The ordinary ministers of the sacrament of the Anointing are bishops and priests. Deacons share in the sacrament of Holy Orders but do not have the power to forgive in the sacrament of Penance.
We read in James 5:15, “If he has committed any sins, forgiveness will be his.” It is intended that the sacrament of Penance be included in any celebration of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Even if it is not included, James’s letter is also clear that presbyters (priests) are to be sent for. Bishops have the fullness of the priesthood, so it is implied that they are included with presbyters.
If the person is dying, it is quite important that the priest is present to prepare the soul for her last journey. The common term now used for the Anointing of the Sick, or Last Rites, is Anointing unto Glory. When the sacrament is employed at this stage there are several prayers, blessings, and commendations that only a priest can give. Often, it is an opportunity to hear the last Confession of the departing soul and to impart Christ’s absolution.
Another prayer the priest employs at the last Anointing is the apostolic pardon. The priest is given delegation to impart this pardon (which is attributed to the apostolic or Holy See) upon the departing soul. When sins are remitted through the sacrament of Penance, there is true contrition upon the penitent; due to this forgiveness, he can receive pardon from temporal punishment in purgatory.
After absolution, a penitent must perform a work of charity, prayer, or spiritual exercise as part of his penance. The penance is spiritually united to divine grace, which eradicates the penalty due for making an offense against Almighty God. If the penance is not finished upon the person’s death, the soul goes to purgatory before entering eternal life. In this temporal state, the soul realizes that it still has earthly attachments or unfinished repentance and wants to finish its cleansing. Apostolic pardon is a plenary indulgence that, when worthily received, removes all temporal punishment and time in purgatory.
The priest then commends to God the soul whom God created, redeemed, and continues to sanctify. Only the priest can offer the prayer of commendation, for it is Christ through the sacramental priesthood who is imparting the blessing. Finally, Mass might be celebrated in which, for the last time, the dying person will receive the Holy Eucharist, called viaticum, food for the journey.