A regular ministry by Jesus as He went about Palestine preaching the Kingdom was the forgiveness of sinners and the cure of the sick and healing of the infirm. Jesus did not want this ministry to discontinue when He ascended into heaven. He left His Church the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
Forgiveness of sins is also an effect of the anointing. of the sick. It used to be called the Last Rites because people delayed asking for it until near death. Now the Church wants to confer it on the elderly who are declining due to age and those who are to have a serious operation and those afflicted with a serious sickness. A return to good health is a possible effect of the anointing if it is God’s will. So a priest should be called to administer the Sacrament without undue delay when serious sickness strikes.
The Sacrament also can alleviate some of the other effects of the sickness like discouragement and depression of spirit. And, of course, there is the forgiveness of sins as in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Sacrament can be received again if the illness worsens and if it recurs after a period of recuperation or if a new illness should occur.
In a time of sickness the question arises about why God allows suffering. The fundamental answer is that illness and suffering and even death are consequences of the original sin of our first parents which afflict everyone. Some of the effects of original sin like severance from God’s sanctifying grace are restored, as we have seen in the Sacrament of Baptism.
But suffering remains, as we know only too well. St. Paul gives an answer that the sick should keep in mind. “I fill up in my own body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.” However, we know that nothing was lacking in Christ’s suffering except our contribution. By offering our current sufferings to Jesus, those sufferings are included in the sufferings of Jesus in His Passion because with God there is no past or future, only the present.
So St. Paul teaches us that we can have a real share in His redemptive sufferings if we offer them to Jesus for that purpose. Then for all eternity we not be just grateful bystanders but actual collaborator who have contributed. What a privilege!