What are the criteria for receiving this sacrament?

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In the Christian tradition, the Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament that is both profound and deeply comforting. It is a rite that is administered to bring spiritual and even physical strength during an illness, particularly near the time of death. It is essential to approach this sacrament with a clear understanding of its purpose and the criteria for its reception. As a non-denominational Christian pastor, I will explore what scripture and Christian tradition teach us about who should receive this sacrament and under what circumstances.

Biblical Foundations

The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is rooted in the New Testament. James 5:14-15 says, "Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven." This passage not only provides the basis for this sacrament but also outlines its dual purpose: healing of the body and forgiveness of sins.

Criteria for Receiving the Sacrament

1. A Baptized Christian: The first criterion for receiving this sacrament is that the individual must be a baptized Christian. Baptism is the initial sacrament of initiation into the Christian faith, and it is prerequisite for receiving other sacraments within many Christian traditions.

2. Experiencing Serious Illness or the Frailty of Old Age: Traditionally, the Anointing of the Sick was often reserved for those who were at the point of death. However, the Second Vatican Council clarified that this sacrament is not only for those who are dying but also for anyone who is suffering from serious illness or the frailty associated with old age. This understanding helps broaden the pastoral care aspect of the church to include a larger group who can benefit from this sacramental grace.

3. Suffering from a Physical or Mental Illness: The condition for which the Anointing of the Sick is sought does not need to be a terminal illness. It can be any serious physical or mental illness. The sacrament can be received more than once, such as when a sick person's condition worsens or a new serious condition arises.

4. A State of Consciousness and Openness: Ideally, the recipient should be in a state where they can participate in the sacrament consciously and with faith. However, if they are unconscious or their condition prevents them from actively participating, they can still receive the sacrament if there is a reasonable belief that they would have asked for it while in a conscious state.

The Role of Faith and the Community

It is important to recognize that the efficacy of this sacrament is not magic. The healing that may occur is not merely at a physical level but is deeply spiritual and is fundamentally about the restoration of the person within the community and their relationship with God. The community's role, therefore, is pivotal. When the sacrament is administered, it is preferably done in the presence of family members, friends, and church members, reflecting the communal nature of healing and the support of the Christian community.

The Use of Oil

The use of oil, blessed by the bishop or a priest, is a significant part of this sacrament. Oil, throughout the Bible, has been a symbol of strength, healing, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The anointing with oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit's work in the life of the person, sealing them with strength and imparting grace to endure and overcome their sufferings.

Pastoral Considerations

As pastors, it is essential to approach the administration of this sacrament with sensitivity and care. It should be presented as a source of comfort and spiritual support, not as a mere ritual or a sign that recovery is hopeless. The sacrament should be an encounter with Christ's merciful presence, a moment of faith that uplifts the spirit of the sick.

In conclusion, the Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament that serves a powerful role within the Christian community. It is not restricted to moments of imminent death but is a source of grace during significant illness and suffering. The criteria for its reception emphasize the inclusive and compassionate nature of the church's ministry to all who are in need of healing, both in body and spirit. As such, this sacrament stands as a profound testament to the life-giving and sustaining grace that flows from Christ through His church to each believer, bringing not only healing but also a deeper integration into the life of the community and a renewed peace with God.

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