Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Seven Sacraments and Their Liturgies, Part 10: The Last Rites

This is the final part of our series on the seven sacraments.

Previous parts in this series:
Part 1: Introduction to the Sacraments
Part 2: Baptism
Part 3: Confirmation
Part 4: Eucharist
Part 4.1: De Defectibus
Part 5: Penance
Part 6: Extreme Unction
Part 7: Marriage
Part 8: Holy Orders
Part 9: The reception of converts

We conclude our series on the seven sacraments by describing the sacraments received at the end of our earthly life. Never are we more in need of God's grace than at the moment of our death. Once our soul leaves our body, we will come before the throne of God to be judged. Thus, we must always be prepared for our judgment. We must always strive to stay in a state of sanctifying grace. Jesus said, “But know this ye, that if the goodman of the house knew at what hour the thief would come, he would certainly watch, and would not suffer his house to be broken open” (Matthew 24:43). Furthermore, the devil is clever and always seeks the ruin of our souls. As the end of our life approaches, he will seek to make us despair and turn away from God. St. Peter wrote in his Epistle words that are said every night at Compline, the hour of preparation for our sleep that night and for our eternal sleep: “Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

It is likely that we will not be able to anticipate our death. We could die in a car accident with no warning, or we could have a sudden cardiac arrest and die in our sleep. However, if we have the gift of knowing that our death is approaching, we should send for a priest to administer the Last Rites. The Last Rites consist of the sacraments of Penance, Holy Communion, and Extreme Unction, administered to a dying person. In our last article, we described the sacraments of Christian initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist. These sacraments and the Last Rites are the bookends of our earthly life. They have the Holy Eucharist in common, which is, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11).

If a Catholic person is dying, call a priest as soon as possible. I even carry a card in my wallet that says, “I am Catholic. In case of emergency, please call a priest!” Every parish has an emergency phone number that you can call at any time, day or night, if someone needs the Last Rites.

The priest wears the surplice and white stole, and he brings the vessel of Oil of the Sick and the Blessed Sacrament taken from the tabernacle. The Blessed Sacrament is carried in a small silver and gold box called a pyx, which the priest wears on a cord around his neck, ideally covered by a jacket while in transit. He goes immediately to the house or hospital where the sick person is, with the same haste as a paramedic driving an ambulance. Whereas the paramedic must hurry because the person's body is in danger, the priest must hurry because the person's soul is in danger. If possible, a crucifix, one or two lighted candles, and whatever images of saints are available should be placed in the sick person's view in order to turn his mind to God. Upon his arrival, the priest greets those present with Christ's peace.

Pax huic dómui.
Et ómnibus habitántibus in ea.
Peace to this house.
And to all who dwell herein.

He then sprinkles the room and everyone present with holy water, saying Psalm 50:9, just like the Asperges ceremony before Mass on Sundays. It is followed by the same prayer that follows the Asperges on Sundays.

Aspérges me. Dómine, hyssópo, et mundábor: lavábis me, et super nivem dealbábor.

Adjutórium nostrum in nómine Dómini.
Qui fecit cælum et terram.
Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam.
Et clamor meus ad te véniat.
Dóminus vobíscum.
Et cum spíritu tuo.
Oremus.
Exáudi nos, Dómine sancte, Pater omnípotens, ætérnæ deus: et míttere dignéris sanctum Angelum tuum de cælis, qui custódiat, fóveat, prótegat, vísitet, atque deféndat omnes habitántes in hoc habitáculo. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum.
Amen.
Thou shalt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; thou shalt wash me, and I shall become whiter than snow.

Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Who hath made heaven and earth.
O Lord, hear my prayer.
And let my cry come unto thee.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.
Hear us, O holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, and vouchsafe to send thy holy Angel from heaven, to guard, cherish, protect, visit and defend all that are assembled in this place: Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

The priest then hears the sick person's confession. Everyone else leaves to allow the priest and penitent privacy. Often, the sick person makes a general confession, meaning he confesses every sin he is conscious of committing in his life, even those that have already been absolved. He must leave no sins unaccounted for, because every sin he has committed will be considered by God in his judgment.

There are two situations in which the sick person cannot make a confession. The first is called a physical impediment. If the sick person is unconscious, irrational, or otherwise unable to communicate, then there is a physical impediment. The second is called a moral impediment. If it is impossible to attain privacy, for example if there are doctors or nurses in the room who cannot leave, then there is a moral impediment. In addition, a priest is never obligated to hear his own mother's confession. If no other priest is available, then there is a moral impediment. In the case of a physical or moral impediment, the priest may still grant an absolution. The person's sins will be forgiven as long as he is contrite and repentant.

After the sacrament of Penance, the priest proceeds to administer the second sacrament of the Last Rites, the Holy Eucharist. When given at the hour of death, Communion is known as Viaticum, which means “food for the journey.” The Holy Eucharist is the greatest of the sacraments, because we receive our Lord himself, whole and entire. Never are we more perfectly united with Jesus Christ than when we receive him in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus said, “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him” (John 6:57). Thus, the sick man receives Holy Eucharist at the hour of his death to ensure that he dies united to Jesus Christ.

The sick man then says the Confiteor if he is able. Otherwise, someone else says it on his behalf. The priest says the usual prayers of absolution.

Confíteor Deo omnipoténti, beátæ Maríæ semper Vírgini, beáto Michaéli Archángelo, beáto Joanni Baptístæ, sanctis Apóstolis Petro et Paulo, ómnibus Sanctis, et tibi, Pater: quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo et ópere: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa. Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Vírginem, beátum Michaélem Archángelum, beátum Joánnem Baptístam, sanctos Apóstolos Petrum et Paulum, omnes Sanctos, et te, Pater, oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum.
Misereátur tui omnípotens Deus, et dimíssis peccátis tuis, perdúcat te ad vitam ætérnam.
Amen.
Indulgéntiam, ☩ absolutionem et remissiónem peccatórum tuórum tríbuat tibi omnípotens et miséricors Dóminus.
Amen.
I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to all the Saints, and to you, Father, that I have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word and deed: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Therefore I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, all the Saints, and you, Father, to pray for me to the Lord our God.
May Almighty God have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to life everlasting.
Amen.
May the ☩ almighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, absolution, and remission of your sins.
Amen.

The priest then shows the Sacred Host to the sick person and invites him to Holy Communion using the words of St. John the Baptist from John 1:29, followed by a threefold repetition of the prayer of the centurion from Matthew 8:8, just like at Mass. These words are even more poignant at the hour of one's death. For possibly his last time, the sick man may behold the true Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. What better response could the sick man make than the centurion's true display of faith!

Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccáta mundi.
Dómine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanábitur ánima mea. (three times)
Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed. (three times)

The priest administers Viaticum to the sick man with a special prayer.

Accípe, frater, Víaticum Córporis Dómini nostri Jesu Christi, qui te custódiat ab hoste
malígno, et perdúcat in vitam ætérnam. Amen
Receive, brother, the food for the journey to heaven, the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ; and may he keep you from the malignant foe, and bring you to life everlasting. Amen.

If there are others present who wish to receive Communion, the priest gives them Communion with the usual words (“Corpus Domini nostri...”). The priest then says the postcommunion prayer, in which we pray for the healing of the sick man.

Dóminus vobíscum.
Et cum spíritu tuo.
Orémus.
Dómine sancte, Pater omnípotens, ætérne Deus, te fidéliter deprecámur, ut accipiénti fratri nostro sacrosánctum Corpus Dómini nostri Jesu Christi Fílii tui, tam córpori, quam ánimæ prosit ad remédium sempitérnum: Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitáte Spíritus Sancti, Deus. Per ómnia sǽcula sæulórum.
Amen.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.
O holy Lord, Father almighty and eternal God, we pray thee in faith that the holy Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, may profit our brother who has received it as an everlasting remedy for body and soul: Who with thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God. World without end.
Amen.

The priest then administers Extreme Unction in the usual way, as described in part 6 of this series. If the person is unconscious or has some other physical impediment such that Viaticum cannot be given, Extreme Unction can still be given. If the sick person's death is imminent, some of the prayers may be omitted to ensure that he can receive the sacrament while still alive. Ideally, he should receive the sacraments while still conscious and rational so that his devotion can help his soul. The three sacraments of the Last Rites may be repeated as often as necessary.

After the anointing, the priest should stay and pray with the sick man, helping to keep him at peace and to focus his mind on God in his final hours. The Roman Ritual suggests several Gospel passages for the priest to read:
  • Mathew 8:5-13 – Jesus heals the centurion's servant.
  • Mark 16:14-18 – Jesus sends the eleven apostles into the world to preach the Gospel and heal the sick.
  • Luke 4:38-40 – Jesus heals many people who are sick with various diseases.
  • John 5:1-14 – Jesus heals a man in Jerusalem on the Sabbath.
  • John 1:1-14 – Jesus is the light of the world and the Word made flesh. This is the Last Gospel read at the end of Mass every day.
There is a constant focus on healing. If it is God's will, the sick man may be healed and recover on earth, but in the Last Rites, we look forward to the true healing that will come when the sick man enters heaven.

Finally, as the sick man comes upon the hour of his death, the priest may impart the Apostolic Blessing. This blessing grants a remission of all sins and a plenary indulgence. It is called the “Apostolic” Blessing because it is given by the authority of the Pope, the successor of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, whom Jesus gave authority over heaven and earth (Matthew 16:18-19). The only requirement to receive the Apostolic Blessing is a penitent heart and willingness to submit completely to God in one's final hour. It may still be given if the sick man is unconscious or irrational. When the hour has come, the priest begins by imploring God's help, followed by prayers for the sick man.

Adjutórium nostrum in nómine Dómini.
Qui fecit cælum et terram.
Ne reminiscáris, Dómine, delícta fámuli tui: neque vindictam sumas de peccatis ejus.
Kýrie, eléison. Christe, eléison. Kýrie, eléison.
Pater noster, qui es in cælis, sanctificétur nomen tuum: advéniat regnum tuum: fiat volúntas tua, sicut in cælo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidiánum da nobis hódie: et dimítte nobis débita nostra, sicut et nos dimíttimus debitóribus nostris:
Et ne nos indúcas in tentatiónem.
Sed líbera nos a malo.
Salvum fac servum tuum.
Deus meus, sperántem in te.
Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam.
Et clamor meus ad te véniat.
Dóminus vobíscum.
Et cum spíritu tuo.
Orémus.
Clementíssime Deus, Pater misericordiárum et Deus totíus consolatiónis, qui néminem vis períre in te credéntem atque sperántem: secúndum multitúdinem miseratiónum tuárum réspice propítius fámulum tuum N., quem tibi vera fides et spes christiána comméndant.Vísita eum in salutári tuo, et per Unigéniti tui passiónem et mortem, ómnium ei delictórum suórum remissiónem et véniam cleménter indúlge: ut ejus ánima in hora éxitus sui te júdicem propitiátum invéniat et, in Sánguine ejúsdem Fílii tui ab omni mácula ablúta, transíre ad vitam mereátur perpétuam. Per eúmdem Christum Dóminum nostrum.
Amen.
Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Who hath made heaven and earth.
Do not keep in mind, O Lord, the offenses of your servant nor take vengeance on his sins.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil.
Save your servant.
Who trusts in you, my God.
O Lord, hear my prayer.
And let my cry come unto thee.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.
Merciful God, kind Father, our sole comfort, who will that no one who believes and trusts in you should perish, in your boundless love look favorably on your servant, N., whom the true faith and Christian hope commend to you. Come to him with your saving power, and by the suffering and death of your only-begotten Son, be pleased to grant him pardon and remission of all sins. Let his soul at the hour of its departure find in you a merciful judge, and cleansed of every stain in the blood of your Son, let him be found worthy of passing into everlasting life; through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Either the sick man or someone else on his behalf says the Confiteor, as before, and the priest responds with the prayers Misereatur and Indulgentiam. Finally (and this is the truest possible sense of the word finally!), the priest grants the Apostolic Blessing.

Dóminus noster Jesus Christus, Fílius Dei vivi, qui beáto Petro Apóstolo suo dedit potestátem ligándi, atque solvéndi, per suam piíssimam misericórdiam recípiat confessiónem tuam, et restítuat tibi stolam primam, quam in Baptísmate recepísti; et ego facultáte mihi ab Apostólica Sede tribúta, indulgéntiam plenáriam et remissiónem ómnium peccatórum tibi concédo. In nómine Patris, et Fílii, + et Spíritus Sancti. Amen.


Per sacrosáncta humánæ reparatiónis mystéria remíttat tibi omnípotens Deus omnes præséntis et futúræ vitæ pœnas, paradísi portas apériat, et ad gáudia sempitérna perdúcat. Amen.


Benedícat te omnípotens Deus, Pater, et Fílius, + et Spíritus Sanctus. Amen.
May our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave to his blessed apostle Peter the power of binding and loosing, mercifully accept your confession and restore your baptismal innocence. And I, by the power given to me by the Holy See, grant you a plenary indulgence and remission of all sins; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


By the sacred mysteries of mankind's restoration may almighty God remit for you the punishment of the present life and of the life to come, and may he open to you the gates of Paradise and admit you to everlasting happiness. Amen.


May almighty God bless you, Father, Son, + and Holy Spirit. Amen.

As the sick man passes into eternal life, the priest offers the prayers of commending a departing soul to God, given in the Roman Ritual. These prayers are a story for another time, but suffice it to say that they are beautiful.

Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36). We must always maintain a spirit of penitence and devotion to our Lord, so that we may be sure to die in his grace. Among the most basic things we can do for our soul is to frequently pray the Hail Mary. Every time we pray the Hail Mary, we ask for our Blessed Mother's intercession “now and at the hour of our death.” The hour of our death is when we will need our Lady's intercession the most. Even if we do not have the grace of receiving the Last Rites before our death, we can be assured of the intercession of the great Mother of God, who will be our advocate before his judgment seat.

The death of a loved one is a very sad occasion. Jesus himself wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35). Mourning is a sign of love. However, Jesus's Resurrection gives us hope. If our loved one has faithfully loved God, loved his neighbor, and kept the commandments, he may have the hope of eternal life with God. The grace given through the Last Rites gives assurance to this hope. However, we cannot be presumptive of the deceased person's fate. As comforting as it is to say, “He is in a better place now,” the fact is that we do not know if he is in a better place. The greatest act of love that we can do for our deceased brethren is to pray for their souls. Through the prayers of the Church, they may be delivered from purgatory and enjoy their eternal happiness in heaven.

New terms
  • Last Rites – The sacraments of Penance, Holy Eucharist, and Extreme Unction given to a dying person.
  • pyx – A small silver and gold box, worn on a cord around the neck, which the priest uses to carry the Blessed Sacrament to a dying person.
  • general confession – Confessing all the sins that one is conscious of committing in one's life.
  • physical impediment – A physical reason why the sick person's confession may not be heard, such as if the sick person is unconscious, irrational, or otherwise unable to communicate.
  • moral impediment – A moral reason why the sick person's confession may not be heard, such as if privacy cannot be attained or if the sick person is the priest's mother.
  • Viaticum – The Holy Eucharist given at the hour of death. The word means “food for the journey.”
  • Apostolic Blessing – A special blessing given at the hour of death by the authority of the Pope, granting remission from sins and a plenary indulgence.

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