As Death Comes Close:
Approaching the moment of earthly death is an uncomfortable time for most of us. God gives us the Sacraments in our life so that we have a concrete real experience of God’s presence with us. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is the Sacrament that God gives us to experience His comforting presence when we are seriously ill or approaching death. “Approaching" is the key word. We shouldn’t wait until the last earthly days, or hours, of a person’s life to call for the priest to come and give the Sacrament of the Sick. There are two reasons for this, one spiritual and one practical. Waiting until a person’s last few days deprives the person of the spiritual comfort, strength, and healing - always spiritual healing, sometimes physical healing - that the Sacrament offers. The practical reason, there are just fewer priests now than in days gone by when a priest would wait by the phone for emergencies. In today’s busy parishes, a priest doesn’t have the luxury to simply sit in the rectory and wait for a call. A priest’s days are very full meeting the needs of parishioners. This means that in waiting until the very last days or moment of a person’s life, a priest may not be available to give the Sacrament. It is always an honor, and never an imposition, for a priest to receive a call for the Sacrament of the Sick. As a family cares for a loved one's physical needs, calling for the Sacrament of the Sick cares for a beloved’s spiritual needs. A question often asked is “how frequently should a person who is seriously ill, or nearing death, receive the Sacrament of the Sick?” Every three months is an appropriate guideline for a seriously ill person, or someone who is a resident in a health care facility and is frail from age. The comfort and grace of the Sacrament endures well beyond the moment of anointing. The only exception to the every three months guide is if the person commits a mortal sin after receiving the Sacrament. Then the individual should seek the Sacrament of Confession and the Sacrament of the Sick as soon as possible. Other than that situation, if a person dies within the three months of Anointing, everyone can be assured of God’s loving arms holding the person in His care, strength, and compassion.