Most active Catholics understand that it is not necessary to wait until the moment of death to receive the Anointing of the Sick. Not only is it unnecessary, it is unwise. The pastor has certainly been happy to respond under those circumstances, but it is taking an unnecessary risk to wait until then to request the Anointing since Catholic priests are spread rather thinly now, and it cannot be promised that the pastor or another priest will always be immediately available, especially on the weekends when they are already scheduled for weekend Masses as well as confessions and very possibly baptisms, weddings, and funerals. The official instruction of our Church for the last fifty years has been that “as soon as any of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for that person to receive the sacrament has certainly already arrived.”
Further in this same instruction the following circumstances are mentioned: The sacrament may be repeated if the sick person recovers after being anointed and then again falls ill or if during the same illness the person’s condition becomes more serious. A sick person may be anointed before surgery whenever a serious illness is the reason for the surgery. Elderly people may be anointed if they have become notably weakened even though no serious illness is present. Sick children may be anointed if they have sufficient use of reason to be strengthened by this sacrament.
It is recommended that the celebration of the sacrament be scheduled shortly after the diagnosis is made of a serious illness or condition, or surgery has been scheduled. Perhaps the best routine context is to have the anointing within a weekday Mass when there is an unhurried community gathered for prayer, or perhaps after a weekend Mass. A good alternative, though, is at the home or hospital room of the sick person when family and friends can be gathered there, although the sacrament can be prayed privately with a person when necessary.