February 13, 2017

James 5:14 outlines the clear scriptural basis for the sacrament of anointing the sick:

“Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

Despite this, this sacrament is often practiced so privately, or so rarely, that many aren’t sure exactly how it works or what it looks like.  So here’s our question to converts and those on the journey:

Did your previous churches practice anointing of the sick?  If so, what form did it take?  Did you ever witness it?

Here’s what some of our members and readers had to say:

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“I grew up Nazarene from age 3-30, but I don’t recall anyone giving the anointing of the sick, at least not as a part of a regular worship service. There may have been some done in more private settings, among relatives and friends of the person who was ill, and in danger of dying… but I didn’t see it or remember any preaching about it.  I’m sure they had no objections to the anointing or praying for the sick, they just didn’t call it a sacrament.”

Mary, via Facebook

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“At my Anglican parish we had a special healing ministry so at every Eucharist, you could receive anointing of the sick for yourself or your loved ones’ physical mental or emotional wounds. There would be two stations of anointing teams (of two) either side of the altar and you could go wait for anointing after receiving Eucharist.”

Teresa, via Facebook

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“I was a Lutheran pastor for 30 years, before becoming a Catholic. The Lutheran Book of Occasional Services has a liturgical setting of prayers for the healing of the sick which includes anointing with oil for healing. We also had healing services and open altar at the end of every worship service. The Altar Ministers would pray with all who came forward and anoint the sick with oil by making the sign of the cross on their forehead.”

David W., via the CHNetwork Blog

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“As Presbyterians (PCUSA) we periodically had healing services, several times per year. After the sermon, people could go forward for prayer and anointing by the pastor (teaching elder) or ruling elders. Not considered a sacrament.”

Amy, via Facebook

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What about you? Do you remember how the anointing of the sick was practiced, if at all, in the churches you attended prior to becoming Catholic?  If so, please share in the comments below!



  • Marty Dancy

    Before the sixties, the Catholic Church had Extreme Unction where a dying patient would receive anointing with oil on the forehead, hands, and feet. Special prayers were said and then confession of sins would be the next step and absolution. Then Viaticum would be given if the patient could receive it. It was a profound ceremony held either in the hospital room or at home or at a nursing home. Now, they have anointing of the sick where they say prayers and anoint you with oil on the hands and forehead, and then if you need to go to confession, you can. Sometimes people can go up to a church rail or just stand and be anointed in church if they just have an illness of any kind, if the church has that rite going on that day. It is simpler today but traditional Catholics always want the Last Rites the old way when they get seriously ill or are going into major surgery. It is a sacrament of the church for sick people or people with a chronic condition. My former church(Presbyterian) had no rites for the sick. People could pray but that was it. We had no laying on of hands or anything in the old days in the Presbyterian church so I am glad that I am a Catholic now and can get this sacrament.

  • David Woodby

    I was a Lutheran pastor for 30 years, before becoming a Catholic. The Lutheran Book of Occasional Services has a liturgical setting of prayers for the healing of the sick which includes anointing with oil for healing. We also had healing services and open altar at the end of every worship service. The Altar Ministers would pray with all who came forward and anoint the sick with oil by making the sign of the cross on their forehead.

  • Sally Elliott Scrimshaw

    As a Presbyterian (USA) I never heard of anything like this. When my father died however many years ago before knowing anything about the Catholic Church or even what Sacraments were, I felt strongly that something was missing. The minister was there too and she never did anything. Just like communion something was strangely missing but I didn’t know what.

  • In my evangelical / charismatic fellowship we did. There was a bottle of oil at the ready when elders were present at prayer ministry times. Because it was instructed in Scripture. Of course, words like sacrament were taboo…

    There was a tension between the evangelical and more pentecostally inclined members (like I was). The latter were far more open to what I would now as a Catholic define as sacramentals. For example, particular spiritual ‘anointing’ on individuals, expectation that healings happened in particular places / times, healing conferred via cloths which had been prayed over (‘cos that’s straight out of Scripture). It’s beliefs and practices like that which for me made conversion feel a very natural next step…

    • Matt Swaim

      Super helpful answer- thanks for sharing! I too have found that those of a charismatic bent are far more open to the idea of sacramentals.