- I. In the Roman Catholic Church.
- History (§ 1).
- Doctrine (§ 2).
- Preparation and Administration (§ 3).
II. In the Greek Church.
Extreme unction is one of the minor sacraments of both the Roman and the Greek Churches.
I. In the Roman Catholic Church:
Extreme unction is mentioned as the fifth sacrament by Peter Lombard who brings it into close connection with the sacrament of penance. He uses two passages as Biblical authorities, Mark vi. 13 and Jas. v. 14-15. These passages have, however, little to do with the sacrament as developed in the Church of Rome. Extreme unction is not often mentioned in the early Church. Augustine, Chrysostom, and Irenæus speak of it, but do not treat it as a sacrament. Oil was, however, frequently used by Christians in private life, chiefly for the anointing of the sick. Tertullian, for instance, mentions the healing of Severus, the father of the Emperor Antoninus, with oil. Popular superstition soon exploited these experiences, and used the oil in the church lamps. Some bishops, e.g., Chrysostom and Decentius, did not object, but limited the employment to members in good standing. Innocent I. also mentions the anointing of the sick, but not of the moribund; in case a priest was not available, laymen might perform the ceremony. Toward the end of the eighth century extreme unction entered upon a definite course of development, and was brought into relations with remission of sins; it received, consequently, a sacramental character in connection with penance. The question of the repetition of extreme unction was raised in the twelfth century. A popular superstition held that a Christian who, after participation, had been restored to health was to be looked upon as one departed: he was not to touch the ground with bare feet, eat meat, or cohabit with his wife. When Theodulf of Orléans recommended that the anointing should take place in the church, he had not in mind either exclusively or chiefly the application to the moribund. Hugo of St. Victor (Summa sententiarum, vi. 15) was the first theologian to treat extreme unction systematically. He deals, however, only with two questions, the institution and the repetition of the sacrament. From that time on, extreme unction received more detailed attention, particularly by Bonaventura and Thomas Aquinas. The latter treats it from two points of view: (1) the sacrament itself, its effect, matter, and form; (2) its administration and use, the recipients, repetition, and parts to be anointed. The principal features of the sacrament were thus fixed, and received ecclesiastical sanction at the Council of Florence (1439) through Eugene IV., and its final and definite form at the Council of Trent.
Extreme unction was instituted according to Peter Lombard by the apostles, according to Alexander Hales by Christ, according to Bonaventura by the Holy Spirit through the apostles, according to Thomas Aquinas by Christ, but was promulgated by the apostles. The Council of Trent declares that, according to Mark vi. 13, Christ suggested the sacrament, and that James, his brother, promulgated and recommended it. The material which is to be used in extreme unction is olive-oil consecrated by a bishop, and, according to a decision of Paul V., given in 1655, the oil is not effective unless so consecrated. Gregory XV . (1842) confirmed and further limited this decision by declaring that not even in case of extreme necessity could a priest consecrate oil for the purpose. The form of the sacrament was settled only after many discussions. With the growing tendency to look upon anointing as sacramental, the form of prayer was changed from the precatory to the declarative, and this was confirmed by the Council of Florence. The specific purpose and effect of extreme unction is somewhat indefinite. The Council of Trent declares that this sacrament completes not only penance, but the whole Christian life. Nevertheless, it does not occupy nearly the important position in the doctrinal system of the Roman Church taken by baptism, the mass, and penance; it is merely an annex to the latter sacrament to which it gives the character of preparation for death. A specific effect has never been attributed to it officially. Peter Lombard gives as the purpose the remission of sins and the alleviation of physical infirmity. Albert the Great declares that extreme unction could purify only from the remnants of sin which prevent the entrance of the soul into eternal rest. Thomas Aquinas defines these remnants as a spiritual weakness and lassitude which disqualify man for the full enjoyment of the life of grace and glory, and states that extreme unction is a medicine for both. He speaks of physical healing as a secondary effect, taking place when the primary purpose of the sacrament is not hindered but promoted. Bonaventura, on the other hand, teaches that the specific effect of extreme unction is the remission of venial sins which were completely obviated by this sacrament owing to its strengthening effect upon soul and body. The Council of Trent repeated all the positive doctrines of the theologians, and added the doctrine of unction with the Holy Spirit as the specific effect. These differences concerning the effect and purpose of extreme unction were unsatisfactory, and attempts were made at greater precision. The Roman Catechism assumes two effects, the remission of venial sins, and the removal of spiritual weakness and of any remaining traces of sin. Bellarmine, finally, attempts a precise definition of the "remnants of sin"; they are mortal or venial sins which man might commit after penance and the Eucharist; or sins which were not atoned for properly, because sick persons had unwittingly received in an improper manner, and, therefore, without the due effect.
3. Preparation and Administration.
The olive-oil used in extreme unction is consecrated during the mass on Maundy Thursday. Each deanery receives a certain amount for distribution among the parishes. The oil which is not used up within a year, is burned in the sanctuary lamp; if there be danger that the supply will be exhausted before the end of the year, small quantities of unconsecrated oil may be added. Only a priest or higher dignitary may administer this sacrament. Even the pope can not authorize deacons and laymen to do so, although Innocent. implies that they may in case of necessity. The administrator acts as a representative of the whole Church; and for this reason it is desirable that several priests be present to take part in the ceremony. The regulations concerning the degree of sickness which entitles a person to receive the sacrament vary, but agree in the particular that the probability of recovery is excluded, and that the recipient must be conscious. The oil is to be applied to the eyes, ears, hands, nose, and mouth, and to the abdomen and the feet of males, but not of females. The sacraments of penance and of the Eucharist should as a rule precede extreme unction.
II. In the Greek Church: The usage of the Greek Church differs widely from that of Rome both in methods of administration and in doctrine. There it is simply an anointing of the sick, and its purpose is the restoration of health, physical and spiritual. The place of administration is the church, if possible. The ritual is elaborate, and requires seven priests if they are procurable. The oil is consecrated on each occasion by the senior priest, and each priest repeats the full ceremony while seven selections are read each from the Epistles, Gospels, and collects. On Maundy Thursday the feast of euchelaion ("oil of prayer") is observed, in which the whole congregation joins and is anointed. The frequent use of the sacrament is recommended.
The Nestorians never use extreme unction; the Armenian Church has discontinued it.