The Lex Orandi series aims to study each sacrament as it unfolds through the liturgical celebration to demonstrate its overall structure and various elements with the pastoral goal of increasing liturgical participation in the rites. Lizette Larson-Miller’s contribution on the sacrament of the anointing of the sick is very well done. Working closely with the document, Pastoral Care of the Sick (PCS), from the “Decree of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship” she carefully considers the rite itself, its scriptural basis, and the theology provided in the introduction to the rites. Each section of the book begins with citations from relevant sections of the General Introduction to Pastoral Care of the Sick.
The first chapter provides an overview of the structure of the liturgy of the rites for the sick in three different forms: anointing outside of mass, anointing within mass, and anointing in a hospital or institution. The importance of considering the individual context of each celebration is stressed. Larson-Miller also discusses the importance of the two key biblical passages grounding the theology of the sacrament, Mark 6:13 and James 5:13-15.
Chapter Two examines the three primary actions of the sacrament: the prayer of faith, the laying on of hands, and the anointing with oil. Larson-Miller looks at each action in its biblical foundations, its liturgical manifestations, and its pastoral applications. She points out that the contemporary rites have restored a better balance between the actions than had been the case in the previous practice of extreme unction.
The third chapter considers the classic issues of sacramental theology: matter and form, the sacramental minister, the subject of the sacrament, and the sacramental effects. Larson-Miller shows how these elements root the sacrament in the history of sacramental theology and practice and inform contemporary theological and pastoral discussion. Two interesting issues discussed are the pastoral concern about limiting the ministry of the sacrament to ordained clergy in a time of clergy shortage and the growth of lay chaplaincy, and the distinction between healing and curing in consideration of the effects of the sacrament.
The importance of context is again raised in Chapter Four which looks at how cultural changes in the Church and in the world are affecting the celebration of the rites for the sick. The first issue discussed is the changing relationship between professional health care and spirituality. The history told of this relationship from the ancient Greeks to the present is fascinating. The contemporary emphasis is on more wholistic approaches that better integrate physical and spiritual healing. Another very interesting discussion is of the popularity of “New Age” religions in our culture, the reasons for their appeal, and the fine line between inculturation and syncretism. The third issue discussed is shifts in the theological and cultural understanding of human suffering and its meaning and how these should be incorporated in the rites for the sick who suffer. Here Larson-Miller suggests that the rite needs to be clearer that suffering is something to be struggled against, not something to be sought; though, when inevitable, it is to be imbued with Christian meaning. She also suggests that the rite would benefit from including space for honest conversation and emotion. This chapter concludes with a brief discussion of pastoral care of the dying in our high-tech medical context where life-support systems often prevent the reception of viaticum.
The concluding chapter poses many theological and pastoral questions calling for ongoing reflection as medicine and culture continue to change.
This book is well-written, clearly organized, thoroughly documented, very readable, and quite interesting. Anyone interested in sacraments, care of the sick, theological reflection, or medicine and spirituality would find it helpful. It would be a useful theology textbook.