The Holy Spirit and the Sacraments of Healing

As spiritual animals, we can experience damage in two fundamental ways: to the soul and to the body.  To damage one is to damage the other.  So Christ handed down to us sacraments which address each, but with different emphases.  Neither addresses the soul alone and neither addresses the body alone.  Nor are they in competition but work together by the power of the one Spirit.

Reconciliation, also called Confession, is the great remedy for sin. Jesus breathes on his disciples (an obvious sign of the Holy Spirit since pneuma is the Greek word for both “breath” and “spirit”) and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22-23). In so doing, he confers on the apostles and their successors the authority to forgive sins in his Name by the power of the Spirit.  The sacrament is celebrated with a priest who represents both Christ and the community (since our sins injure the Church as well as ourselves).  We come before Jesus in the sacrament and tell him what we have done with sincere contrition and the desire to do better and he promises, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When we have unburdened ourselves of our sins and placed them in the merciful hands of Jesus, the priest pronounces the words of absolution over us:

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 1449)

There is no sin Jesus will not forgive in the sacrament.  Nor is the forgiveness of sin the only benefit of the sacrament.  In addition, we receive the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to move toward holiness and the imitation of Jesus.  In the superabundance of grace, we come out of the sacrament, not merely forgiven, but stronger than we were before.

The Anointing of the Sick is also directed to our spiritual healing, but with the added dimension of addressing our bodily illnesses as well.  Scripture says, “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” (James 5:14-15). This is a good description of what the sacrament looks like.  The priest lays hands on the sick person and then anoints their forehead and hands with the words:

“Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” (CCC 1513)

The principal effect of the sacrament is spiritual, though it can sometimes have profound physical effects too.  The sacrament forgives our sins, because it, like all sacraments, is ordered toward eternity and our relationship with God.  Sometimes, God wills that we be healed physically too by the power of the sacrament.  Other times, the sacrament gives us the grace to bear the sufferings of illness with Christ crucified and offer them with him for the good of somebody else.  However God dispenses grace through the sacrament, the point is that we are able to make even our illness and weakness a way into the life of Christ and grow through it.


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