Anointing of the Sick
"Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church,
and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord."
- James 5:14
What is the Anointing of the Sick?
The Catholic Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, formerly known as Last Rites or Extreme Unction, is a ritual of healing appropriate not only for physical but also for mental and spiritual sickness.
When should someone receive the Anointing of the Sick?
The Church teaches that the Anointing of the Sick should be received when a "believer begins to be in danger of death because of illness or old age. Each time a Christian falls seriously ill, he may receive the Anointing of the Sick, and also when, after he has received it, the illness worsens." (CCC, 1528-1529) So, for example, it would be appropriate to receive this sacrament before a major surgery, after being diagnosed with a serious illness, or as one gets older and begins to experience more health problems.
Is this the same as Last Rites or Extreme Unction?
Many Catholics know this sacrament by these names which were formerly used. The change in name occurred as an attempt to emphasize that the Anointing of the Sick is not a sacrament meant to be conferred only once on an individual's death bed. It is intended to be administered any time a believer becomes seriously ill. In fact, it is encouraged that a believer receive this sacrament well before death is imminent. This prevents a situation where a priest is unavailable to administer the sacrament until after the individual has passed. Additionally, just as with Eucharist and Reconciliation, the Anointing of the Sick is repeatable and can be received many times throughout a person's life.
Can this sacrament be administered after someone has passed away?
No. The sacraments are meant to strengthen our relationship with God and grant us graces to help us lead our lives following Christ's example. Therefore, sacraments can only be administered to the living. There are, however, prayers which can be said for the repose of a soul who is deceased.