The Last Rites is the sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church which is supposed to give spiritual aid and comfort to Christians who are gravely ill or dying. It makes use of a holy oil called chrism, which is believed to be a symbol of God’s grace and generosity. The Last Rites is an example of Christian love and charity towards the sick and the dying.
The Sacrament of the Last Rites
The Last Rites (also known as Extreme Unction or the Anointing of the Sick) is a Roman Catholic sacrament that was intended to provide spiritual aid and comfort to Christians who are seriously ill. It was also meant for the remission of their sins and the restoration of their physical health. The Last Rites is made up essentially of “the unction by a priest of the body of the sick person, accompanied by a suitable form of words” (Knight, 2008). It also involves the usage of chrism or holy oil that is usually blessed by a bishop on Maundy Thursday (Knight, 2008).
The administration of the Last Rites is composed of biblical readings, prayers and the priest’s anointing of the sick person’s five senses (eyes, ears, nose lips and hands) (MSN Encarta, 2008). While anointing the sick person, the priest would repeatedly mention:
“Through this holy unction and His own most tender mercy may the Lord pardon thee whatever sins or faults thou hast committed by (hearing, smell, taste, touch, walking, carnal delectation)” (Knight, 2008).
The forehead alone is anointed in the event of an emergency. The Last Rites may be either an individual (the priest and the sick person) or a group service (the priest, the sick person and his or her family) (MSN Encarta, 2008).
The Last Rites was said to have been based on the following passages from the Bible:
“They drove out many demons, and rubbed olive oil on many sick people and healed them” (Mark 6:13).
“Is there anyone who is sick? He should send for the church elders, who will pray for him and rub olive oil on him in the name of the Lord. This prayer made in faith will heal the sick person; the Lord will restore him to health, and the sins he has committed will be forgiven” (James 5: 14-16).
The terms “extreme unction” and “last anointing” were coined in the 8th century. As a result, the sacrament became associated exclusively with the dying. The Last Rites were later included among the Roman Catholic Church’s sacraments by the 12th-century Italian theologian Peter Lombard. The inclusion was officially recognized by the Council of Trent (1543-63) (MSN Encarta, 2008).
Most Protestants, however, have rejected both the practice of the Last Rites and its sacramental nature. Although the Anglican Communion has a provision regarding the anointing of the sick, many Anglicans have a different regard to it. They view the Last Rites as a ritual created by the Anglican Church, instead of as a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ (MSN Encarta, 2008).
Oil, the sacramental used in the Last Rites, is considered as a reminder of God’s boundless generosity towards humankind. Oil was considered very important in Jewish society. It was used to light lamps, for food and even for medicinal purposes. Consequently, the Jews regarded the abundance of oil (along with corn and wine) as a blessing from God. Whenever oil is applied on the sick during the Last Rites, it is believed that God uses oil as a channel to bless him or her (Saint James Episcopal Church, 2007).
Extension to Everyday Living
The Last Rites is a manifestation of love and charity towards the sick and the dying. However, caring for the sick and the dying must not stop at the Last Rites. Aside from looking after their spiritual welfare, their other needs (financial, emotional, physical, etc.) must also be taken cared of. After all, faith without good works is dead.
Knight, K. New Advent. (2008). Extreme Unction. Retrieved June 22, 2008, from
MSN Encarta. (2008). Anointing of the Sick. Retrieved June 22, 2008, from
Saint James Episcopal Church. (2007). Anointing with Oil. Retrieved June 22, 2008, from