My parish schedules Anointing of the Sick for all four weekend Masses at least three or four times a year. I typically don’t attend Mass at my parish during those weekends as, like the Sacrament of Confession, I think someone’s illness (or perceived illness) is a private matter rather than an opportunity for public speculation.
Today was the second time in the past few years that I’ve inadvertently ended up at one of the Masses where “scheduled” anointing took place and I found that I had to excuse myself from the Church from time the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick started (just after the homily) and return once the Sacrament was complete (when I saw the ushers assembling to take up the offering). Why? For two reasons:
1.) I didn’t want to see and keep track of who went forward as I felt it was an invasion of their privacy. There is also the danger that observing others going forward for Anointing opens the door for gossip. (i.e., “I saw Mary going forward for Anointing. Do you know what’s wrong with her?” or “Pete went up for anointing and he’s had a horrible time with depression.”) I didn’t see who went forward so am thankfully spared from speculation and the gossip mill.
2.) The only other time I was present at a Mass where there was Anointing of the Sick, dozens upon dozens of people went forward for anointing–and that was only at one Mass out of four. To be blunt, I don’t believe that there are that many people in our parish who are seriously ill. Misuse of the Sacrament seems to abound, in my opinion.
By the way, I have a couple of friends who suffer from serious mental illness that is regulated with drug therapy–one has Bipolar 1 Disorder and the other has Schizophrenia. If they miss taking their medication or their medication loses effectiveness, their world collapses very quickly and their illness becomes quite serious. I believe that Anointing of the Sick is a very appropriate Sacrament for these folks, but their privacy should be maintained at all costs due to the stigma of mental illness in the general population.
I’m going to open myself up to vulnerability now and say that I’m posting this topic not so much in defense of my thought patterns, but because I understand that I may be viewing this Sacrament in totally the wrong way. Frankly, I liked the Sacrament better when people waited until death was near before receiving it as it gave the Sacrament a level of validity. I will probably never receive this Sacrament because I take it seriously and would rather err on the side of under utilizing it rather than over utilizing it.
How can I do a better job of understanding and approaching the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick?