Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
“He bound up his wounds pouring in oil and wine.”
The story of the Good Samaritan may be one of the most well known in the New
Testament. In it our Lord adds an unexpected twist, in that both the Priest
and the Levite would have been well respected members of Jewish society;
both associated with the Temple where God Himself dwelt and was worshipped
by Jewish people. One might have expected the Priest or the Levite to be
the hero of the story. The Samaritan, on the other hand, was despised by
Jewish society—they were foreigners who were planted in the land of Israel
after the Assyrians had taken the Jewish residents into captivity. Perhaps
worse, the Samaritans imitated the Jewish religion, but had their own
Temple, a rival to the one in Jerusalem, in Samaritan territory on Mount
Gerizim, on the west bank of the Jordan. To the observant Jew this rival
worship was a species of blasphemy, for sacrifice was to be offered only at
Jerusalem. A “good Samaritan” was a sort of contradiction in terms.
The story is often quoted as an example of the charity Christians should
have for their neighbors in distress—and as an admonition that we should
include all men and women in the circle of our “neighbors.”
The act of the Samaritan in treating the man by pouring oil and wine into
his wounds is very Mediterranean. My Italian grandmother used to treat
every conceivable illness with “a little drink of olive oil.” And, of
course the alcohol in the wine would work as a weak antiseptic. For people
who spent a lot of time in the sun, olive oil was a preferred skin
conditioner, believed to give health to the whole body. It is not
surprising that our Lord chose olive oil as the matter for the Sacrament of
healing that we know as Extreme Unction (or in modern terms, the Anointing
of the Sick). The Sacraments always serve as an outward sign of whatever it
is they effect.
We first hear of this Sacrament being worked at our Lord’s command by the
twelve Apostles in Saint Mark’s Gospel:
And he called the twelve; and began to
send them two and two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. ...
And going forth they preached that men should do penance: And they
cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and
Later on, in Saint James’ Epistle the Apostle wrote:
Is any man sick among
you? let him bring in the priests of the Church, and let them pray
over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the
prayer of faith shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise
him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven.
It is from Saint Mark that we know the Sacrament to have been instituted by
Christ, but it is Saint James who describes the dual purpose of the
Sacrament, which is both physical healing and the forgiveness of sins.
I mention this Sacrament today to emphasize the importance of calling the
priest whenever you or someone in your care develops a serious illness. The
best time to call is at the early stages of the illness, while the sick
person is quite conscious, and able to make a good Confession and receive
Holy Communion in addition to the Anointing and the Apostolic Blessing.
That will give the Sacrament the best chance to achieve its purpose of
healing and forgiveness. But do not be afraid to call if the illness has
progressed a bit or comes on severe and unexpected. The priest will even
conditionally anoint the person who seems to have just died, for spiritual
death may not coincide with a clinical symptom like the stoppage of the
heartbeat. But, again, earliest is best.
It should calm the dying person to know that he is in the state of grace,
his sins have been forgiven, and he is prepared to meet our Lord at the
gates of heaven. Death is difficult enough without having to worry about
such things, or having one’s family worry about them.
The Unction is performed with one of the three oils blessed by the bishop on
Holy Thursday: the Holy Chrism for Baptism, Confirmation, and the
consecration of bishops, altars, chalices, patens, and church bells; the
Oil of Catechumens for Baptism, the ordination of priests, and the
consecration of altars and kings; and the Oil of the Sick, which is
used for our Sacrament of Extreme Unction and for the consecration of
The sick person is anointed on each of the organs of the senses—eyes, ears,
nose, mouth, and hands—and on the feet if this can be done conveniently.
“By this holy anointing and God’s most tender mercy, may you be forgiven of
any sins you may have committed through your sense of sight ... sense of
hearing ... sense of small ... and so on.” A single anointing on the
forehead will suffice if the others cannot be performed.
By the bedside there should be a prepared a table with a white table cloth,
two blessed candles and a crucifix, some cotton balls, holy water, and water
for the sick person to drink after Holy Communion. The priest should be met
at the door with a burning candle. But please recognize that all of these
things can and should be done without if their lack will delay reception of
the Sacrament—do not hesitate to call the priest! And as a practical matter
do not light candles if oxygen is in use, or there is other danger of
On account of the privileges promised by our Blessed Mother, it is a worthy
custom to vest the sick person in the Brown Scapular—but one should bow to
the directions of the hospital staff if the Scapular might become entangled
in the wires and tubes that they must place on the patient. In such a case,
we usually tie a Scapular to the bed rail. Remember that one remains
enrolled in the Confraternity of the Scapular, even if it is taken off to
bathe, or for surgery, or for some other legitimate reason.
I mentioned the Apostolic Blessing. That is not a Sacrament, but a very
important act of the Church. While a person is still alive the Church here
on Earth has jurisdiction over him, can forgive his sins, and can forgive
even the punishment due to sin. You are probably familiar with the idea
that you can gain indulgences for yourself or for the souls in
Purgatory—forgiveness of the punishment due to sin—by performing some holy
act under the conditions specified by the Church. Normally, you gain the
indulgence when the specified conditions are completed—the Apostolic
Blessing works differently, for the indulgence is gained only at the moment
of death—and that, of course, is a good thing, very likely insuring the
soul’s immediate entrance into Heaven.
The Church is so concerned with the salvation of souls, that any
priest may administer these last rites to those in danger of death, even if
he is under censure or fallen away from the Faith.
It makes sense to carry something that identifies you as a Catholic if you
are unable to speak in some emergency
If you find yourself in the position of caring for the sick, remember your
obligation to summon the priest at the earliest possible time. And remember
that doing so will make you like the good Samaritan in today’s Gospel—a true
neighbor to one in need.