POSTSCRIPT / March 30, 2021 / Holy Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Virtually anointing the sick under ECQ+

HOW do we comfort those who are terminally ill or weakened by advanced age but are stuck at home or confined in a hospice, and – in addition to medical attention – want to receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick?

A priest is usually called to pray over and anoint them. But in this time of the pandemic when movement is restricted and close contact is avoided, the physical and spiritual cry of one who senses death coming may miss the comforting, sometimes healing, grace of this extreme rite.

Modern communication technology has helped stretch farther the reach of faith and heighten the efficacy of medicines. The awesome combination sometimes works wonders, but always submits eventually to God’s will.

Today, Holy Tuesday, Jesus went with his disciples to the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem. Passing a withered fig tree, he reminded them again of the importance of abiding faith.

We share here today (1) a moving story in Rappler about Fr. Dan Cancino, a Camillian priest who went on-line to anoint a dying friend, and (2) a video-recording of Fr. Michael Sparough, SJ, spiritual director at the Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House in Barrington, Illinois, in a virtual anointing of the sick that one can experience vicariously on You Tube.

Read the Rappler feature on Fr. Cancino at https://tinyurl.com/3mmxm74c .

The virtual anointing rite by Fr. Sparough which has been drawing followers in search of relief or a cure for their illnesses is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffLY3sseb0o.

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IN HIS video on You Tube, Fr. Sparough takes us through the beautiful rite of the anointing of the sick, starting with the opening prayer where one confesses his sins, “mea culpa…mea maxima culpa”, and on to the reading of the gospel where Christ said:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”(Matthew 11:28-30)

The priest then prepares us for the anointing. In the person of Christ, he asks us to have faith to be cured. Since he cannot physically do the anointing, he guides us to make with our thumbs dipped in holy oil a cross mark on each of our palms, then the forehead.

He asks us to close our eyes as he prays for us: “Father in heaven, through this holy anointing, grant comfort in their suffering to all who are sick. When they are afraid give them courage, when afflicted grant them patience, when dejected afford them hope, and when alone assure them of the surest support of your Holy People. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Open your eyes, he tells us, and together let us pray as Jesus has taught us: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name.…”

Because one of the effects of the sacrament is to absolve the recipient of any sins not previously forgiven through the sacrament of penance, only an ordained priest or bishop may administer the sacrament.

The special grace of the sacrament is the strengthening, the peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age, the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of one’s soul.

 Priest anoints dying pal online

EXCERPTS from the Rappler feature that we picked up without permission of the publishers (for which omission we beg for forgiveness), because of its timeliness and relevance to those infected with COVID-19:

“Cancino is a priest and doctor of public health belonging to the Camillian order, whose members take a vow to comfort the sick even at their own risk. He has tended to victims of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic – but to do this for a dying friend, no less, was most heartbreaking.

“’Father, can you bless him?’ his friend’s sister begged in a phone call in August 2020. ‘Can you bless him, even online? He wants to see you.’

“So Cancino performed what was once unthinkable before the pandemic: anointing the sick via video-conferencing. In a Catholic ritual called anointing of the sick, a priest uses holy oil to trace a cross on the forehead of the dying, then says a prayer to forgive the person’s sins and offer his or her life to God.

“Cancino and his friend’s family set up a video call with the help of a nurse at his friend’s side, clad in full-body personal protective equipment (PPE).

“’It’s so difficult really seeing a friend dying without really being near, without really touching him,’ said Cancino. ‘But you know, at that point, hearts were burning and our prayer was so intense.’

“His friend was conscious, Cancino said. ‘He was aware because he was raising his hand,’ the priest said, recounting how his friend, an active church worker, struggled but failed to make the sign of the cross. ‘And we just said, No more.’”

“By around 5 p.m. that day, his friend died – physically alone, but not abandoned.

“’And I’m just hoping that he felt that he was not alone. Well, spiritually and theologically maybe as a priest, I can say that he’s not alone dying. The Lord is with him,’ Cancino said.

“He also said the pandemic hit much closer to home when his mother and father, aged 95 and 89, respectively, also got COVID-19. ‘That was a difficult moment for me. I was not with them.’

“’And they were telling us it’s not COVID-19 that will kill them, it’s the loneliness and the difficulty of being alone,’ Cancino said. ‘And my mother was telling me, ‘Will I still go home? Will I still be alive when I get up from here?’ So it’s the mental health, human mentality, affected.’”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 30, 2021)

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