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Sacrament of anointing brings strength

Father Dominic Mainelli, a Trappist monk and hospital chaplain, anoints Robert Richter of Iowa at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. The sacrament of anointing the sick provides spiritual strength to those suffering from serious illness or old age. Photo by Lisa Schulte
By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

Trappist Monk Dominic Mainelli knows the importance of being present to one who is suffering. As a hospital chaplain for more than 10 years, he has ministered to countless people in their times of physical, mental and spiritual need.

One of the most powerful ways he touches their lives is by conferring the sacrament of anointing the sick.

Intended to strengthen those who are being tried by illness, this sacrament of the church helps bring a sense of peace to those who are struggling in health and asks the Lord to heal the sick person if it would be favorable to his or her salvation, Father Mainelli said.

"Mentally, a person is strengthened in knowing that their relationship with God, with the Trinity, is refreshed," he said. "Sometimes a person shows signs of relief and acceptance and their anxiety decreases" after receiving the sacrament.

Elaine Bonk, a parishioner at St. Bonaventure Church in Columbus, can attest to that. The 72-year-old said she was a "nervous wreck" after being told she had breast cancer earlier this year. Depressed and shocked, she asked to be anointed. Its effect, she said, gave her a new look on life and her situation.

"It just really lifted me up because I was so down in the dumps," she said. "Afterwards, it made me feel better and realize that I could cope with it."

In addition to providing spiritual strength, the sacrament helps people accept their suffering as a way to glorify God, and encourages them to unite themselves to the Passion and death of Christ, according to "The Catechism of the Catholic Church."

The sacrament is traced back to Christ who used oil as a sign of healing for spiritual and physical ills. It is also based in Scripture in St. James' writings and in the gospel of Mark.

It is through the liturgy of the word, the laying on of hands and the anointing with blessed oil that the priest or bishop confers the sacrament. A person may receive the sacrament more than once and it can be given to an individual or to a group of people. It may take place in a home, a hospital or a church. Sometimes it's given at the site of an accident or before an operation.

Ideally, the anointing of the sick is preceded by the sacrament of Reconciliation and followed by the reception of the Eucharist.

In centuries past, the sacrament, once known as extreme unction, was conferred only at the point of death, but the Second Vatican Council made it available to anyone who is seriously ill. It stated that "the sacrament of anointing of the sick is given to those who are seriously ill by anointing them on the forehead and hands with duly blessed oil – pressed from olive or other plants – saying, only once: 'Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.'"

The effects of the sacrament, like other sacraments, are many. It provides strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with serious illness or old age, and it aids in the healing of the soul. With the sacrament, past sins are forgiven.

It also bestows the gift of uniting the sick person more closely to Christ's Passion, and suffering begins to take on a new meaning. The grace it brings results in the church and the communion of saints interceding for the benefit of the sick person.

Finally, the sacrament helps a person prepare for death and final judgment before God. It completes the person's conformity to the death and resurrection of Christ.

Father Mainelli said he has seen the anointing bring family members together in a special way.

"Sometimes the separation disappears and they become close again," he said.

For the Trappist monk, administering the sacrament has allowed him to enter into a family and an individual's life for a brief period of time.

"You identify with their condition and experience the compassion and feelings for the family," he said. "There's a real spiritual dimension to it … and it can be overwhelming at times."

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