Recently, I was with someone during their stay in the hospital. As this was a serious illness, I arranged through the nurses station for a priest to come to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. As we read in the Epistle of St. James, "Is anyone among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters 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 be in sins, they shall be forgiven him. (5: 14, 15) This Sacrament has been known to bring about total physical healing. A priest told me about administering this Sacrament to someone who was hooked up to all kinds of monitors. After receiving this Sacrament, this person's vital signs returned to normal. The doctor, who wasn't Catholic, said to this priest, "I don't know what you did but you are welcome to come back here anytime!"
The Church teaches that one should ask for this Sacrament when one "begins" to be in danger from sickness or old age. Notice that word "begins." I have experienced more often than not that either a Catholic (or his family) doesn't even know to ask for this Sacrament or waits until their last dying breath to receive it. The first situation is just one of plain ignorance. Usually when I tell seriously sick people about this Sacrament, they do want to receive it. The latter situation is a little bit more of a problem. A number of people know about receiving the Last Sacraments. Notice the word "last." You receive these Sacraments just before you die to prepare you for everlasting life. So people mistakenly think that is the only time to "call the priest." And some people or their family fear that to call the priest means you are certainly going to die. Even worse, families have been known to wait until "after" the person is dead to call the priest. You can't administer the Sacraments of the living to a dead person.
To further confuse people I have heard of healing services where a person with the gift of healing will "anoint" people with oil. That is not the same thing as a Sacrament. Then on the other extreme, I have attended a healing service where everyone who is sick is asked to come up to be anointed by the priest. One isn't normally in "danger" from an ingrown toenail!
Anytime I learn about someone being in danger from sickness or old age I always encourage them or their family to ask for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. I tell them it can actually cure them. Why go through all those medical treatments when Our Lord could decide to heal you immediately through this Sacrament? But it is not only about healing. This Sacrament strengthens people throughout the trials and tribulations of both soul and body that take place during a serious illness. Finally, this Sacrament forgives sins for those who are sorry for them, even if they are unconscious!
Regarding being unconscious, a couple of seminarians told me they used to visit someone unconscious in the hospital every day and talk to them. The priest came in only once to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. When this person regained consciousness they only recalled receiving the Sacrament, not the seminarians being there. Why? Because the Divine Physician is not limited by physical constraints.
I believe it is charity to one's neighbor to remind him or her when seriously ill to receive this Sacrament. Recall the paralytic at Capharnaum who was lowered from the roof by his friends to Jesus. The result - his sins were forgiven and he was cured. (Mk. 2: 1-12) At times it is the duty of the family or friends of a sick person to request it for him or her, especially if they are unconscious but it can be presumed they would want it. I certainly believe Jesus can work through the human physician. But I certainly want the Divine Physician working on my case when I am seriously ill. Don't forget to call Him for me!
Brother John Raymond, co-founder of The Community of The Monks of Adoration, received his M.A. in theology from Holy Apostles Seminary.