The Sacrament we will learn about today is the Sacrament of Holy Unction, or anointing of the sick. This is also the Sacrament that is often referred to as Last Rites. Last Rites, or Extreme Unction in the Eastern Orthodox Church actually consists of three Sacraments. First, Confession and Absolution, Second, Holy Communion, and Third, Anointing with Holy Oil.
The Sacrament of Holy Unction or anointing unto healing with Holy Oil is done during a special Holy Wednesday evening service during Holy Week. The Sacrament of Holy Unction or anointing of the sick and laying on of hands for healing purposes can be done at any time during the year, whenever required. Extreme Unction also is available at any time during the year.
The oil used in anointing is primarily olive oil. Oil is mentioned in the Bible 187 times. Anoint, the root word is mentioned 157 times, and curiously healing, using a combination of root words: (heal, healed, cleansed, cure, cured, and cast out) , is mentioned also 157 times in the New Testament alone. Anointing with oil is quite common throughout the Scriptures, and so even today, we can obtain the same grace and healing dispensed by the Apostles by being anointed by an Apostolically ordained, Priest or Bishop.
Matthew Chapter 10, starting with verse 7, "And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give." And then in Matthew Chapter 8, starting with verse 7, "And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give."
In the Gospel according to St. Mark Chapter 16, beginning with verse 15, "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned. 17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. 19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God."
Associated with the Sacrament of Holy Unction is the "Laying on of hands", which is used by the Priest or Bishop to transfer healing power from the Holy Spirit to the afflicted person. The Holy oil is the tangible part of the Sacrament, the laying on of hands, and the grace received from this is the spiritual mystery which takes place during this Sacrament.
We have evidence that power is transmitted from the servant, or the Priest or Bishop to the afflicted person in the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 8, beginning with verse 14, "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: 15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: 16 (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17 Then laid they [their] hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. 18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, 19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. 20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. 21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. 23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and [in] the bond of iniquity. 24 Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me."
In this Scripture lesson the gentleman named Simon wanted to purchase this power that the Apostles had to lay hands on people and have them receive the Holy Spirit. This greatly offended the Apostles, and Simons’ response from them was quite a chastisement! The grace and healing power of God cannot be purchased! It has been transmitted freely from the Apostles to modern day Bishops and Priests. Anything other than the proper use of this Sacrament is not valid, nor would it be effective!
The laying on of hands is part of the Sacrament of Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Orders, Holy Marriage, Holy Penance, and Holy Unction. In each case, power is transmitted from the Holy Spirit to the recipient of the Sacrament.
In First Timothy Chapter 4, beginning with verse 14, we read, "Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. 15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. 16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9, beginning with verse 10, we read an account of the healing of St. Paul by Ananias: 10 "And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I [am here], Lord. 11 And the Lord [said] unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for [one] called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, 12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting [his] hand on him, that he might receive his sight. 13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: 14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. 15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake. 17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, [even] Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
St. Paul received the same healing powers from Ananias that he, himself dispensed to others during his ministry on the earth. Paul who had been blinded and afflicted by the Lord on the road to Damascus now received healing grace and comfort from the same Lord through His servant Ananias.
The Sacrament of healing or Holy Unction, returned health and sight to St. Paul, just as it brings comfort and relief from our sufferings today. With the exception of Holy Communion, I have dispensed the Sacrament of Holy Unction more times than any other Sacrament. I have witnessed many healings from this Sacrament, some so miraculous that they practically defied nature. Truly, with God, all things are possible.
As we study the Seven Sacraments of our Church, we learn of the seven ways that God has displayed His love and compassion to us. The Sacraments are wonderful ways to draw near to God, to commune with Him, to receive power from Him, and to worship Him with all of your senses.