Vatican II, as we have seen, called for an update to the rite of Confirmation to reveal: “the intimate connection which this sacrament has with the whole of Christian initiation.” This was done to emphasize the unity between Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion.
In addition to Confirmation, we saw that Vatican II also desired a renewal of the rite of Extreme Unction, now called the Anointing of the Sick. Why was there this desire? Why the change in name from Extreme Unction to Anointing of the Sick?
This change in name had to do with the emphasis of the Sacrament. Under the name Extreme Unction (literally—to anoint in extreme circumstances), this Sacrament would only be given to those in articulo mortis – in the moment or hour of death.
However, the Church recognized from her tradition and the words of St. James that the power and significance of this Sacrament extend beyond those for whom death was imminent. Scripture describes this sacrament in the following words: “Are there people sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up.”
It is clear from this scriptural text, that the anointing was not only for those on the verge of death, but for anyone who was seriously ill. Therefore the reflections of the council fathers led to officially changing the name of the Sacrament from Extreme Unction to the Anointing of the Sick. Additionally, the use of the Sacrament was extended to include individuals, not only in the hour of death but in periculo mortis – in danger of death. Before, families were waiting for someone to be on death’s door. As a result many people would actually die without the strengthening and consoling effect of this great Sacrament. Now the faithful are encouraged to seek out this Sacrament whenever one is encountering a situation of illness that brings the reality of death to the fore. This includes any serious illness, advanced old age, and significant surgery.
In a sense, all the revisions of the liturgical rites and practices are geared to making them even more available and accessible to the faithful. The Church, since Vatican II, has continuously opened up the flood gates of grace through her Scriptures, the Sacraments, the sacramentals, indulgences, plentiful teachings and explanations of the faith, and more. This has been the tremendous fruit of Vatican II’s teaching.
Though we have not completed Vatican II’s document on the liturgy, we have covered those sections that speak most directly of the Mass and those Sacraments and sacramentals closely linked to it. Next week we will do a final review of Vatican II’s teaching and renewal of the liturgy.