Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Rites Comfort Those Who Are Ill Or Dying

By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special To The Bulletin | Published November 6, 2008

The Catholic faith accompanies the faithful throughout life and brings comfort and strength to those facing serious illness or death through its sacraments and rites.

Anointing Of The Sick

What many older Catholics grew up knowing as extreme unction is now called the sacrament of anointing.

“The reason for the different name is because (extreme unction) suggested that one had to be at the end of life to receive anointing,” said Father Theodore Book, director of the Atlanta Archdiocese’s Office of Divine Worship.

“Using the name ‘anointing of the sick’ implies that it’s not just for those who are dying but is for anyone with a serious illness.”

Whether physical or mental, the illness in some way presents a threat to one’s health, Father Book clarified. While one does not need to be facing imminent death to receive the sacrament, one should be dealing with an illness or health issue and not take the sacrament lightly or frequently without reason.

“Someone who received the sacrament (of anointing) and wishes to receive it again should do so only if there is a new cause or a worsening of one’s condition, or if they’re going in for surgery.”

The Rite Of Viaticum

Viaticum, translated to mean “food for the way” or “food for the journey,” is “really at the end of life,” said Father Book. Its purpose is to provide strength when facing death.

“Just as we celebrate one’s First Communion, and it is a special celebration, we also acknowledge one’s last.”

Viaticum is just one of the opportunities to experience God’s grace in one’s final hours or days.

“The sacrament of reconciliation is an important part of the preparation (for death) or dealing with someone with a serious, life-threatening illness,” Father Book added.

Circumstances may arise when a person is close to death but is unable to swallow. At these times, Father Book said, those administering the Eucharist may break off a fragment of the host and place it in the person’s mouth. Still, in other cases one may be unable to receive Communion altogether.

“If one can’t receive viaticum, prayers for the dying are read.”

Besides priests and deacons, eucharistic ministers may distribute viaticum. Deacons may perform certain rites and distribute the already-consecrated host when priests are not available, but only priests may confer the sacrament of reconciliation.