OUR SENSES’ NEEDS
This past week Deacon Norman and I co-officiated at a graveside service for Mrs Margaret Horton. We’d been praying for her for several weeks as she was battling Stage IV cancer. I visited her several times and found her to be a wonderfully engaging conversationalist.
She was raised Lutheran but hadn’t been to church for a long while. It was her son-in-law who asked me to visit. She even managed to be brought to church once, here at Our Savior.
Before my last visit with her, I was told she wanted to receive the Sacrament of Anointing. So I asked her if she wanted it, and she looked at me in the bed and said, “Oh, yes.” So I anointed her, and we prayed over her. She died about a week later.
Most Protestants recognize the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, but typically they do not regard the remaining five of our “7 Sacraments” as being on the same level: often, they are referred to simply as ordinances. But Mrs Horton demonstrated the great desire we have as human beings to have sensual and not just spiritual consolation, especially at the end of our lives. Of course we prayed together, but in the Sacrament of Anointing there is physical touch, the laying on of hands, the smell and feel of the oil. We are, after all, redeemed by an Incarnate Savior; it is a reminder that God’s Creation is first and foremost good. All of ourselves, is to be transformed in Christ: souls, and bodies. Bodies have needs; the Sacraments are a response to those needs, through touch and smell and sight and hearing and speaking and tasting…
I have had that experience with others that I knew (especially at St Bede) who were not Catholic but who craved the sacraments, and who ultimately, at the end, were fully received into the Church. One man I remember so vividly, after I’d received him and anointed him, said, “I’ve wanted to do this for years, but I didn’t know how to ask.”
Official Church teaching is that the Sacraments are reserved for Catholics in good standing, but especially in danger of death non-Catholics who express proper faith and ask for them may receive the Sacraments of Penance, Eucharist, and Anointing (see Code of Canon Law #844, §4; Catechism of the Catholic Church #1401). And a principle of canon law applies here, as well: when considering blessings, rights, or privileges, the law should be interpreted as broadly as possible, to confer those blessings as easily as possible on as many as possible. Why? Because God so loved the world. Because (as Pope Francis reminds us), the Sacraments are not rewards for the virtuous but medicine for those suffering and in need of healing. And that’s pretty well all of us, in fact! So we can praise the Lord who invites us to “taste and see” His goodness, His mercy, His healing touch.