Just as Baptism causes a spiritual cleansing from spiritual stains by means of a bodily washing, so this sacrament causes an inward healing by means of an outward sacramental healing: and even as the baptismal washing has the effect of a bodily washing, since it effects even a bodily cleansing, so too, Extreme Unction has the effect of a bodily remedy, namely a healing of the body. (ST. Supp, q. 30, a. 2)
Both penance and extreme unction are sacraments of healing. As a human, we are body and soul, and although it is our soul that is the form of the body, and thus its state is of more eternal importance, nevertheless Christ, in the gift of His Sacraments, cares for the whole man.
Private penance begins (500-1000 A.D)
Private Penance developed as a result of monasticism and the relationship between religious and their confessor and spiritual director, who were generally the same person. Thus, often, spiritual direction would begin with a confessing of sins, and likewise, spiritual direction given would obviously include guidance on avoidance of those faults confessed.
Today, there are mixed opinions about whether one should have the same person as spiritual director and confessor, but the two are certainly well suited to each other, since growing in holiness cannot but include our turning away from our sins and towards the Lord.
Jesus calls to conversion: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”…It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life. (CCC 1427)
Unlike the angels, our decision to serve or not serve our God is not a momentary and once for all event. As creatures subject to time, our conversion is continual. We fall and we repent. We certainly do not want this to become a rote habit where we see forgiveness as something mechanical to be repeatedly obtained after sinning freely, but we also do not despair when we fall yet again, for God is merciful. We do what we can, and pray for God to make up for what we cannot, praying most especially for the grace of final perseverance.
Parts of the Sacrament of Penance
The first necessity of the sacrament is contrition. As Isidore defined it, “Contrition is a tearful sorrow and humility of mind, arising from remembrance of sin and fear of the Judgment.” In other words, we must recognize that we have done contrary to the will of God, and must overcome our pride and wish to render the honor to God that we refused in sinning.
Once we are contrite, we confess our sin. We always confess to God, but the normal mode instituted by Christ Himself is the Sacrament of Penance, especially for mortal sins. Here, we confess our sins to a priest of Christ, ordained in the Church He founded.
We are then given a penance, normally, and we agree to carry it out. This Satisfaction may include retribution to those we have harmed, and prayer as well. Besides any repaying of those we may have harmed, the penance is not so much for us to repay a debt as it is a medicine for our soul, that we may be turned back to God and trust in doing His will.
Anointing of the Sick
Mark 6:13 and James 5:14-15.
“And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.” (Mark 6:13) Jesus has just sent out the apostles, in twos, to preach the kingdom. We see here that He has given them a participation in His authority (we will see this even more clearly in Jesus’ words in Matt 28) to be conveyors of His grace. The casting out of devils and the healing with oil shows both the spiritual and physical care that God has for His people, and the oil demonstrates that Christ, Himself incarnate, of course, uses material means as instruments of grace because we are not merely spiritual but corporeal beings as well.
James tells us that this ministry and sacrament has not ceased with the Ascension of Christ, but continues through His Church. “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. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.” (James 5:14-15)
The fruits of this sacrament (CCC 1520-1523).
When we are sick or in old age, we often face grave temptations against the faith. Even the greatest of saints have often faced temptations against the faith itself as they neared death. In fact, God allows these trials, but He always gives the grace to grow by them.
As the Catechism says, “The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death.” (CCC 1520)
“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24) says Paul. And further, we are “joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.” (Rom 8:17)
Sometimes we are truly called upon to suffer with and for Christ, and we can merit for ourselves and even for others when we do so willingly. The Sacrament of Extreme Unction is a great gift in the grace it gives in such times.