The Council of Trent
Fourteenth Session, Second Decree
ON THE SACRAMENT OF EXTREME UNCTION
It hath also seemed good to the holy Synod, to subjoin, to the preceding doctrine on penance, the following on the sacrament of Extreme Unction, which by the Fathers was regarded as being the completion, not only of penance, but also of the whole Christian life, which ought to be a perpetual penance. First, therefore, as regards its institution, It declares and teaches, that our most gracious Redeemer,--who would have his servants at all times provided with salutary remedies against all the weapons of all their enemies,--as, in the other sacraments, He prepared the greatest aids, whereby, during life, Christians may preserve themselves whole from every more grievous spiritual evil, so did He guard the close of life, by the sacrament of Extreme Unction, as with a most firm defence. For though our adversary seeks and seizes opportunities, all our life long, to be able in any way to devour our souls; yet is there no time wherein he strains more vehemently all the powers of his craft to ruin us utterly, and, if he can possibly, to make us fall even from trust in the mercy of God, than when he perceives the end of our life to be at hand.
On the Institution of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.
Now, this sacred unction of the sick was instituted by Christ our Lord, as truly and properly a sacrament of the new law, insinuated indeed in Mark, but recommended and promulgated to the faithful by James the Apostle, and brother of the Lord. Is any man, he saith, 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 him.(t) In which words, as the Church has learned from apostolic tradition, received from hand to hand, he teaches the matter, the form, the proper minister, and the effect of this salutary sacrament. For the Church has understood the matter thereof to be oil blessed by a bishop. For the unction very aptly represents the grace of the Holy Ghost with which the soul of the sick person is invisibly anointed; and furthermore that whose words, "By this unction," &c. are the form.
On the Effect of this Sacrament.
Moreover the thing signified(v) and the effect of this sacrament are explained in those words; 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 him. For the thing here signified is the grace of the Holy Ghost; whose anointing cleanses away sins, if there be any still to be expiated, as also the remains of sins; and raises up and strengthens the soul of the sick person, by exciting in him a great confidence in the divine mercy; whereby the sick being supported, bears more easily the inconveniences and pains of his sickness; and more readily resists the temptations of the devil who lies in wait for his heel;(w) and at times obtains bodily health, when expedient for the welfare of the soul.
On the Minister of this Sacrament, and on the time when it ought to be administered.
And now as to prescribing who ought to receive, and who to administer this sacrament, this also was not obscurely delivered in the words above cited. For it is there also shown, that the proper ministers of this sacrament are the Presbyters of the Church; by which name are to be understood, in that place, not the elders by age, or the foremost in dignity amongst the people, but, either bishops, or priests by bishops rightly ordained by the imposition of the hands of the priesthood. (x) It is also declared, that this unction is to be applied to the sick, but to those especially who lie in such danger as to seem to be about to depart this life: whence also it is called the sacrament of the departing. And if the sick should, after having received this unction, recover, they may again be aided by the succour of this sacrament, when they fall into another like danger of death. Wherefore, they are on no account to be hearkened to, who, against so manifest and clear a sentence ( Y) of the apostle James, teach, either that this unction is a human figment or is a rite received from the Fathers which neither has a command from Cod, nor a promise of grace: nor those who assert that it has already ceased, as though it were only to be referred to the grace of healing in the primitive church; nor those who say that the rite and usage which the holy Roman Church observes in the administration of this sacrament is repugnant to the sentiment of the apostle James, and that it is therefore to be changed into some other: nor finally those who affirm that this Extreme Unction may without sin be contemned by the faithful : for all these things are most manifestly at variance with the perspicuous words of so great an apostle. Neither assuredly does the Roman Church, the mother and mistress of all other churches, observe aught in administering this unction,--as re gards those things which constitute the substance of this sacrament,--but what blessed James has prescribed. Nor indeed can there be contempt of so great a sacrament without a heinous sin, and an injury to the Holy Ghost himself. These are the things which this holy oecumenical Synod professes and teaches and proposes to all the faithful of Christ, to be believed and held, touching the sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction. And it delivers the following canons to be inviolably preserved; and condemns and anathematizes those who assert what is contrary thereto.