Question: How true is it that, at the celebration of the Mystery of Unction, forgotten sins are forgiven? I hear this in every sermon on this theme, but I have also encountered the opinion that this is all folklore, to put it gently. I’d like to know the opinion of a “specialist.”
Answer: The Mystery of Unction is one of the seven Mysteries, in which is accomplished the healing of soul and body through the prayerful calling down on the sick man the grace of God and seven anointings with holy oil. This Mystery was established by our Lord Jesus Christ (c.f., Mk 6:13). Of its existence in the Ancient Church witnesses the Catholic Epistle of the Apostle James: “Is any sick among you? 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” (James 5:14). In the same Epistle the forgiveness of sins is spoken of: “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:15).
The Holy Fathers write of the forgiveness of sins in the Mystery of Unction: “The power of the Mystery of Unction is in that in it are forgiven in particular those sins which were forgotten according to human weakness, and after forgiveness of sins gives physical health, if it be God’s will” (St. Ambrose of Optina).