The Sacraments of Healing

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Through the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick, the Church continues Christ’s healing ministry

by Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori

Bishop William E. Lori

Bishop William E. Lori



The 24th installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program addresses questions 295-320 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

When he walked the earth, Jesus forgave sins and healed those who were ill. He often linked the forgiveness of sins and physical healing, as in the case of the paralytic whose cure is recounted in the second chapter of Mark’s Gospel. At other times, Jesus’ forgiveness was not linked to a physical cure. In the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel, for example, we read how Jesus forgave a woman caught in adultery. Because he forgives sin and heals sickness, we rightly call Jesus the Divine Physician. Rejoicing and giving thanks, the Church continues the Lord’s work of forgiving and healing through the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing of the sick (Compendium, 295).


The sacrament of penance goes by several names: reconciliation, confession, or the sacrament of forgiveness or conversion. These names highlight various aspects of the sacrament: It reconciles us to God and to the Church; it brings us God’s forgiveness; it is how we acknowledge our sins and repent; and it is a powerful means of conversion (296).

The experience of our imperfection readily illustrates why the Lord gave us this sacrament on that first Easter evening (298). Although baptism gives us a new life of grace, a tendency toward sin, called “concupiscence,” remains as a result of the Fall. Mortal sin separates us from God and damages our relationship with the Church. And venial sin, while not destroying our friendship with God, weakens our relationship with him and with others. Through the Church and her ministry of reconciliation, Christ’s call to lifelong conversion is addressed to the baptized (297, 299).

Although the season of Lent focuses on the need for repentance, our daily lives should always be marked by genuine sorrow for our sins. We manifest a contrite and humble heart when we fast, pray and give to those in need (cf. Ps. 51:17).

If we commit a mortal sin, we are obliged to go to confession before receiving holy Communion (Compendium, 305). Strictly speaking, we are not obliged to confess venial sins. Nonetheless, we should regularly confess even our venial sins — sometimes called “devotional confession” — in order to resist temptation and grow in virtue (306).

Sometimes, people hesitate to go to confession because they have forgotten how to do so. Thankfully, the Knights of Columbus publishes a step-by-step guide to the sacrament. There are several things that we, as penitents, must do: make a careful examination of conscience, based on the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes; make a sincere act of contrition; confess our sins to a priest — all mortal sins not yet confessed as well as venial sins; and fulfill the acts of penance that the confessor assigns (303-304). Note that contrition is perfect when it is motivated only by love of God; it is imperfect if fear of just punishment is the motivation. Contrition also includes a firm resolve not to sin again and to avoid the near occasions of sin.

Since Christ entrusted the power to forgive sins to the Apostles and their successors, only a bishop or priest can hear confessions. Bishops and priests act in the person of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to grant the Father’s forgiveness (307). Bound to absolute secrecy, they listen attentively and help penitents open their hearts to the Lord’s mercy, amend their lives and grow in discipleship (309). A confessor can offer general absolution only “in cases of serious necessity” such as impending death or some grave emergency (311).

As the sacrament of penance brings about the forgiveness of our sins, we are reconciled with God and the Church. The eternal punishment due to mortal sin is remitted, and some of the temporal punishment due to sin is taken away. Temporal punishment is further remitted through prayers and good works to which indulgences are attached (312). This sacrament also brings us peace, serenity, joy and strength for living the Gospel.


We now turn to the second sacrament of healing: anointing of the sick. As he healed the sick, Jesus showed that he was ushering in the kingdom of God and its victory over sin, suffering and death.

The Church continues the Lord’s compassionate care for the sick and dying in many ways. In many parts of the world, the Church is the largest provider of medical services through its hospitals and clinics. Through anointing of the sick, celebrated only by a bishop or a priest, the Church ministers in the Lord’s name to those in danger of death or those who begin “to be in danger of death because of sickness or old age” (315-317). In the Latin rite, this sacrament is celebrated by anointing the sick person with oil on the forehead and hands. In all cases, a prayer accompanies the anointing (cf. James 5:14-15; Compendium, 318). If possible, the person suffering from serious illness should go to confession prior to being anointed (316).

The sacrament of anointing unites the sick person more closely to the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ, and contributes to the salvation of the patient and to the good of the whole Church. This sacrament also provides comfort, consolation, serenity and courage to patients in their suffering. If the sick person is unable to go to confession, this sacrament brings about the forgiveness of sins. If it is God’s will, it can also restore a sick person to health. In every case, this sacrament prepares the recipient for everlasting life (319).

As we thank God for the gift of these two sacraments, may we pray for our own conversion and for the conversion of sinners everywhere. May we also pray for those who are seriously ill, especially those who have asked for our prayers.