We read in his life-story, written by a con- 
temporary: "When there was need of anoint- 
ing the sick man, he informed the abbot, 
for he was a priest, and had the unction with 
the consecrated oil performed by him. And 
it often occurred that through God's co- 
operation with his efforts, he sent the man 
home restored to health." 9 Clearly the 

8 See his Life in the Bollandists, June 17. 


priest-abbot could do something which the 
lay-monk could not do. 

No doubt sometimes amongst the un- 
educated or superstitious charismatic unction 
conferred by some reputedly holy lay-monk 
may have been preferred to sacramental 
anointing, or the two may have been con- 
fused in the minds of a few, but never by 
Church authorities or by the well-informed 
laity. Isaac of Antioch, a bishop who died 
in A.D. 460, in great old age, thus rebukes 
foolish women who for the Unction prefer 
a wandering unknown monk to the proper 
priest of the circuit: "Woman, give thy alms 
to the recluse, but receive the unction from 
thy priest; support the monk, but let thy 
oil be that of the Apostles, the oil of the 
Crucified One, receive the unction from the 
priest. They neglect the oil of the apostles 
and martyrs who have suffered for the truth, 
and the oil of fraud glistens on the face of 
perverted women. Christ's servants, the 
right-believing, have indeed the custom of 
bringing their sick to the altar, but dare not 
administer the oil lest they should seem to 
contemn the home of expiation. . Where there 
is a priest to lead the people, they observe 
the true laws." The very condemnation of 
these abuses by this famous poet-bishop in- 
dicates the correct ecclesiastical usage. 



That a clear distinction was drawn between 
the official, public, sacramental use of oil by 
the priest and its private use by the faithful 
is plain from the occurrence of distinct for- 
mulas of blessing for the two purposes. A 
remarkable instance is found in the prayer 
over the oil of the sick in the Sacramentary 
of Serapion, the Bishop of Thmuis, a friend 
of St Athanasius (about A.D. 350) . 

"We invoke thee, thou who hast all 
authority and power, Saviour of all men, 
Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 
and we pray thee to send healing power from 
heaven from the Only-begotten Son on this 
oil in order that from all those who are 
anointed or who partake in thy creatures 
here present it may drive away all sickness 
and all infirmity, that it may serve them as an 
antidote against every demon, that it expel 
from them every unclean spirit and banish 
every evil spirit, chase away every fever and 
chill and every sickness, that it may grant 
them good grace and remission of sin, that 
it may be unto them a remedy of life and 
salvation, that it may bring them health and 
integrity of soul, of body, of spirit, a perfect 
constitution. O Lord, may every satanic 
power, every demon, every snare of the ad- 
versary, every blow and torment, every 
sorrow, pain, or shock or disturbance or 



evil shade fear thy holy name which we in- 
voke at this moment, and the name of thy 
Only-begotten Son. May they vanish from 
within and without thy servants, that glory 
be unto the name of him who was crucified 
for us and rose, who bore our ills and 
our weaknesses, even Jesus .Christ who 
shall come to judge the living and the dead. 
Through him be unto thee the glory and the 
power in the Holy Ghost now and for ever. 

On the other hand, the prayer to be said 
over the oil offered at Mass is much shorter 
and of much more general import. The 
blessing of oil for the sick, intended for 
devout but not sacramental use, now only 
survives in the beautiful blessing of the oil 
of St Serapion, but formerly it was very 
widespread and for a time almost universal. 
Such use of oil in illness was so common 
that St Chrysostom, preaching at Antioch, 
could appeal to the experience of his con- 
gregation to . acknowledge that many were 
cured by being anointed with the oil of the 
holy lamps in church. 

In legends of the early saints, whether 
priests or layfolk, miraculous cures are as- 
cribed to unction with oil. Here there is no 
question of the ordinary administration of a 
sacrament, but the cure is attributed to the 



intercession of a Saint in fulfilment of Christ's 
last promise recorded in St Mark xvi, 17, 18. 
"These signs shall follow them that believe: 
In my name they shall cast out devils . . . 
they shall lay their hands upon the sick and 
they shall recover." This use of oil as a sac- 
ramental in the early Church, with its conse- 
quent employment by the saints as an instru- 
ment for the exercise of miraculous powers, 
has led some non-Catholics to the erroneous 
supposition that Unction as a grace-giving 
rite for the sick and a true sacrament emerged 
only later in the Catholic Church. Of such 
gradual development, however, history knows 
nothing. The only rational interpretation 
of the facts is that sacrament and sacramental 
existed side by side from the beginning, but 
that the almost total discontinuance of the 
devout private use of blessed oil made the 
grace-giving character of the Jacobean rite 
stand out more clearly in the eyes of the 
children of the Church. 

When in the twelfth century theological 
precision singled but from all sacred cere- 
monies in use in the. Catholic Church seven, 
and seven only, that were outward signs of 
inward grace, instituted by Jesus Christ, be- 
stowing ex opere operato the grace they 
signify, Extreme Unction was always men- 
tioned among them. To quote but one ex- 



ample, the Penitential attributed to Egbert 
of York (766) , but containing also matter of 
a century after his death, refers to the unc- 
tion prescribed by St James for the sick and 
says: "Every one of the faithful must, if 
possible, obtain for himself this unction and 
whatever is ordered concerning it, for it is 
written that if anyone submits to this disci- 
pline his soul after death will be as pure as 
that of a child dying forthwith after bap- 
tism." The phrase scriptum est, "it is writ- 
ten," though it does not refer directly to a 
text of scripture, shows that the writer was 
not giving some private opinion of his own, 
but merely echoing the long-established 
teaching of the Church. No writer at any 
time shows any indication that he is innovat- 
ing; rather he stresses the traditional char- 
acter of the usage. In many ordinances of 
those days priests are told to instruct the 
faithful in this sacrament and to deter them 
from foolish superstitions then so rife in time 
of sickness. Priests are to carry the Holy 
Oils on their person when on a journey in 
order always to be able to anoint the sick. 
It is one of the normal functions of their 
ministry. They are gravely responsible if 
through their fault the faithful should die 
without this sacrament, to which they have 
a strict right. Some writers go even so far 



as to speak of it as necessary. All connect 
the practice with the text of St James, but 
none say that it was instituted by him, but 
only recommended or commanded. Its 
origin goes back to Christ himself, and the 
apostolic anointings at the command of 
Christ during his earthly lifetime are a fore- 
shadowing of it. In fact, the faith of the 
Church on this point in the eighth century 
is demonstrably identical with that of the 
twentieth, and from the eighth century back- 
wards whatever evidence exists and it is 
considerable^ points in the same direction; 
while there exists no cogent evidence to the 
contrary at all. 

The absence in the four Gospels of explicit 
mention of the institution of this sacrament 
should not cause surprise. In Christ's final 
address to his apostles he told them to teach 
all nations "to observe all things whatsoever 
I have commanded you." One of those many 
observances which he had commanded may 
well have been a grace-giving rite of anoint- 
ing the sick. He may have spoken of this 
during the forty days he spoke to them after 
the resurrection about the Kingdom of God; 
he may have taught them before the resurrec- 
tion, or again he may have revealed it to them 
by direct revelation after Pentecost. One 
thing is certain, he alone can attach a spiritual 



grace, the forgiveness of sins, to any outward 
sign; he alone can institute a sacrament. 
Christ alone, therefore, instituted Extreme 
Unction, and even had St James never rec- 
ommended its use, it would still be what it 
is, a sacrament which Christ gave to his 

No definite heresy is known to have existed 
with regard to this sacrament before the 
Reformation. The Albigensians seem to 
have had a contempt for the use of it, bur 
their tenets, being dualistic and Manichean, 
can hardly be regarded as a heresy from 
Christianity, since they are a fundamental 
denial of it. Their special hatred and con- 
tempt may have been aroused by the un- 
doubted abuses in its administration, which 
were apparently widespread. The clergy 
for several priests were then often engaged 
in conferring it, either together or on con- 
secutive days insisted on payment for their 
services and made the reception of it a burden 
on the poor. The law that the sacrament be 
administered by one priest alone in the West 
was made chiefly to deal with this difficulty, 
and also in consequence of the ostentation 
of some of the rich, who made vain display 
of their wealth by calling in a number of 
priests to administer it. 

The Reformers were unanimous in rejecting 


this sacrament though they differed amongst 
themselves as to the grounds of the rejection. 
In England the Reformers at first retained it, 
but it was omitted in the Second Prayer Book 
of Edward VI. Recent attempts to reintro- 
duce the Unction of the sick among English 
Protestants are not intended to restore this 
ceremony as a grace-giving rite, or as a true 
sacrament in the Catholic sense, but have in 
view a charismatic gift of bodily healing, 
such as they think it to have been in the early 
Church. Their practice therefore, even if 
it were not invalid for lack of priests and for 
lack of consecration of the oil, has nothing 
in common with Extreme Unction in the 
Catholic Church. 




THIS sacrament can be validly administered 
only by a priest. The ordinary minister 
according to strict Church law is the parish 
priest of the place where the patient lies sick, 
and the administration of this sacrament by 
another priest against the will of the parish 
priest would be illicit. Religious institutes, 
however, are usually exempt by Pope or 
Bishop, and the normal minister would be 
the Superior or the Chaplain. In case of 
necessity, . or with the permission of parish 
priest or bishop, whether actually given or 
reasonably presumed, any priest may ad- 
minister it. The parish priest is bound in 
justice to do so, or at least see that it is done. 
His curates obviously possess a permanent 
delegation in this matter. Strictly speaking, 
therefore, the sick person has no absolute 
right to demand any priest of his choice for 
the administration of Extreme Unction, 



although he can choose any confessor he likes; 
but the sick person's expressed wish, unless 
quite unreasonable, will rarely be refused. 
In case of necessity any priest is bound by 
the law of charity to administer this sacra- 

The law in the West requires the sacra- 
ment to be administered by one priest only, 
but in the Greek Catholic Church it is ad- 
ministered when possible by several priests, 
though the sufficiency of one priest is of 
course acknowledged. Where several priests 
are employed the procedure has varied con- 
siderably; sometimes they anoint and pray 
successively, either on the same or consecu- 
tive days, sometimes they anoint and pray al- 
together, each anointing a separate member 
of the body, or each anointing the same 
member. Pope Benedict XIV denounced the 
practice in which some anointed silently and 
the others prayed without anointing, and de- 
clared that at least one priest should both 
pray and anoint at the same time. 

There has likewise been considerable varia- 
tion with regard to the parts of the body 
anointed in this sacrament. At present the 
eyes, the ears, the nostrils, the lips, the hands, 
and the feet are anointed. The anointing 
of the feet may for any reasonable cause be 
omitted, and when there is danger in delay 



or any other sufficient reason a single anoint- 
ing of one organ of sense, or better, of the 
forehead, suffices for the validity of the sac- 
rament. But the priest is strictly bound, 
as soon as the necessity ceases, to continue 
with -or, if possible, later on, to supply 
the anointings and the prayers for each of 
the five senses. It is held by some that in 
such cases the .supplementary anointings 
become merely ceremonial, strictly obligatory 
indeed, but not part of the sacrament itself. 
The obligation to supply the five anointings 
would be similar to that of supplying the 
ceremonies of baptism, grave both for the 
priest and for those in charge of the child; 
yet such ceremonies are not part of the sacra- 
ment. Most theologians, however, hold that 
in the case of Extreme Unction these anoint- 
ings belong to the integrity of the sacrament 
itself, and that they have sacramental efficacy 
in deleting the consequences of sin committed 
by the respective senses. 

If the sole reason for the short form of 
anointing be the immediate danger of death 
of the one patient, the priest would forthwith 
continue with the five prayers and anointings 
after the first prayer and anointing on the 
forehead. If, however, the necessity arises 
from another source, the needs of others in a 
hospital, on a battlefield, an accident in which 



many are injured, the danger to the priest 
himself in pestilence or war, then the five 
anointings must be supplied later, if possible 
within about an hour, otherwise the moral 
unity of the administration of the sacrament 
is broken. These anointings may be supplied 
either by the priest who anointed the patient's 
forehead, or by any other priest; the parish 
priest of the place would have the obligation 
of doing so. 

The laity are anointed in the same way as 
bishops and priests, with this exception that 
the latter are anointed on the back of the 
hands, whereas the laity are anointed on the 
palm. This distinction is at least as old as 
the twelfth century and the reason given 
is that the palm of the hands of the priest is 
anointed at his ordination; it is thus expres- 
sive of the reverence due to the sacredness 
of those hands which have been in constant 
contact with the Body of Christ and were 
instruments in administering the other sacra- 
ments; it also reminds the priest who is 
anointed that sins done by consecrated hands 
are invested with a greater malice and quasi- 
sacrilegious character, needing the special 
mercy of God. 

The sacramental form or the words used 
in Extreme Unction in the Latin Church are: 
"By this holy anointing and by his most 



tender mercy may the Lord forgive thee 
whatever thou hast done amiss by thy sight, 
hearing, smell, speech, taste, touch, and 
walk." This essential form is preceded and 
followed by prayers and imposition of hands, 
the omission of which, however, would not 
invalidate the sacrament. 

In the Greek Church Prayer-Unction 
(Euchelaion) is given in these words: "Holy 
Father, physician of bodies and souls, heal 
this thy servant from the infirmity of body 
and soul that holds him." This form is 
pronounced only once while the forehead, 
chin, cheeks, hands, nostrils, and breast are 

The anointing is done in the form of a 
cross, by the thumb of the priest; unless in 
case of infectious disease it be advisable to use 
some intermediary matter, as wool or cloth. 
The Oil used is olive oil blessed by a bishop, 
or by a priest who has received authority 
from the Pope to do so. 

In the Greek Church by a permanent 
delegation from the Pope the priests bless 
the Holy Oil each time before administration. 
In the Latin Church the blessing of the Holy 
Oils for Baptism, Confirmation, and Extreme 
Unction takes place once a year on Maundy 
Thursday during the Sacrifice of the Mass 
with great solemnity. The Oil for the sick 



is first exorcized and then blessed in this 

Exorcism. "I exorcize thee, most foul 
spirit and every invading devil and ghost, in 
the name of the Father and of the Son and 
of the Holy Ghost, that thou depart from this 
Oil so that it may become a spiritual unction 
to strengthen the temple of the living God: 
that the Holy Spirit may dwell therein 
through the name of God the Father Al- 
mighty, and through the name of his most 
beloved Son our Lord Jesus Christ who is to 
judge the living and the dead and the world 
by fire. Amen. 

"Let us pray: Send down, we beseech 
thee, O Lord, thy Holy Spirit from heaven 
on this olive oil, which thou hast deigned 
to produce from the green wood unto the 
health of mind and body, and may it be 
through thy holy blessing unto everyone 
who is anointed by the unction of this 
heavenly medicine a safeguard of mind and 
body to drive away all pains, all infirmities 
and every sickness of mind and body. Since 
thou hast anointed kings, priests, prophets, 
and martyrs, let thy ointment be perfect, 
O Lord, blessed for us by thee and remaining 
within our inmost selves. In the name of 
Our Lord Jesus Christ." 

Administration without consecrated Oil 



would certainly be invalid. If by mistake the 
Oil for Baptism or Confirmation were used, 
it would be doubtfully valid. If in the West 
the Oil for the sick were blessed by a priest 
without a special Apostolic faculty to do so, 
this would not only be illicit, but Extreme 
Unction, conferred with such Oil, would be 
invalid. Different explanations of this fact 
have been given. The best seems to be this: 
that : the power and dignity required for the 
blessing of the Oil is by Christ's will inherent 
in the Episcopate alone, but through delega- 
tion the power and dignity of the simple 
priesthood can be so enhanced that priests 
can be the instruments to convey this epis- 
copal blessing. Whether this is merely a 
matter of jurisdiction, or also of the sacra- 
ment of Order, cannot be decided. Nor 
can it be determined with certainty whether 
the power of the priests in the East comes 
to them directly from the Pope, or from their 
bishops with consent of the Pope. 

The Holy Oils, thus consecrated once a 
year, each parish priest is bound forthwith 
to obtain from his own bishop, and he is not 
allowed, except in case of necessity, to use 
those consecrated in the previous year. He is 
bound to keep the Holy Oils in a locked cup- 
board in the church. They are usually kept 
in the aumbry in the wall of the sanctuary 



on the Gospel side. He is not allowed to 
keep them in the presbytery except for some 
good reason, approved by the bishop. In 
England, where frequent and sudden sick 
calls in large parishes make it desirable that 
the priests should have the Oil for the sick 
always immediately at hand, this is often 
permitted, especially if the presbytery is at 
some distance from the church. This, of 
course, applies only to the Oil for the sick; 
the Chrism for Confirmation and the Oil 
for Baptism must always be kept in the 
church. If during the year the Oil for the 
sick should give out, it is permissible to add 
unblessed olive oil to the Consecrated Oil, 
but always in minor quantity. The Oil of the 
previous year is poured into the Sanctuary 
Lamp and thus or otherwise burnt. 

The sacrament can only be administered 
to the faithful who after having reached the 
age of reason are in danger of death through 
illness or old age. Hence it must not be 
administered to non-Catholics, though they 
have been baptized and though they may 
be in good faith. Since for baptized persons, 
who are in mortal sin, but who have the 


implicit wish to receive this sacrament, it 
may be the only way to remission of sin and 
eternal salvation, some theologians argue that 
it might be given to well-disposed non- 


Catholics who are unconscious and in grave 
danger of death, if this could be done without 
scandal. Be this as it may, no priest could 
administer it to a non-Catholic, even though 
he asked for it in good faith, as long as he 
refused to be received into the Church. 

The age of discretion required cannot be 
precisely determined. The child must be 
able to distinguish between good and evil, 
and this it normally begins to do about the 
age of seven. The subject must be in danger 
of death through infirmity, i.e. either some 
specified disease or at least old age. Hence 
it cannot be given to soldiers before battle, 
or criminals before execution. It is essen- 
tially a sacrament for the sick. But the 
danger of death here referred to does not 
need to be immediate. Any grave illness, any 
illness the final issue of which is seriously 
doubtful, justifies the administration of this 
sacrament. Hence it may be administered 
in the case of any major operation or any 
disease of which a considerable percentage 
normally die. It is most emphatically not a 
sacrament of the dying, but a sacrament of 
the sick. 

The delay in asking for the sacrament 
till death is near or almost inevitable is a 
lamentable abuse, unfortunately all too fre- 
quent. It arises from lack of faith, foolish 



superstition, or false kindness, or from all 
these causes combined. 

Lack of faith is shown by failing to realize 
on the one hand the great spiritual needs of 
the sick, when the soul is enfeebled by bodily 
pains and sickness, and, on the other, the 
great might of this sacrament to comfort the 
soul in its distress. Lack of faith appears 
likewise in not trusting to the divine power of 
this sacrament for the healing of the body but 
confiding merely in human medicine, to the 
exclusion of that supernaturally provided by 
God. Foolish superstition not infrequently 
makes either the sick or their neighbours 
fancy that the coming of the priest to ad- 
minister the last rites is a bad omen, almost 
inevitably foreboding death. This super- 
stition is dishonouring to God and degrad- 
ing to common sense, as well as to the 
religion which these people nominally pro- 

The third reason, "false kindness," is 
perhaps the most frequent reason for delay. 
It is imagined to be cruel to let the sick 
man know of his danger. "Humanitarian" 
doctors, relatives, and friends often vie one 
with another in the attempt to hide from the 
unfortunate patient his real state of health; 
they try to buoy him up with the promise of 
speedy recovery until the last hour of his life. 



No one around the sick-bed dares to tell trie 
truth, they fear, that the knowledge of the 
gravity of the disease will have an adverse 
psychological effect on the patient, robbing 
him of that calm and strength of mind which 
are so powerful a factor in restoring health. 
Often, however, this is only a pretence or a 
self-deception. The real reason is moral 
cowardice, no one having the courage to 
perform the unpleasant duty and face "a 
scene." As to the plea that it is better for 
the patient not to know, those who argue 
in this way forget that the sick person is often 
worried more by uncertainty than by know- 
ing the worst. The patient may often think 
it a fine thing to show a brave exterior, while 
inwardly he is tormented by doubts as to his 
real state, and it often comes to him as an 
immense relief to be told the facts and to 
throw off the mask of forced gaiety. He can 
then calmly begin to set aright his troubles of 
conscience, .which disturb him more than any 
bodily pains. 

The fear also of exhausting the patient's 
ebbing forces by the exertion of receiving 
the sacraments is Usually idle. Priests are 
hardly ever fussy men, their calling makes 
them accustomed to the needs of the sick- 
room. When one considers the quiet and 
matter-of-fact way in which the sacraments 



are administered, the few short minutes it 
takes to go through the Church's ritual, the 
soothing effect of a few murmured prayers, 
the last sacraments, even from a purely 
psychological standpoint, are more likely to 
further than to hinder the patient's progress. 
An excited and nervous visitor may easily 
harm the sick man; the priest, who with a 
still and steady voice speaks of God's infinite 
might and mercy, is not likely to do so. 
This is borne out by the experience of non- 
Catholic as well as Catholic nurses and doctors 
in hospitals. No loud and impassioned 
appeal as at revival meetings is made by 
priests in a sick-room. Nineteen centuries of 
experience have made Catholic priests experts 
in dealing with the sick so as not to hamper 
the work of the physician of the body. The 
effect of the reception of Extreme Unction is 
almost invariably to increase the resistance 
of the sick person to the power of the disease 
if the sacrament is received in time. Hence 
it is cruelty to postpone the suggestion of its 
reception till nothing but a miracle can save 
the patient from death. 

Catholic doctors in this matter have an 
important duty, since owing to their scientific 
training they are usually the first to gauge 
correctly the state of the patient. Direct 
deception as to his true state, which would 



lead to the loss of the last sacraments, 
would be grievously sinful. On the contrary, 
they are bound under pain of grave sin to tell 
the patient of his immediate danger and in 
default of other informants to warn the 
priest: this, however, only in the case of 
Catholics who have been notoriously slack in 
their religious duties and are probably in 
mortal sin. The last sacraments, and es- 
pecially Unction, in the case of the uncon- 
scious may be the only available means of 
eternal salvation, and the law of charity binds 
every man to aid his neighbour in extreme 
spiritual need when this is reasonably feasible. 
In the case of pious Catholics the duty of 
telling the patient or the bystanders of the 
danger, and of informing the priest if no one 
else is available, lies with the doctor at least 
under pain of venial sin. A Catholic doctor 
who habitually neglected this duty of charity, 
treating all his patients indiscriminately, 
whether Catholic or non-Catholic, whether 
pious or notoriously slack, without ever 
troubling to warn them of their danger, or 
to see that the priest is informed of their 
need of the last sacraments, would certainly 
be committing a grave sin against the law of 
charity. In like manner any visitor, neigh- 
bour, or friend is bound to do what he can 
to ensure that one who is seriously ill should 



not be deprived of the last rites of the 

This brings us to the question of the obliga- 
tion of receiving Extreme Unction. The 
Church teaches that, though this sacrament 
is not of itself necessary fof salvation, yet 
no one is allowed to neglect it; hence every 
effort and diligence must be used to see that 
the sick receive it when they still have the 
full use of their senses. Only in one set of 
circumstances would this sacrament be ab- 
solutely necessary for salvation, namely, if a 
baptized person, being in the state of mortal 
sin and unabsolved, became unconscious 
after having made only an act of imperfect 
contrition. If such a sinner becomes un- 
conscious and thus incapable of making any 
internal act of mind and will, he can only 
be saved by this sacrament; if he remains 
unconscious till death, it is his only and last 
means of salvation. Even should he up to 
the very moment of unconsciousness have 
elicited no act of sorrow whatever for his sin, 
but later on, though bereft of speech or other 
means of communication, internally regain 
consciousness and ask God's forgiveness 
without attaining perfect contrition, his sins 
would be forgiven him and his ultimate 
salvation secure. This presupposes that he 
had at least the habitual desire of dying with 




the last rites of the Church, for should even 
this desire have been lacking, Extreme 
Unction would be of no avail. 

But if a man is not conscious of any grave 
sin or at least has confessed it and been ab- 
solved, is he still bound under grave obliga- 
tion to receive Extreme Unction? The 
existence of divine positive precept in the 
matter cannot be proved either from scripture 
or tradition. The existence of an ecclesiasti- 
cal precept of such grave obligation that the 
omission would in itself be mortal sin and 
thus entail eternal damnation is also very 
difficult to prove. The transgression of the 
canon law 1 probably does not by itself in- 
volve mortal sin. On the other hand, in the 
Catechism of the Council of Trent, which for 
centuries has been the most generally used 
handbook of instruction in Christian doctrine 
and thus well represents the mind of the 
Church, we read: "It is a very grievous sin 
to defer the Holy Unction until, all hope of 
recovery now being lost, life begins to ebb and 
the sick person is fast verging into a state of 

It may be argued from the context that this 
probably refers to the priest's obligation to 
administer, and not to the sick man's obliga- 
tion to receive, though it seems hard to under- 

1 Canon 944. 



stand that it should be a deadly sin to delay 
the administration of a sacrament until a 
person is less fit to receive it, if there is no 
grave obligation to receive it at all. Be this 
as it may, if the refusal of this sacrament arose 
from contempt, or if it gave scandal, this 
would involve grave sin. If, however, a 
person refused Extreme Unction merely 
because he superstitiously regarded it as an 
augury of death, or for some foolish reason 
which excluded contempt or scandal, the 
priest could give him the benefit of the doubt, 
administering only Penance and Viaticum, 
urging him to allow the Unction at least when 
unconscious, or some time before death. If 
even this were refused, the priest would have 
a right to doubt the patient's sanity or to 
suspect contempt. 

Extreme Unction cannot be repeated in 
the same illness, unless the sick person after 
Unction recovers and falls into a fresh danger 
of death. The reason for this is plain: 
the right to actual graces which this sacra- 
ment bestows continues as long as the illness 
which caused the danger of death continues. 
Hence where there is simply a gradual decline 
towards death without any perceptible sign 
of recovery, the sacrament cannot be repeated 
however long this slow decline may last. 
In this matter, however, one must judge by 



common estimation rather than by the scien- 
tific laws of medicine. Medical science may 
regard the slow wasting of strength in tuber- 
culosis or cancer as one long uninterrupted 
process, which may continue for two or 
even more years; but after the first onslaught 
of the disease there may be at least an ap- 
parent recovery of relative health and the 
danger of death removed at least for some 
months. In such cases where there has been 
at least a seeming amelioration and the person 
has been somewhat active and able to move 
about, no priest would scruple to administer 
the sacrament again when there is a marked 
relapse and a recurrence of immediate danger 
of death. The same may be said of the 
danger of death through sheer old age, when 
the aged have shown many months of re- 

The sacrament should not be repeated, 
when it is ascertained that it was received in a 
state of unrepented mortal sin or even sac- 
rilegiously, but only if a person who had at 
first no intention of receiving it (as might 
be the case with apostates or heretics) later on 
changed his mind, and became willing to 
receive it. 

It is not permissible to administer it to the 
impenitent who contumaciously persevere in 
mortal sin, and if this is doubtful it must be 



given conditionally. 2 The reason is that such 
contumacious perseverance in sin would 
normally imply unwillingness to receive the 
rites of the Church, and the absence of in- 
tention to receive the sacrament would render 
the sacrament invalid. Hence the need of the 
administration under condition: "if thou 
art capable." 

Naturally the sick who are unconscious or 
bereft of speech should be given every benefit 
of the doubt; in some cases, unfortunately, 
no reasonable doubt is possible of deliberate, 
defiant, and prolonged continuance in sin 
and overt refusal of repentance till the last. 
In such cases nothing can be done. When the 
patient becomes unconscious or incapable of 
further intercourse he must be left to the 
mercy of God. The priest who, under 
pressure from sorrowing relatives, adminis- 
tered the sacraments to a manifestly evil liver 
of whose defiant perseverance in evil there 
could be no reasonable doubt, would sin 
against his sacred profession and duty. Free- 
masons who refuse to abandon the craft, 
those who persist in ordering cremation of 
their bodies, or who refuse to comply with a 
grave precept of the Church must be classed 
amongst contumacious and impenitent sinners 
and should not be anointed. 

2 Canon 942. 


If the sick man has expressed a wish for 
the visit of the priest and the priest on arrival 
finds him already unconscious the mere wish 
for the presence of the priest will normally 
be taken as indicating goodwill however evil 
the previous life of the penitent may have 
been, and Extreme Unction will be given. 
It is usually preceded by conditional absolu- 
tion, but the validity and efficacy of Extreme 
Unction under these circumstances is more 
certain than that of the sacrament of Penance. 
It is doubtful whether Penance is valid with- 
out some outward manifestation of guilt and 
sorrow, whereas by God's infinite mercy 
Extreme Unction is certainly valid even when 
given to those who are incapable of any 
outward or inward acts at the time of recep- 
tion. The Unction bestows divine grace on 
the soul as long as the sick man has turned 
from his sin and has the general intention of 
dying with the last rites of the Church. 

Modern science has taught us that after 
the last breath life may often remain for a 
short time in those who are apparently dead, 
and thus the actual severance of soul from 
body may take place considerably after the 
reputed moment of death. Extreme Unction 
is therefore sometimes given to those who 
have seemingly passed away. If apparent 
death occurs after a long illness or old age, 



life may sometimes remain for about half an 
hour; if apparent death is sudden, or due 
to an accident and especially to drowning, 
life may remain for two hours and even 
longer. Those in charge of the dying should 
therefore send for the priest even though he 
may only arrive after death has apparently 
occurred. In such cases the priest will anoint 
the person conditionally in case life should 
not be completely extinct and the soul not 
yet have appeared before the judgement-seat 
of God. This condition, "if thou livest," 
and the condition, "if thou art capable of 
receiving it," are the only conditions which 
the priest is ever allowed to make in admin- 
istering this sacrament. The latter condition 
might be required in the case of doubtful 
baptism, or doubtful willingness of the 
patient to receive it, for t no sacrament is 
valid when administered against a person's 
will. But the condition, "if thou hast re- 
pented," or, "if thou art worthy," must never 
be added, for the person, though unrepentant 
at the very moment of administration, may 
repent afterwards and so obtain the grace of 
the valid sacrament received, as long as he 
was not directly unwilling to receive it. 

There is sometimes a reluctance to ask for 
Extreme Unction for those who are indeed in 
danger of death by sickness but who are still 



capable of^ sitting up and moving about, and 
that for the sole reason that they are not 
actually in bed. This reluctance is entirely 
unreasonable and blameworthy. There is no 
need to be in bed for the administration of 
this sacrament. Some persons are mortally 
ill, yet do not take to bed till a few days or 
hours before death; some, in fact, do not 
take to bed at all; the long-expected death 
carries them off in a moment. It would be a 
cruel folly to deprive such persons of the 
great graces of this sacrament received in 
time. Moreover, as the anointing of the feet 
may for any reasonable cause be omitted, 
there is no difficulty in anointing someone 
sitting in a chair, nor is there anything un- 
seemly or improper for a person, who has 
received Extreme Unction, to be up again 
and moving about soon afterwards. This 
Unction is most emphatically not a sacrament 
of the dying, but a sacrament of the sick; 
anyone seriously ill should receive it. 

A doubt has been raised whether a person 
who would be in danger of death if he did not 
undergo an operation, but who is in no danger 
if he does, would be a fit subject for this 
sacrament. The doubt is more theoretical 
than practical. A person who, according 
to the ordinary laws of nature, is certain not 
to die if he takes the proper medicine, under- 



goes the proper treatment or submits to a 
minor operation, properly speaking is not in 
danger of death at all. Many diseases were 
formerly fatal which have ceased to be so 
because the proper treatment has been found. 
A minor operation may be defined as one of 
which experience teaches that it has normally 
no fatal issue, so that the person who under- 
goes it is not appreciably in greater danger 
of death than he normally is. On the other 
hand, a state of body necessitating an opera- 
tion which considerably enhances the chances 
of death is obviously a serious illness, making 
the patient a fit subject for Extreme Unction; 
hence it should be administered before the 
operation and not after, even if a high per- 
centage of those undergoing it regain con- 
sciousness and completely recover. 

It is quite certain that this sacrament, if 
conferred upon persons in perfect health, 
would be invalid, and such attempted ad- 
ministration would constitute a sacrilege. 
Unfortunately a custom of this kind exists 
among the schismatic Greeks, but has been 
definitely reprobated by the Catholics. 

Another question is whether the sacrament 
could be validly repeated in the same illness. 
Such repetition, as we have seen, is at present 
against Church law if the patient remains 
in exactly the same danger of death. But 



would it be invalid if it were done? For 
instance, it is not a rare occurrence in great 
hospitals or busy parishes for a priest mis- 
takenly to anoint a person who has already 
been anointed before by another priest. 
We possess no absolute certainty in this 
matter, but everything seems to point to its 
being valid, though according to present 
legislation illicit. For many generations in 
many districts Unction used to be given to 
the sick on seven, or at least on several, con- 
secutive days. Now it is hard to believe that 
only one of these administrations was a valid 
sacrament, or that altogether they constituted 
only one sacrament, which became valid only 
on the seventh day after the last administra- 
tion. The same practically applies when 
several priests anoint consecutively on the 
same day, all performing the Unction and 
pronouncing the words. Such repeated ad- 
ministration might be compared to the re- 
peated administration of the sacrament of 
Penance, which is at present in use, when a 
penitent after the lapse of a few days or even 
only hours begs for absolution, submitting 
to the keys in confession only sins formerly 
confessed and already sacramentally absolved. 
Extreme Unction is the complement of Pen- 
ance, normally intended, if not for the re- 
moval of mortal sin, then for the removal of 



venial sin, and of all consequences of sin. 
Such repeated remission, whether by Penance 
or by Extreme Unction, is valid, because at 
each administration there is a further in- 
fusion of sanctifying grace for the undoing of 
sin. On the other hand, the title to actual 
graces of comfort and strength throughout 
the whole of his illness is valid and sound at 
the first administration of the Unction, 
and there is no further strict need for its 
repetition in the same sickness. 

Though the Church allows the repetition 
of Absolution and urges repeated reception 
of the Viaticum for the sick man, at present 
for wise reasons she does not allow the repeti- 
tion of the Unction for the sake of mere 
devotion as long as the same danger of death 
lasts. Her practice, however, is very lenient 
in this matter, and no priest need have any 
scruple of exposing the sacrament to -in- 
validity in a case of doubt, whether in a pro- 
tracted illness the same danger of death has 
continued or not. There is certainly no need 
for him to add a condition "if thou art anew 
in danger of death," when in common estima- 
tion the patient has had a recovery and a 

As Extreme Unction is instituted as a 
sacrament of the living, for the increase of 
sanctifying grace, not for its first bestowal, 



the patient is bound, if conscious, to place 
himself in the state of grace before reception. 
This he can do either by an act of perfect 
contrition or by attrition with the sacrament 
of Penance. Only in the case of Holy Com- 
munion does the Church command previous 
actual confession and absolution for those in 
mortal sin. The case is different with regard 
to Extreme Unction. It is sufficient that the 
sick man be in the state of grace acquired 
whether by perfect contrition or by the sacra- 
ment of Penance. Naturally, if confession 
could be made, it would be hazardous for 
anyone in grievous sin to trust to an act of 
perfect contrition; and it would be foolish, 
for the grave obligation would remain to 
confess before death, even after reception of 
Extreme Unction. 





THE effects of this sacrament are best stated 
in the words of the Council of Trent: 
"This effect is the grace of the Holy Ghost, 
whose Unction blots out sins, if any remain 
to be expiated, and the consequences of sin, 
and alleviates and strengthens the soul of the 
sick person, by exciting in him a great con- 
fidence in the divine mercy, sustained by 
which he bears more lightly the troubles and 
sufferings of disease and more easily resists 
the temptations of the demon lying in 
wait for his heel and sometimes, when it is 
expedient for the soul's salvation, recovers 

If we analyse this statement we see that it 
includes four distinct results of the sacra- 

1 i ) Remission of the guilt of sins, if the sick 
man has any. 

(2) Remission of the "reliquiae," relics or 
consequences of past sin. 



(3) Strengthening of the soul by exciting 
confidence in God, thus giving patience 
and vigour against temptation. 

(4) Restoration of bodily health, if ex- 

The remission of the guilt of sin is men- 
tioned first because of its supreme importance, 
although it is an effect which is not always 
produced, because the sick man may happily 
hot have the guilt of any sins on his x soul. 
The word "sins" refers to sins quite gener- 
ally, whether mortal or venial. If it be 
thought that surely everyone has some sins 
on his soul, at least venial sins, and that 
therefore the very condition "if he be in sin" 
has no meaning unless mortal sin be meant, 
this thought does not correspond with facts. 
The sick man may have made a good con- 
fession even of his venial sins immediately 
previous to reception of Extreme Unction, 
or he may by an act of perfect contrition or 
by acts of intense love of God have had all 
his venial sins forgiven. In such a case, 
which we need not restrict to the Saints only, 
Extreme Unction does not remove any stain 
of guilt. 

It will at once be asked what must be the 
state of soul of the recipient in order to allow 



th^s sacrament to remit the guilt of his sins. 
In the case of mortal sins the person must be 
at jeast in a state of "habitual" repentance, 
i.e. , after his last mortal sin he must at 
least! once have elicited an act of attrition 
and never have revoked the same. If in such 
a state unconsciousness and the danger of 
death; should overtake him, Extreme Unction 
would remit his sin and open to him the gate 
of heaven. Should he previously to death 
regain consciousness and have the opportunity 
of confession, he is still bound to confess his 
sin, for such is the will of Christ; but his 
soul, having been cleansed from mortal stain, 
is safe for eternity and has escaped the doom 
of eternal loss. It is this wonderful ef&cacy 
of Last Anointing which creates its unique 
importance in the eyes of priests and faithful, 
especially in the case of careless Catholics, 
who may be suddenly overtaken by uncon- 
sciousness and the danger of death. In such 
cases it is of greater importance than priestly 
absolution, for the validity of absolution 
pronounced over those who are totally un- 
conscious and thus unable to give any out- 
ward sign of acknowledgement of sin and 
repentance is a matter of doubt. Conditional 
absolution is indeed always given in such 
cases, but whether such absolution, in the 
absence of any outward token of repentance 



whatever on the part of the recipient, Is a 
valid sacrament is not certain. The sacra- 
ment of Extreme Unction needs no such 
outward sign on the part of the recipient; a 
mere inward willingness, once conceived 
and never retracted, suffices for its validity, 
and a mere inward state of attrition, if never 
retracted, suffices for its efficacy in remitting 

The efficacy of this sacrament is so great 
that it might produce its effect even should 
it have been received in a state of unqon- 
sciousness by a sinner, who had not yet re- 
pented of his sins, but who had the general 
wish to die as a Catholic and make his peace 
with God before he died. If such a sinner 
regained a moment's consciousness and in that 
moment conceived a horror for his sin and 
asked God's pardon by some inward act, 
however imperfect, his sin would be forgiven 
him in virtue of this sacrament and he would 
be certain of eternal salvation. God only can 
tell how many owe their escape from ever- 
lasting loss to Extreme Unction alone. It 
is the last haven of refuge provided by the 
infinite divine mercy for those who were 
about to make the final shipwreck of their 
lives. "And if he be in sins, they shall be 
forgiven him," wrote St James, thereby 
manifesting the almost incredible lengths to 



which the loving-kindness of a merciful God 
can go. 

So much for the forgiveness of mortal sin, 
should the sick man have it on his soul. 
But what of venial sin? The sick man is 
strictly bound to be in the state of grace 
either by confession or contrition previous 
to reception of Extreme Unction. There 
is no such strict obligation to be free from 
venial sin. No doubt every good Catholic 
normally would confess all the venial sins he 
remembered in the confession preceding 
Extreme Unction, and thus obtain forgiveness 
of them in the sacrament of Penance. Yet 
we must not forget, first, that in strict obliga- 
tion he is not bound to do so, and secondly, 
that a valid absolution of one or more venial 
sins does not necessarily involve the remission 
of all of them. In consequence the existence 
of the guilt of venial sins in a person's soul 
previous to Extreme Unction is surely not a 
rare occurrence, even in the case of those who 
have led good lives and are accounted prac- 
tising and devout Catholics. 

Does Extreme Unction affect such venial 
sins or does it not? We may answer with 
almost absolute certainty in the affirmative. 
There has indeed been no explicit declaration 
on this question by Pope or Council. "If he 
be in sins, they shall be forgiven him," said 



St James. No valid reason can be shown why 
in this text we should limit the meaning of 
"sins" to mortal sins, and such limitation 
seems irreconcilable with the nature of 
Extreme Unction. This sacrament has emi- 
nently a medicinal character, it is a sacrament 
of Healing, and a complement of the sacra- 
ment of Penance in the case of the sick.' The 
forgiveness of mortal sin is rather of the 
nature of a resurrection than a healing, hence 
such forgiveness is not the primary purpose 
of the sacrament. It is rather the forgive- 
ness of venial sins that would seem to be 
characteristic of the sacrament of Healing. 
Venial sins are in fact the great cause of 
spiritual sickness and their removal the very 
essence of the healing of the soul and restora- 
tion to spiritual he.alth. 

May we then hold that Extreme Unction 
always remits all venial sins in the recipient? 

Although in a sense the answer is in the 
affirmative, yet we must explain and limit 
our affirmation. No sin is ever forgiven with- 
out repentance, and this applies to venial sins 
as well as to mortal; hence the guilt of venial 
sins to which the penitent is still attached, 
and for which he has no real purpose of 
amendment, remains upon the soul, and this 
no sacrament can remove without a \real 
change of mind. Deliberate feelings and 



acts of uncharity, deliberate refusal to rectify 
small matters of dishonesty or to unsay words 
against the character of one's neighbour, 
deliberate murmurings at the hardness of 
one's lot, and a great number of other small 
faults may still mar the soul even of those 
who are stretched on a sick-bed and who 
would shrink from any grievous sin or from 
venial sins of the more serious kind. The 
human heart is so strange and intricate a 
labyrinth of motives and affections that it is 
possible to show genuine fervour in prayer 
and almost at the same time to manifest 
glaring faults of character continued with un- 
mistakable deliberation and full consent. So 
long as these thus continue, Extreme Unction 
cannot directly remove their guilt, for with- 
out repentance there is no forgiveness. It is 
quite true that the guilt of venial sins can 
be removed indirectly by the intensity of the 
love of God without these faults being 
individually remembered and repudiated. 
Venial sins are a retardation in our journey 
towards God, not a complete deviation or 
aversion from our last end; hence greater 
fervour in our tending towards God undoes 
the harm venial sin has done. Yet as long 
as the complacency of the will in evil con- 
tinues, so long does the inhibition remain, 
and the soul is hampered and hindered by 


affection to sin, be it only venial. Extreme 
Unction, then, removes the guilt of all those 
venial sins from which the heart has turned 
with at least implicit sorrow. 

The forgiveness of sin whether mortal or 
venial by Extreme Unction remains, however, 
a purely conditional effect: "if he be in 
sins." Scripture and tradition presuppose 
that the sacrament is often received when no 
guilt of sin, whether mortal or venial, stains 
the soul of the recipient. In such happy cir- 
cumstances has this sacrament then nothing 
to do with the removal of the effects of sin? 

When we consider that the Council of 
Trent calls Extreme Unction "the com- 
plement of Penance," and, moreover, that 
St James plainly connects the two sacra- 
ments of Penance and Unction by adding 
"Confess therefore your sins one to another," 
it becomes clear that even when no guilt 
actually stains the soul of the recipient, 
Extreme .Unction extends its power in some 
way to the consequences of sin. The sacra- 
ment being essentially one of spiritual healing 
must affect every spiritual infirmity which is 
the outcome of sin. This is implied in the 
very form employed in the Church: "May 
God pardon whatever thou hast done amiss," 
"Indulgeat quidquid deliquisti." If, then, 
there be no actual guilt, only the consequences 



of sin can be meant, and this is expressly 
stated by the Council of Trent. What, then, 
precisely does the Council mean by reliquias 
peccati, "remnants of sin"? Every sin 
committed enfeebles the soul and makes it 
more prone to sin. The wound of sin, even 
though it be healed, leaves a scar. The 
healing of sin is a complicated progress. It is 
the complete restoration to full health of 
mind and will after these have been debili- 
tated by the sinful embracing of evil. All 
sin engenders a certain obscurity of mind 
and frailty of will, a lack of vigour in re- 
sistance to further evil. These things may 
remain, even though the total aversion from 
God in mortal sin, or the clinging to temporal 
good to the detriment of our love of God in 
venial sin, has actually ceased and the guilt 
of past sin has been forgiven by the applica- 
tion of Christ's atonement to the repentant 

The memory of past sin, moreover, is 
constantly with the sinner, even though he 
has been sacramentally absolved, and the 
cry "amplins lava me ab iniquitate mea" 
naturally rises to his lips. Confidence in 
God is harder for the man who has to look 
back on a life of sin, or a life of innumerable 
venial faults, than for the Saint who has 
served his God for many years and who can 


say with St Anthony: "I have served my 
Lord for eighty years, why should I fear to 
meet him now?" It is this complete healing 
from all spiritual sickness induced by past 
sin which Extreme Unction is intended to 

In the numberless touching representations 
of the death of our Blessed Lady which 
mediaeval sculpture or painting has left to us, 
St Peter and the Apostles surround her death- 
bed, according to legend, but the artist with 
truly Catholic instinct has never attempted 
to represent the administration of Extreme 
Unction. The sinless Mother of God had 
no need of this sacrament, which is in its 
nature a complement of Penance and is 
intended to remove, if not always directly the 
guilt of sin, at least the consequences of it. 
Her soul needed no healing of any kind to 
render it strong and vigorous in the hour of 
death. St John is indeed often represented 
as giving Holy Communion to the Mother 
of God, for she could receive this great 
sacrament of spiritual life to increase her love 
for her divine Son; but a sacrament which 
suggests at least the memory of past sin was 
not for her. 

Be all this said to make clear what is meant 
by "the remnants of sin" counteracted by 
the grace of Extreme Unction. 



There remains the further question whether 
Extreme Unction also remits the temporal 
punishment due to forgiven sin, and this 
question also has to be answered in the 
affirmative. It has been the constant teach- 
ing of theologians that this sacrament con- 
stitutes the final consummation of all spiritual 
cure, by which man is made ready for par- 
ticipation in heavenly glory. The purpose 
of Extreme Unction is that at the moment 
of death nothing should remain which might 
be a hindrance to the soul's immediate 
entrance into its eternal reward. 

It may well be asked: if this sacrament is 
intended to remove even the temporal punish- 
ment of sin, what then remains of purgatory 
for those who receive it? "Why further 
blessings and the gaining of indulgences? 
The answer is that all sacraments do indeed 
give the grace which they signify, but the 
measure of the grace bestowed depends on the 
disposition of the recipient. Millions receive 
Holy Communion day by day, all receive the 
same kind of grace, but amongst them all 
there are perhaps not two who receive exactly 
the same amount. So likewise of those who 
receive Extreme Unction in the same hospital, 
or on the same battlefield, hundreds may 
receive the same sacred anointing, which 
signifies and effects the healing of nature 



wounded by sin, and .is meant to render the 
soul sound and fit for immediate entrance 
into glory, yet perhaps not two receive exactly 
the same measure of grace. 

If they are conscious, the measure of grace 
received will depend upon the actual devo- 
tion at the moment of reception and the state 
of their soul previous to it; if they are un- 
conscious but in a state of repentance 
habitually attrite as theologians would say- 
it will depend upon the state of their soul 
when the sacrament is administered. Cer- 
tainly the guilt of mortal sins will infallibly 
be forgiven, likewise the guilt of some venial 
sins. But it may well be that the guilt of 
many venial sins will remain, owing to lack of 
repentance for them, therefore also the debt 
of punishment due to them. Extreme Unc- 
tion is not an automatic means of escape from 
purgatory, though the purpose of the sacra- 
ment is undoubtedly to remit the debt of 
temporal punishment, and it does indeed 
remit it entirely, if received with perfect 

The case of Extreme Unction is not 
unlike that of a Plenary Indulgence. A 
Plenary Indulgence is intended to remit 
the whole of the temporal punishment due, 
and if received in perfect dispositions and 
without any attachment to sin it will always 



achieve its object. But it would be rash to 
assert that all who perform correctly the 
outward works prescribed are thereby ac- 
quitted of all debt of purgatory. Indulgences 
are not sacraments, of course, but they at 
least resemble them in this that when applied 
to the living they are an exercise of spiritual 
power to which some spiritual result is in- 
fallibly attached, if the work prescribed is 
performed in proper dispositions. 

We now come to the most characteristic 
grace bestowed by Last Anointing, the grace 
of "raising up" the sick man. "The Lord 
shall raise him up." The Greek word used 
might almost be translated "stir up," "wake 
up." It means the bestowal of unwonted 
strength and vigour on those who are pros- 
trate through sickness. By lowering vitality 
and introducing disorder into the sensitive 
life grievous illness is apt to interfere with 
the workings of the soul in mind and will. 
Sickness means lethargy, exhaustion, in- 
ability to concentrate, stupor, and even 
illusions, and hence extreme difficulty in 
prayer when prayer is the great necessity. 
Sickness means fever, unnatural excitement, 
physical irritation, inward annoyance, and 
perhaps intense pain; all these make the 
continuance of spiritual activities most diffi- 
cult. Sickness may mean horror of approach- 

75 ' 


ing death, an almost complete enfeeblement 
of natural powers, a conjuring up of phan- 
tasms which lay the soul open to suggestions 
of despair, or at least to lack of trust in God; 
and to these may be added the paralysing 
dread of appearing before the Great Judge. 
It has been and still is the constant conviction 
of all those who are versed in spiritual 
matters, that the devil takes advantage of the 
enfeeblement of disease in men for his own 
purpose and that he uses his utmost en- 
deavours for the perdition of a soul before 
that soul passes out of the sphere of his power 
by a holy death. It is not in vain that 
myriads of Catholic lips for centuries have 
prayed: "Pray for us sinners now and at the 
hour of our death." If after the daily Sacri- 
fice we pray to St Michael to defend us in the 
day of battle, we stand in utmost need of 
every defence on the day when the final issue 
hangs in the balance. 

The mercy of God has invented this 
sacrament to assist us in our utmost need: 
a medicine, a healing unction to counteract 
supernaturally the danger to the soul arising 
from the impending dissolution of the body; 
a strengthening and invigoration of the soul 
to overcome the languor and the confusion 
of mind connected with serious illness, and 
the menace of death. 

It is remarkable that the two sacraments 



which have the special purpose of imparting 
strength of soul and vigour in combat have 
the anointing with oil as outward sign of their 
inward grace: Confirmation and Extreme 
Unction. They have this in common, that 
by anointing the body they signify the prep- 
aration for battle. But Confirmation, which 
is the complement of Baptism and imparted 
at the beginning of life's struggle, views man 
as a child of God regenerated and fresh from 
God in the integrity of his new spiritual life. 
It anoints the body of the young warrior who 
goes out to battle. In Extreme Unction the 
same warrior is regarded as in many ways 
worsted and defeated and overcome by sin. 
The Church again anoints him and the essen- 
tial meaning is the same. The gift is called 
a "confortatio animae," even as confirmation 
was called a confirmatio, a strengthening for 
combat. If the words used in administra- 
tion are different, it is because the circum- 
stances are different. After a long fight with 
sin the warrior needs that his wounds be 
healed; and so God is asked to deal kindly 
with all things in which the weary warrior 
has failed in the past. The aim of this sacra- 
ment is to restore the sick man to that com- 
plete health and vigour of soul in which 
Baptism and Confirmation had placed him 
at the beginning of life's combat. 
There has been and to a certain extent still 



is a discussion amongst theologians which is 
the principal effect of these many spiritual 
effects just enumerated: (i) the remission of 
grievous sin, (2) the remission of venial sins, 

(3) the remission of the remnants of sin, 

(4) the remission of the temporal punishment 
of forgiven sin, and (5) the strengthening of 
the soul in its hard and perhaps final struggle. 
Which, it is asked, is the essential grace of 
which the sacrament is the efficient sign, 
the grace which it must always of necessity 
produce if worthily received and from which 
the other effects follow? 

Some have held that the essential grace is 
the undoing of past sin, if not in its guilt, 
at least in its consequences. These theologians 
appeal to the meaning of the sacramental 
form as now used in the Latin Church: "May 
God pardon whatever thou hast done amiss." 

Others have placed the essential grace in 
the strengthening of "the soul, so necessary 
in the time of sickness. They have argued 
that if we regard the sacrament as essentially 
remissive of sin, it could not be validly 
received by a person who by confession or 
perfect contrition had been freed from the 
guilt of all his sins, by a Plenary Indulgence 
had paid the whole debt of punishment due, 
and by a life of great holiness had undone all 
the scars and wounds of sin. A sacrament, 



they urge, that cannot give its essential grace 
is no valid sacrament. These authors plead 
that some of the very greatest Saints have 
been anointed, and it might well be supposed 
that on their death-bed they had undone all 
their sins by their intense love of God. 
Moreover, St James seems to stress the 
raising up of the soul of the sick man, rather 
than the conditional forgiveness of sin, if 
the sick man have any. These reasons would 
at first sight seem decisive, but for the strong 
and insurmountable argument to the con- 
trary derived from the Latin sacramental 
form, which is indicative of pardon of sin. 
A sacrament must always give the grace it 
signifies, and the form of words used in 
administration must needs indicate this grace. 
The solution of the problem lies no doubt 
in the fact that no person on earth can be 
completely free from all consequences of past 
sin. He may be free from any guilt of sin, 
he may be free from all vindicative punish^- 
ment due to sin, the justice of God may be 
completely satisfied, yet some consequences 
may still remain. Our Lady excepted, ho 
one has ever led a life without all sin, how- 
ever slight, but all sin leaves some enfeebling 
result on the soul. It impairs a man's 
spiritual health, it lowers his strength. 
In a state of illness and approaching death a 



person needs all the strength and full super- 
natural health of soul to face his dangers, 
and it is this complete health of soul which the 
sacrament intends to give. The sacrament 
deals not with abstractions but with realities, 
and in reality, Mary excepted, no saint has 
claimed that he never knew sin. Hence all 
can profit by a sacrament which restores 
divine grace which was in some degree im- 
paired by a past fault. The bestowal of 
spiritual vigour on a sinner in bodily illness 
is therefore at the same time an undoing of 
sin; and therefore the form of this sacra- 
ment indicates the undoing of sin: "Indul- 
geat . . . quidquid deliquisti." 

Moreover, the great need in illness is the 
divine assurance of a merciful judgement to 
come. Dread of the holiness of God and 
the rigour of his justice may disturb the soul, 
however slight the sins committed and 
however great the repentance of the sinner. 
It is this distressing and agonizing fear which 
the sacrament intends to counteract. It is 
intended to fill the sick man with a Christian 
courage that through God's loving-kindness 
and infinite mercy the victory over evil will 
lie with him. 

We conclude therefore that in reality the 
confortatio anim& and undoing of sin coin- 
cide; they are but the negative and positive 



aspect of identically the same grace. It is 
essentially a sacrament of healing, but healing 
is undoing of disease and that by an inpouring 
of strength. Logically, no doubt, the con- 
fortatio animce precedes, but in fact the two 
coincide. We must carefully note that the 
Latin form does not directly mention the 
forgiveness of the guilt of sin, but uses 
deliberately the general expressions: indulgeat 
tibi Dominus, "may God deal mercifully with 
thee"; quidquid deliquisti, "with regard to 
anything there is still amiss," in consequence 
of any sins committed. 

Finally, we have to deal with the last result 
of this sacrament: the restoration of bodily 
health if God sees it to be expedient. Is 
there any rule or principle on which God 
acts in this matter and which we can 

Some have suggested that God always 
restores to health if this is for the ultimate 
spiritual good of the patient. In consequence, 
if he foresees that, if now restored to health 
the patient would finally die in sin and be 
lost or at least would make a less good death 
than now, God would not arrest the course 
of the disease. This suggestion is, however, 
hardly tenable, for it would practically be 
equivalent to a private revelation to all those 
who recovered after Extreme Unction in the 



hour of death, that they could be certain of 
final salvation. 

How then is this temporal effect connected 
with the sacrament? Is it a miracle? Does 
God suspend the laws of nature and on the 
occasion of Extreme Unction use his om- 
nipotence apart from natural laws? It would 
seem not, because we are repeatedly warned 
not to postpone the reception of Extreme 
Unction precisely because this would be to 
force God's hand to work a miracle by raising 
up a man actually in the throes of death. 

If, then, the restoration is not necessarily 
miraculous, but some utilization of nature's 
forces by God, how have we to conceive 
this? "The Lord will raise him up." This 
raising up is by actual graces bestowed upon 
the soul; for the soul reacts upon the body, 
as well as the body on the soul. Medical 
science will tell us that cheerfulness, mental 
happiness, and the encouragement of by- 
standers, normally make a great difference 
to the patient for betterment. Despondency 
is most deleterious to those in sickness, 
courage and brightness of character are of 
immense importance. Many a person re- 
covers by the sheer will to live and struggles 
against the physical laws of sickness by an 
indomitable character. 

If science tells us this in the purely natural 




sphere, how much more is this true when God 
by supernatural actual graces affects the 
soul for its strengthening and comfort? 
Beyond all doubt God can and sometimes 
does directly act on the bodily frame of man, 
thus curing him in a directly miraculous way, 
either by increasing natural recuperative 
power, or by directly creating new forces 
which make for health. For all we know he 
does so sometimes on account of the sacra- 
ment received. But there seems no absolute 
divine rule always connecting such miracles 
with Extreme Unction. Miracles must always 
be rare; they are the exception, not a matter 
of steady regularity. The sacrament bestowed 
on unconscious persons in the very throes of 
death does but exceedingly rarely restore 
bodily health. If it always did, death would 
be abolished. Hence it is presumptuous folly 
to postpone its reception till the last moment 
and expect escape from death. But even 
when received in the early stages of illness and 
received with great piety and devotion there 
seems to us no apparent rule by which God 

We are bound to believe that God will do 
so if it is expedient. Expedient to whom? 
To all men? To some men, amongst the 
relatives and household? To the sick man 
himself? It is certainly expedient to the 



sick man that he die at some time, for death 
is the gateway to heaven. If he be well- 
disposed, it may be expedient that he die 
now. The expediency, however, will be 
judged by God, whose Providence attains 
all men and takes every circumstance into 
account. Now the Council of Trent says: 
"if 'it be expedient to the soul's salvation," 
and thus evidently includes in the reasons for 
recovery the spiritual profit of the man's 
soul. On the other hand, the Council dis- 
tinctly adds the word inter dum, "some- 
times," thus suggesting that, even if there is 
some foreordained plan and rule whereby 
these things are regulated, we do not know it. 
No doubt priests, doctors, and nurses have 
repeatedly noticed the most amazing changes 
for the better in sick persons after Anointing, 
and it is no wonder that people have often 
cried "miracle" after such a surprising 
recovery. God thus vindicates the dignity 
and the power of his sacraments and the early 
devout reception of Extreme Unction is 
certainly a powerful appeal to the om- 
nipotent mercy of God for the recovery of 
bodily health. 

The reviviscence of this sacrament, al- 
though briefly alluded to previously, needs 
a few words of explanation. Baptism, 
Confirmation, and Orders may be received 


without due disposition. In such a case these 
sacraments are valid and cannot be repeated, 
but the grace of them is not bestowed until 
the recipient repents and puts himself in the 
necessary state of soul. Such subsequent 
resurrection of sacramental energy goes by 
the name of reviviscence. This is universally 
accepted in the case of the three sacraments 
just mentioned, because they imprint an 
indelible mark on the soul and can be received 
only once in a lifetime. It is practically 
certain that the same is true of Matrimony. 
Though it leaves no indelible mark on the 
soul, yet it is normally received only once in 
life, and it is hard to believe that a married 
person should for ever be deprived of the 
graces needed for the married state owing 
to his sinful state at the moment of his wed- 
ding. There is probably no reviviscence of 
Penance, because being itself the sacrament 
of Penitence, it is utterly invalid when peni- 
tence is absent; and the reviviscence of Holy 
Communion, if received in mortal sin, is 
usually considered impossible. 

In the case of Extreme Unction there 
exists no absolute certainty of its revivis- 
cence; yet this can hardly be doubted. 
Theologians are practically unanimous that 
when received in the state of unrepented 
mortal sin it revives if the sick man later 



repents. Such reviviscence of the grace of 
Unction is, however, strictly limited to the 
period of the illness and would not occur if 
the patient only repented after the recovery 
of health. During the same danger of death 
through illness Extreme Unction, once validly 
received, remains an efficacious title to grace, 
though its effect is suspended as long as the 
patient remains in unrepentant mortal sin. 
Let him remove the obstacle by repentance 
and the grace will be bestowed. Should, 
however, a fresh mortal sin be committed 
after the reception of Extreme Unction, the 
guilt of this could only be removed either 
by perfect contrition or attrition with the 
actual reception of the sacrament of Penance. 
Extreme Unction can remit the guilt of sin 
incurred before and in its reception, but not 
that of sins committed afterwards. The 
priest then, should he learn that the patient 
was in unrepented mortal sin during the 
reception of Extreme Unction, should not 
repeat the administration, for according to 
Church law it must be given only once in the 
same illness. The only possible reason for 
repeating the rite would be if the priest 
ascertained that the patient had been un- 
willing to receive it, for no sacrament is valid 
if bestowed on an unwilling subject. 
However great the divine ingenuity in 



contriving means of grace for the children of 
men, God's benign purposes can be foiled 
by the malice of man, but as far the in- 
dulgence of the divine Father in heaven can 
go without destroying human liberty, so far 
does his tender mercy reach in this most 
holy Unction. 


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