Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (To the Greater Glory of God)
For: Saturday, May 24, 2008
7th Week in Ordinary Time
Optional Memorial: Our Lady's Saturday
From: James 5:13-20
A Call for Constancy (Continuation)
 Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him
sing praise.  Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church,
and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 
and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and
if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to
one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a
righteous man has great power in its effects. "Elijah was a man of like nature
with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years
and months it did not rain on the earth.  Then he prayed again and the hea-
ven gave rain, and the earth brought forth fruit.
Concern for One Another
 My brethren, if any one among you wanders from truth and some one brings
him back,  let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of
his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
13-18. In this final counsels, St James has most to say on the subject of prayer.
He teaches that it is a necessary and effective counter to sadness ("suffering":
v. 13); the prayer of priests, while anointing the sick with oil, is the sacrament of
Anointing (vv. 14-15); prayer for others helps bring forgiveness of sins (v. 16). All
this is supported by the example of Elijah (vv. 17-18).
13. "Suffering": the Greek word, which can be translated as "experiencing sad-
ness", includes the idea of suffering under some evil, so the "sadness" can be
taken as some type of affliction, or sickness of the soul.
St Bede describes the attitude a Christian should adopt when he or she feels
overwhe]med by the "pest" of sadness, regardless of its cause: "Have recourse
to the Church; kneel in prayer before the Lord, asking him to send the grace of
his consolation, and do not imbibe the world's sadness, which only leads to
death" ("Super Iac. Expositio, ad loc."). Sadness, gloominess, is a powerful ally
of the devil and one of the subtlest weapons he uses to lead a person to commit
sin; one needs to react against it immediately.
"Being children of God, how can we be sad? Sadness is the end product selfish-
ness. If we truly want to live for God, we will never lack joy, even when we discover
our errors and wretchedness. Cheerfulness finds its way out into our life of prayer,
so much so that we cannot help singing for joy. For we in love, and singing is a
thing that lovers do" (St. J. Escriva, "Friends of God", 92).
14-15. The Magisterium of the Church teaches that this text promulgates the sa-
crament of the Anointing of the Sick: cf. the Council of Trent: "This holy anointing
of the sick was initiated as a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament by
Christ our Lord; it is implied in St Mark (cf. Mk 6:13) and it is commended to the
faithful and promulgated by the Apostle, St James, the brother of the Lord [...]
(Jas 5:14f). In these words, as the Church has learned from the apostolic Tradition
transmitted to her, he teaches the matter, the form, the proper minister and the
effects of this life-giving sacrament" ("De Sacramento Extremae Unctionis", chap.
1; cf. can. 1).
The matter of the sacrament is "oil blessed by a bishop, because anointing very
fittingly symbolizes the grace of the Holy Spirit, who anoints the soul of the sick
person in an invisible manner" ("ibid."). It is true that among ancient peoples
(including the Jews: cf. Is 1:6; Jer 8:21-22; Lk 10:34) oil was much appreciated
for its curative powers; hence the symbolism of this sacramental sign. But St.
James is looking at medicinal effects on the soul rather than on the body for he
says that the sick man will be saved and his sins will be forgiven. The Church
expressly teaches that the anointing stands for the grace of the Holy Spirit. The
oil of the sick is solemnly blessed by the bishop in the Chrism Mass; in case
of necessity it can also be blessed by the priest at the time he administers the
Anointing (cf. "The Rite of Anointing of the Sick", 21).
The form of the sacrament is the prayer which the priest recites as he anoints
the sick person on the forehead and hands. The Greek words of St James--"let
them pray over him, anointing him"--are so couched that they lead one to con-
clude that from the very beginning the praying and the anointing took place
simultaneously and therefore the formula "pray over" refers to a liturgical gesture.
As far as the minister of the sacrament is concerned, the Council of Trent,
referring to these verses, says: "They indicate that the proper ministers of this
sacrament are the presbyters of the Church. This does not refer to the older men
or to the more influential men in the community but to the bishops or the priests
duly ordained by the bishops through the laying on of hands of the presbyterate
(cf. 1 Tim 4:14)" ("De Sacramento Extremae Unctionis", chap. 3; cf. can. 4). The
term "elder" which St James uses also means someone older in age; but here
as in other New Testament passages (cf., e.g., Acts 11:10; 14:23; 15:2; 20:17;
1 Tim 5:17-19) it clearly refers to the bishops and priests of the Church.
As regards the effects of the sacrament, "Furthermore the complete effect of
this sacrament is explained in the words: 'and the prayer of faith will save the
sick man, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgi-
ven him' (Jas 5:15). For this effect is the grace of the Holy Spirit, whose anointing
takes away sins, if there are any still to be expiated, and removes the traces of
sin: and it comforts and strengthens the soul of the sick person. It gives him great
confidence in the divine mercy. Encouraged by this, the sick more easily bears
the inconvenience and trials of the illness and more easily resists the temptations
of the devil who lies in wait for his heel. This anoint occasionally restores health
to the body if health would be of advantage to salvation of the soul" ("ibid.", chap.
Finally, as regards the recipient of the sacrament and when it should administered,
the words of the letter point to an illness of some seriousness because the priests
are asked to go to the sick person's house. The Second Vatican Council says
that this sacrament is not only for those who are at point of death and that "as
soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old
age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived"
("Sacrosanctum Concilium", 73). The Code of Canon Law lays down that "pastors
of souls and those who are close to the sick are to ensure that the sick are helped
by this sacrament in good time" (can. 1001).
It is important, therefore, to avoid delaying it unduly through fear of causing anxiety
or upset. "In public and private catechesis, the faithful should be encouraged to
ask for the anointing and, as soon as the time for the anointing comes, to receive
it with complete faith and devotion" ("The Rite of Anointing the Sick", 13).
This sacrament is a wonderful expression of divine mercy and of God's tender
loving care for every single soul: "our merciful Redeemer willed his servants
should always be provided with salutary safeguards against weapons of all ene-
mies. Accordingly he prepared great helps in the other sacraments to enable
Christians to keep themselves throughout their Iives untouched by any serious
spiritual harm, and likewise he protected them at the end of life with the invincible
strength of the sacrament of extreme unction. For even if our adversary seeks
occasions throughout the whole of life and about that he may devour our souls in
any way he can (cf. 1 Pet 5:8), there is no time at which he is more vehemently
intent on using all the forces of his cunning to destroy us completely and, if pos-
sible, to disturb our trust in divine mercy, than when he sees the end of life
approaching us" (Council Trent, "De Sacramento Extremae Unctionis", prologue).
15. "Will save the sick man": from the way St James uses the same elsewhere
(cf. 2:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:20) we can see that he is referring to the salvation of the
soul. Secondarily, and to the degree that it makes for spiritual health, this sacra-
ment can also heal the body; it seems clear that the sacred writer does not
mean to say that physical health will always be restored, the Anointing of the
Sick were a guarantee that one would not die. And it is quite clear that, by virtue
of the grace of the sacrament, the sick person is strengthened to face the trauma
of illness and death with supernatural outlook and joy. "Nothing conduces more
to a tranquil death than to banish sadness, await with a joyous mind the coming
of our Lord, and be ready willingly to surrender the deposit entrusted whenever it
shall be his will to demand it back. To free the minds of the faithful from this soli-
citude, and fill the soul with pious and holy joy is, then, an effect of the sacrament
of Extreme Unction" ("St Pius V Catechism", II,6, 14).
"If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven": although the sacrament of Anoin-
ting of the Sick is a sacrament "of the living", that is, it should be received in the
state of grace, Catholic teaching, based on these words, says that Anointing can
forgive the mortal sins of a sick person who is repentant but has not been able to
go to Confession (cf., e.g., "Summa Theologiae, Supplement", q. 30, a. 1). Hence
the importance of conferring this sacrament "upon sick people who have lost
consciousness or lost the use of reason, if as Christian believers they would have
asked for it were they in control of their faculties" ("Rite of Anointing of the Sick",
16. "Therefore confess your sins to one another": it is impossible to say exactly
what type of confession is being referred to. Some--St Augustine, for example
(cf. "In Ioann. Evang.", 58, 5)--interpret these words as referring to a pious custom
of confessing sins to others in a public act of contrition at which people prayed
for one another; in which case it could be the origin of the penitential rite at the
beginning of Mass. Others, including St Thomas (cf. "Summa Theologiae, Sup-
plement", q. 6, a. 6), apply these words to sacramental confession; in which
case one would have to understand it as meaning confession to priests. St Bede
in his commentary links these two possible interpretations while distinguishing
between venial and mortal sin: "In this sentence a distinction should be made:
we should confess to each other our lesser, daily sins, and believe that we are
saved by the daily prayer of others. But, as the law lays down, we should show
to the priest the uncleanness of graver leprosy and be sure to purify ourselves in
the manner and for the period that his decision specifies" ("Super Iac. expositio,
Without intending to define the meaning of this text, the Council of Trent refers to
it when it teaches that it is a matter of divine law that all mortal sins be confessed
in the sacrament of Penance. "From the time of the institution of the sacrament
of Penance, already explained, the universal Church has always understood that
integral confession of sins (cf. Jas 5:16; 1 Jn 1:9; Lk 17:14) was also instituted
by the Lord, and that it is by divine law necessary (for the forgiveness) of all falls
committed after Baptism, for our Lord Jesus Christ, when he was about to ascend
from earth to heaven, left priests to take his place (Mt 16:19; 18:18; Jn 20:23), as
presidents and judges, before whom Christ's faithful should confess all the mortal
sins they might commit, so that by the power of the keys they (priests) might
pass sentence of resurrection or retention of sins" ("De Sacramento Paenitentiae",
17-18. As a palpable example of the power of prayer, St James mentions Elijah,
whose prayer obtained that no rain should fall in Israel for a period, then that it
should come in abundance (cf. 1 Kings 17-18; Sir 48:3).
He thereby demonstrates the immense power of prayer, even for obtaining God's
help in our material needs. We must remember that good prayer identifies our
will with that of God, who is almighty. This has always been the way the saints
have understood it: "God has never and will never refuse anything to those who
ask him for his graces in the right way," the Curi of Ars says. "Prayer is the great
recourse we have for escaping from sin, for persevering in grace, for moving God's
heart and drawing down upon ourselves all manner of heavenly blessings, whether
for our soul or to meet our temporal needs" ("Selected Sermons", Fourth Sunday
19-20. St James' letter ends with an encouraging exhortation to apostolic concern
for those who stray from the right path. This is something extremely important,
causing St Teresa of Avila to exclaim: ""Whenever I read in the lives of saints of
how they converted souls, I seem to feel much more devout, tender and envious
of them than when I read of all the martyrdoms that they suffered. This is an incli-
nation given me by our Lord; and I think he prizes one soul which by his mercy,
and through our diligence and prayer, we may have gained for him, more than all
the other services we can render him" (:Book of Foundations", 1, '7). The Second
Vatican Council teaches that apostolic concern stems the Christian vocation itself
and therefore is something all Christians should have; referring to the apostolate
of lay people, it says specifically that it is sharing in the salvific mission of the
Church. Through Baptism and Confirmation all are appointed to this apostolate
by the Lord himself ("Lumen Gentium", 33).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States. We encourage readers to purchase
The Navarre Bible for personal study. See Scepter Publishers for details.
"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." -- St Jerome
"The Father uttered one Word; that Word is His Son, and He utters Him forever
in everlasting silence: and in silence the soul has to hear it.
-- St John of the Cross