A baptized Catholic who reaches the age of reason and is seriously sick can receive the sacrament of Anointing. The Church defines “serious” as life-threatening.
Many people have serious medical conditions, as well as the usual aches and pains, in their older age. If a Catholic is going for even a minor operation that will involve anesthesia, the person can be anointed. Anesthesia can be risky business and some people die from it; therefore, it is appropriate to receive the sacrament.
A person who has a serious illness that will likely result in death can be anointed. Even if the expected death is not imminent, it is encouraged that the person receives the anointing. Miracles do happen, and there is always hope in a cure from God through the sacrament. Through the sacrament, the grace of God encourages, supports, and often enlivens people to endure whatever cross they may have.
While bodily healing may not occur, spiritual strength will, and it will aid the person against despair. Remember Jesus’ words that those who persevere until the end shall have eternal life. Often, long illness can be debilitating and demoralizing. Life is a battleground of good against evil. When life begins to end, the devil certainly steps up his attacks against the soul and tries to rob it of its peace. Anointing of the sick gives souls the grace and courage of Christ Himself, so that the souls may endure their cross faithfully to the end.
Anyone over the age of sixty-five may also be anointed. Even if the senior is not ill or not in immediate danger of death, age itself is considered a good cause for anointing. Who doesn’t have serious aches, pains, or even loneliness at an older age? Again, the sacrament is a vehicle of God’s encouragement. Often, parishes celebrate Mass of the Anointing. The elderly, those who are seriously ill, or those who are about to go for an operation often attend the Mass. Not only are they strengthened by the sacrament, but they are also encouraged by the support and prayer of the community and fellow travelers on the way to paradise.
Redemptive suffering is an important spiritual experience. This means that the elderly, the sick, and the infirmed offer up their own crosses to Christ crucified. There they receive plenteous grace to endure their crosses, to find meaning for their suffering, and ultimately to move on in life with the virtue of hope.