Anointing of Sick vs. Extreme Unction


I realize these are synonymous, but if someone has received Anointing of the Sick a couple times, and then the same Priest say he is going to give Extreme Unction to the person, does this refer to a different rite? Or does it suggests that the fear of death of the person has become ever more certain?


They are 'sorta synonymous.

Extreme Unction more commonly refers to the Last Rites, which includes more than the Anointing of the Sick. It also includes the administration of Viaticum ( Holy Communion given to the dying), the hearing of Confession and the bestowing of the Apostolic Blessing. The Last Rites are given to those close to death, hence the ‘Extreme’ part of ‘Exteme Unction’

The terms were very much synonymous when the only time the Anointing of the Sick was offered was part of Extreme Unction. But less so now when the Sacrament is offered more commonly.


Thanks Brendan! That clarifies it for me. :slight_smile:


Extreme Unction and Anointing of the Sick are two different names for the same Sacrament. Extreme Unction is the more traditional name for the Sacrament, using the word “extreme” since it is administered in extreme circumstances (near death or serious illness).


No. Brendan explained it well above. Many use the term synonymously but they are not the same thing.

Extreme Unction is a combination of four things:

  • Anointing of the Sick
  • administration of Viaticum (Holy Communion given to the dying)
  • the hearing of Confession
  • bestowing of the Apostolic Blessing



Well, sort of.

Extreme Unction is not the combination of those things listed above, nor are the combinations of any sacraments referred to as “Last Rites” by the Church, as Brendan noted…When you hear someone say “Last Rites” you can almost count on the fact you are hearing it from a non-Catholic or and un-catechized Catholic.

Extreme Unction is only the anointing of a (presumed to be) dying person (unction a verb meaning anointing).

Viaticum (food for the journey) is the Eucharist received by someone expecting death (they must be conscious to receive the Eucharist without doing physical harm from choking, etc).

Confession is a separate sacrament, and my not necessarily take place during extreme unction, because the person may not be conscious to make a confession…the priest may give forgiveness when death is likely without confession…but again, this is not part of or Extreme Unction.

The apostolic blessing may or may not take place at the time of (nor is it) Extreme Unction. Called the Apostolic Blessing at the Hour of Death, is to be given after the last sacraments (they must be conscious, as noted in the requirement for Viaticum), so unless Extreme Unction, Viaticum, and Confession are executed at the same time, it is unlikely an apostolic blessing at the hour of death.


Extreme unction is the old name for the anointing of the sick. That is the ONLY thing that term means. The Last Rites also includes the other rituals mentioned above.


Extreme in this case means final. Extreme Unction means final anointing.


The words “Unction” and “Anointing” mean exactly the same thing. Unction is simply the one borrowed directly from the Latin (unctionem, which varies depending on how it’s used in a sentence).

Extreme Unction means “anointing in an extreme situation”—in other words, when death is expected very soon. We could also say “extreme anointing” or “anointing in extremis

The “Last Rites” (note the plural there) is a collective phrase that refers to the final rituals of the Church done for one who is very near death. The Last Rites are:

–the Sacrament of Confession (at least in the minimal form)
–the Sacrament of Communion (in this case, as Viaticum), presuming that the person is physically able to receive
–the Sacrament of Anointing (aka Sacrament of Unction)
–the Apostolic Pardon (the only one of the four that is not a Sacrament)

Not every Anointing is in extreme circumstances, so sometimes the adjective “extreme” may be added, sometimes not; therefore “extreme unction” is not always synonymous with “unction.” One may always interchange the words unction and anointing, but not always add the word extreme.

The “Last Rites” is not the same as “extreme unction” (although they are often confused). Instead, the Last Rites always includes extreme unction (as 1 of the 4). Likewise, not every anointing/unction is done within the context of the Last Rites.


Thank you Father, for clearing that up. My understanding was incorrect and you have educated me.



Just for clarity:

The proper order for the Last Rites is:

  1. Confession
  2. Apostolic Pardon
  3. Anointing/Unction (in this case in extremis)
  4. Communion (in this case, called Viaticum)

If death is expected immediately (meaning that the person might not live long enough even to complete the Last Rites) then it’s:

  1. Confession
  2. Apostolic Pardon
  3. Communion
  4. Unction

Of course, depending on circumstances, the abbreviated (emergency) form of any of the above might be appropriate.

In my earlier post, I listed the Sacraments first. Afterwards, I realized someone might read the post and think that I listed them in chronological order, so just for clarity I thought I should post this.



Everybody gets them mixed-up. The vocabulary is often confusing, and that’s because people get them mixed-up all the time. Since we rarely hear them used properly (don’t get me started about how the terms are used in TV and movie scripts!) it’s hard to keep them straight.


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