“Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let the pray over him,
anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” James 5:14
Who should receive this sacrament?
“The sacrament may and should be given to [any Catholic] whose health is seriously impaired…it may not be given indiscriminately or to any person whose health is not seriously impaired.”
(Pastoral Care of the Sick, General Introduction, footnote [*] to para. 8, emphasis added)
This means things like an aching knee would not in itself be enough reason to seek the sacrament. The sacrament should not be thought of as a general remedy for current ailments or to ward off future illnesses. As indicated below, it is intended primarily to address spiritual issues related to serious health issues.
When should a Catholic person receive this sacrament?
“…as soon as any one of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age.”
(Pastoral Care of the Sick, Apostolic Constitution, para. 6)
The Church here recognizes that a person need not be in the actually process of dying to receive this sacrament. The person needs only to be experiencing a condition that seriously impacts his/her health. This includes serious mental illnesses, but not things like the common cold or non-serious effects of old age.
What are the effects of this sacrament?
“…raises up and strengthens the soul of the sick person, arousing a great confidence in the divine mercy. Thus sustained, the sick person may more easily bear the trials and hardships of sickness, more easily resist the temptations of the devil…and sometimes regain bodily health, if this is expedient for the health of the soul.” Pastoral Care of the Sick, Apostolic Constitution, para. 6 quoting Council of Trent)
“The Church exhorts [those who suffer] to contribute to the welfare of the whole people of God by associating themselves with the passion and death of Christ (see Roms 8:17, Col 1:24, Tim 2:11-12, 1 Peter 4:13).” The Church empathizes with those who suffer and calls them united their sufferings to Jesus at Calvary. As St. Paul says, “now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church.”