Monday, 13 February 2012


Thankfully, we do not encounter leprosy in our culture. It can therefore be difficult to enter into the real depth of today’s readings. We have to understand that leprosy meant exclusion, rejection and the end of “normal” life. For your leprosy to be cured would be like being given a second chance at life. What is the cause of exclusion and rejection in our society – or even in the Church? Who are those who must “live apart”? And how can we put into effect in our day those most touching of the words of Jesus, when asked if he wants to cure the leper: “Of course I want to!”? Contemplating exclusion and rejection in our world can be hard work: Saint Paul guides the way: the Christian path is not to work “for my own advantage, but for the advantage of everybody else”.

As we here today of Our Lord’s cure of the man with leprosy I want to say a few words about the pastoral care of the Sick and Sacrament of the Sick.

For many people the Sacrament of the Sick is referred to as ‘the last rites.’ This stems from an older understanding of the Sacrament being a preparation for death. Indeed at one time this sacrament was called Extreme Unction and was only celebrated as the sick person approached death. Thus the priest coming to visit someone sick meant ‘the end was nigh.’

Thankfully we now have a revised approach to the celebration of this wonderful Sacrament.  We now talk of the pastoral care of the sick.  This approach gives care to the sick person from the beginning of their illness rather than the priest being called in at the last moment - something akin to a religious RAC service.  

It begins simply with pastoral visits to those who are sick. This usually takes the form of a friend or neighbour calling in on the sick person for an informal chat or a cuppa.

This may then lead into Holy Communion being brought to the sick person as they are not able to get to Mass. Here I want to thank all our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion who regularly visit the sick and bring to them Christ the Bread of life. Thank you for all that you do in this important ministry.

The sick person may then hint that they want to go to confession or speak with the priest. It is then that the priest becomes involved in the care of sick, but notice things have already been happening long before the priest has been called.

When the priest visits he may well hear the sick person's confession and celebrae the Sacrament of the Sick, anointing the hands and forehead with the holy oil that has been blessed by the Bishop on Holy Thursday.

The Anointing of the Sick, as the name suggests is for those who are sick. It should not simply be a final anointing just before the person takes their last breath. It is a sacrament to bring about the Lord’s consolation and healing (and yes in some cases this may be to ease the passage from this world to the next –which is also a healing) and it can be repeated during the course of a long illness.

I am more than happy to celebrate this sacrament with those who feel the need for it. All you have to do is ask.

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