CANON IV.- If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification; -though all (the sacraments) are not necessary for every individual; let him be Anathema. 




14 Is any man sick among you ? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.     (James 5, 14F; – 14)

Through this Holy Unction or oil, and through the great goodness of His mercy, may God pardon thee whatever sins thou hast committed by evil use of {sight, hearing, smell, taste and speech, touch, ability to walk}.

Extreme Unction remits all forgiven mortal sins, and when the sick person is unable to go to confession, even if he has an imperfect confession, its effects are the same as those of the Sacrament of Penance. That is why the Council of Trent says that it is the complement, the perfection, the completion of this Sacrament. With regard to the traces of sin which it removes: this means that it affords special help enabling the soul to resist its evil inclinations at this dangerous and decisive moment of its life and, in the opinion of some theologians, that it releases the soul, according to the dispositions with which it is received, from a part of the temporal punishment due to sin.

It is the duty of relatives, and of those who are in attendance upon the sick, to see the he or she receives the last Sacrament Extreme Unction in due time to see that he or she receives the last rites.

And going forth they preached that men should do penance: (Mark 6, 12f -12) What should be done in case of sudden death? Send for a priest right away, because Extreme Unction may be given even after a person is apparently dead. Even when a person displays all the usual manifestations of death, the soul may still not have departed from the body. Therefore, the Church allows Extreme Unction to be administered for a time after “death” has occurred.





The fifth and sixth sacraments of the Church listed by the Counsel of Trent are extreme unction and holy orders. Only for the sake of pedagogical convenience are these two sacraments treated in the same chapter, for there is no extrinsic ordination of one to the other, nor any reason even of fittingness why they should be considered together. Extreme Unction is, in a sense, the perfecting of penance, since it brings to ultimate perfection at the hour of death the freedom from sin and the effects of sin which is inaugurated by baptism and intensified in the sacrament of divine pardon. Holy orders, on the other hand, may be compared with matrimony, in the sense that both are primarily social sacraments, the first providing for the perpetuation of member of the Mystical Body of Christ, the second establishing the apostolic continuity for the hierarchy who govern and teach those members and re-enact Christ’s mediatorship. Two quite different sacraments, then will be studied in this chapter to the order and the principles already the theologically determined for the sacraments in general. 


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Death is the most important time in life. The instant of death witnesses the eternal fixing of the will upon good or evil. The time immediately preceding death, then, is of inestimable importance.

The Church exercises maternal solicitude over the growth and preservation of the life of grace in the souls of her children throughout their earthly journey. And in keeping with the importance of the occasion, she exercises more special care over those whom illness brings to the threshold of death. This special solicitude is manifested in the administration of the sacrament of extreme unction, which is a part of Christ’s guarantee that he would not leave us orphans, especially in our hours of greatest need.

Extreme unction complements the work of penance in the remission of sin. In the early years of the Church’s existence, there were not many heretical attacks against this sacrament. But during the Middle Ages and the period of the Reformation, the true doctrine was impugned, and the Church found it necessary to promulgate dogmatic decrees about the existence and nature of this sacrament.

Following St. Thomas, our investigation of Extreme Unction will be undertaken under the following headings :


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Extreme Unction is a sacrament of the New Law through which, by means of anointing with blessed oil and the prayer of the priest, health is conferred on the soul and sometimes on the body of one of the faithful who is both seriously ill and capable of grave sin.

The Oil of the Sick marked with the letters O.I. {oleum infirmorum} for Oil of the Inform or Sick}. This oil is used to anoint those who are ill.

Every sacrament of Christ is an out ward sign causing an inward grace, and is composed of two elements, matter, and form. In extreme unction, the remote matter is olive oil especially blessed either by a bishop, or by a priest having special faculties from the Holy See. This oil is required for valid administration of the sacrament. The proximate matter consists in the use or application of the remote matter. In this sacrament the proximate matter is the anointing of the sick with blessed oil on the various senses and parts of the body. The form is the words used while anointing: “By this sacred anointing and his most tender mercy, may the Lord forgive you what ever sins you have committed by sight, {hearing, smell, taste, speech, touch walking}.  Amen  

   A. The Matter

Saint Thomas finds special suitability in oil as the matter of this sacrament. The spiritual healing which comes at the end of life should be complete, because no other follows it, and it should be gentle, to nourish the hope of which the dying stand in so much need. Olive oil, penetrating with its emollient effect to the interior of a thing and spreading over it, symbolizes both the completeness and the gentleness required.

Ordinarily, the anointing are to be made on the eyes, lips, ears, nostrils, hands and feet. Priest are anointed on the backs rather than the palms of the hands because of the previous anointing at ordination. In case of necessity, a single anointing on the forehead or one of the senses suffices.

B. The Form

The form of many sacraments is expressed as a declaration: ” I baptized you”; “I absolve you.” But the form of Extreme Unction is a petition ” . . . may the Lord forgive you . . .” There are two reasons for this difference. The recipient of this sacrament is deprived of his strength, and he needs help of prayers. The dying are about to rest in the hands of God alone, and it is fitting that we commit them to His care buy our prayers.


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A. The Purpose Of The Sacrament

An important conclusion follows from the theology of this sacrament. Extreme Unction should not be delayed until there is extreme danger of death. It should be administered as soon as possible in a dangerous illness and while the recipient is in possession senses. It it no charity to defer Extreme Unction until the subject can no longer consciously appreciate the comfort of the sacrament, thereby depriving him of the opportunity to receive its full spiritual efficacy. Unfortunately these considerations are only too often forgotten by the family of the sick Christian, whose anxiety for the natural health of the one they love may temporarily obscure spiritual and supernatural considerations.

Since it is not certain when the soul departs from the body, Extreme Unction may be administered conditionally for at least one-half hour after apparent death, and longer in some cases.

B. Reputation Of The Sacrament

This sacrament cannot be repeated during the same illness unless the sick person has recovered after he was anointed, and again fallen into danger of death. If a patient survives for a month, it is generally held that this period represents the cessation of the previous danger, and the sacrament may be repeated.


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A. The Effects Themselves

Each sacrament is instituted to attain one principal effect, although it may produce other effects consequently. All sacraments cause what they signify and signify what they cause. Hence the principal effect of Extreme Unction must be learned form its signification.

(1) Its Principal Effect

Just as baptism is a kind of washing, Extreme Unction is a kind of medication, and the purpose of medicine is to cure the sickness. The chief effect of this sacrament is to cure the sickness of sin. As Baptism is a spiritual regeneration and Penance a spiritual resurrection, so Extreme Unction is a spiritual healing or cure.

Now every cure presupposes life in the one who is cured. Hence Extreme Unction is not a sacrament of the dead designed as a remedy against original mortal sin which deprive the soul of spiritual life; rather it is a sacrament of the living, presupposing the state of grace in the recipient. It is designed to cause the increase of sanctifying grace, and thus to cure the soul the weakness that is the result or original or actual sins which is already been forgiven. Hence Extreme Unction should always be preceded by confession {or, if this impossible, by and act of perfect contrition}, if the recipient is in the state of mortal sin; the practice of confessing before receiving this sacrament, even if one is not conscious of serious sins, is highly to be recommend.

Every sacrament imparts a special grace designed to assist the recipient in acquiring the distinctive benefits of the particular sacrament. Extreme Unction provides a special grace which strengthens the soul against all evils, past, present and future, and which remits venial sins and destroy the remnants of past sin.

(B) Its Secondary Effects

There are two secondary effects of this sacrament:

The first is the restoration of bodily health in those case where such recovery is expedient for the good of the soul .

The second is the remission of mortal sin for which the invalid has at least habitual attrition when, without fault, he has committed confession and perfect contrition. It is noted that the sacrament of Penance requires at lest an act of attrition exteriorly manifested for the forgiveness of mortal sin. Extreme Unction, however requires only habitual attrition to produce this effect secondarily. Hence, it is more important to anoint a dying person who is unconscious than to grant him conditional absolution, and every care must be exercised to see that such people receive Extreme Unction.

The effects of extreme unction may be seen clearly in this outline: 

                   a)Increase of Sanctifying grace.


                b)Sacramental grace.

Effects of Extreme Unction:

           a) Restoration of bodily health if   expedient  for Salvation.


    b)Remission of mortal sin in those who   have attrition, without opportunity perfect contrition or  for confession. 


B. The Recipients of Extreme Unction

Any one of  the faithful who is in danger of death from sickness or old age after attaining the use of reason can receive this sacrament. When there is doubt whether the sick person has reached the use of reason, whether he is truly in danger of death, or whether he is already dead, the sacrament is to be conferred conditionally. This condition is expressed by the priest, who precedes the form of the sacrament with the words, “if you are alive,or, If you are capable.

In view of this doctrine, Extreme Unction is not administered to.
The Unbaptized.

2)Infants and those who never reached the age of reason.

3)Those in danger of death from some cause other than sickness: (e.g. soldiers before, battle, criminals, before execution, passengers in danger of shipwreck).        

4) Those who remain willfully impenient in mortal sin. But if there is any doubt of this, the sacrament is to be administered conditionally.


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A. Its Institution

The principal scriptural reference to the sacrament of Extreme Unction is found in the Epistle of (Saint James 5: 14 ff.): ” Is anyone among you sick ? Let him bring in the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him“.

A possible allusion to this sacrament is by St. Mark, who says of the mission of the apostles made: “And going forth, they preached that men should repent, and they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many sick people, and healed them    (Saint Mark 6: 12-13).

The effect intended in the administration of all the sacraments is the healing of disease of sin. As is evident from the text of St. James, just such an effect obtained by the use of this sacred rite, Thus, it is truly sacrament.

The first mention among the documents of the Church of Extreme Unction as a sacrament is found in a letter written by Pope St. Innocent I to Bishop of Gubbio in 416.

(1) In its instruction on the sacraments, the Council of Florence 1438-85 , enumerated extreme unction among them, and gave specific information about its matter, form and administration.                           

(2) At the Council of Trent authoritative dogmatic declaration was issued.

(3) The following are the principal points contained in the chapters and canons which this great Council for the Church devoted to extreme unction:

(1) Dezinger, 99 (2) Denznger 700 (3) Denznger 907-910; 925-929

1) Extreme unction is Christ’s special provision for his children at the crucial hour of death when Satan strives most vehemently to destroy them.

2) The Apostolic tradition transmitted to the Church teaches that this is a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament instituted By Christ.               

3) In words, Saints Mark and James (cf. supra), Christ teaches the matter, form, the proper minister and the effects of this sacrament.

B. Its Administration

The minister for the valid administration of extreme unction is any priest, an no one who is not a priest . This clear from the words of St. James, “Let him bring priest for` the Church. The Council of Trent has defined that the term priests refer exclusively to priest and bishops. (4)

In addition, the code of Canon Law limits those who can lawfully administer extreme unction. The principal directive states that the pastor of the place where the sick person is staying, or another priest who has express or reasonably presumed permission, is the lawful minister of the sacrament. (5)

(4) Session, XIV, Chao, 3 and Canon 4, “Extreme Unction”; Denznger, 910, 929.  (5) Canon, 938. Other provisions are made by Canon, 514 and 1368.


 A consideration of the sacrament of Extreme Unction is taken up in the “Supplement” to the Summa Questions XXIX-XXXIII. For a more popular review of the doctrine, the book Extreme Unction (New York: The Macmillan Co. 1931 ) by John P. Ardendzen, is well reading. Extreme Unction (St. Louis: B. Hender Book Co., 1927), by Adrian J. Kilker, is a canonical treatise on the subject, although it also contains consideration of the dogmatic, historical and liturgical aspects. A brief article in the Theology Digest, IV (1956), 185-188, called the “meaning of Extreme Unction,” by P. De Letter, would also be a helpful source for a deeper insight into this sacrament.

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