Anointing for Spiritual Wounds

Should the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick be sought by someone suffering from a long-term mental and spiritual wound caused by being a victim of a sin or crime?

Extreme Unction seems to be reserved for those in physical danger of death, and yet there are serious, persistent mental and spiritual sicknesses that may need more than counseling in order to heal. I believe this sacrament has been neglected.

Name withheld by request

Fr. Rocky: You are correct in stating that “there are serious and persistent mental and spiritual sicknesses that may need more than counseling in order to heal.” But the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick was not intended to cure mental illness. It is chiefly to strengthen the soul in times of physical suffering and anguish, and secondarily it can restore strength and vitality to the body to give the soul an opportunity to prepare to meet the Lord.

The Code of Canon Law stipulates: “The anointing of the sick can be administered to any member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger of death by reason of illness or old age” (Canon 1004.1).

Commentators note that in practice this means that the sacrament can be given to a person before surgery, as well as to the elderly “if they have become notably weakened even though no serious illness is present”; and that it “must be given to children, even if there is some doubt as to whether they have attained the use of reason.”

In general, if there is any doubt, the sacrament should be administered according to Canon 1005: “If there is any doubt as to whether the sick person has reached the use of reason, or is dangerously ill, or is dead, this sacrament is to be administered.”

For those who suffer spiritual illnesses that are more pronounced than what is typical of the consequences of original sin, I would suggest they try the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a monthly basis. For mental illnesses, a qualified mental health expert, psychologist or psychiatrist should also be consulted.

If there is reason to believe the devil is involved, either through obsession or possession, perhaps an exorcism is needed.

“Monday Morning Short Answers to Big Questions” by Rev. Francis J. Hoffman

Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, "Fr. Rocky" is the Executive Director/CEO of Relevant Radio and a priest of Opus Dei.