The Last Sacraments are the sacraments administered to a person dangerously il, and include Confession, Viaticum, and Extreme Unction.
The sick person first makes his confession, then receives the Holy Eucharist in the Viaticum, and finally is given Extreme Unction. Extreme Unction, as we saw in the last installment, is a remedy; and as medicine is for the living, not the dead, so those dead in sin will not profit from this spiritual remedy. However, if the patient is physically unable to confess, the Church accepts the intention and administers Extreme Unction without confession.
When a person is dangerously sick, we should call the priest to administer the Last Sacraments to him. It is very wrong to delay calling the priest til the person is already on the point of death. While his mind is clear, he can prepare for the Last Sacrament better, profit more from them.
When Extreme Unction is given while the person is strong, there is more likelihood of his recovering. We have a serious obligation, if we are taking care of a sick person, to call the prist the moment there is danger of death. Except in cases of emergency, the pastor of the parish to which the sick person belongs, or the pastor's curates or assistants, should be called to administer the Last Sacraments.
It is advisable to call the priest to visit the sick in any serious illness, even though there be no apparent danger of death. It is the priest's duty to visit the sick and administer the sacraments they need. "My son, in your sickness neglect not yourself but pray to the Lord, and He shall heal you" (Ecclus.38: 9).
In these times when few dedicated priests still make it a habit to visit the sick, leaving such sacerdotal duties to the lay ministers who may act more like priests than many priests today in the new order that has so diminished the role of the alter Christus. If a Catholic is sick or in the hospital they should feel cheated if a eucharistic minister is sent instead of a priest. Even though the ministers liberally handle the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus, present in the Holy Viaticum Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, they cannot hear confession or administer Extreme Unction. Therefore priests must make themselves available to the sick for the sake of their flocks' individual souls and for their own, for the time will come when God will surely ask and remind each priest and bishop that to those who have been given much, much more will be expected of them.
Some people do not call the priest to administer the Last Sacraments because they fear the patient would be frightened and become worse, or because of mistrust, or because of so much confusion or guilt that they had not remained in anctifying grace. That is all the more reason to call a priest. For not to is a great mistake. Why? Because actual observation has proved that a sick person is always more calm and peaceful after the visit of the priest. Our Lord instituted Extreme Unction in order to quiet and comfort the sick, not the dead.
We can help a sick person by nursing and consoling him. Every day we should make with him and for him acts of faith, hope and charity. Above all, we should help him feel absolute resignation to God's will. It is a mistake and one that is especially overlooked in today's pluralistic, secularist, modernist and ecumenical society to converse with a dangerously sick person about worldly topics or retelling gossip, or holding out false hope for recovery. Too often today, with science playing God, false hope is extended that there will be a cure. When one isn't forthcoming, some are angry at God. God never said we could get out of this world alive. Indeed, we won't. The more we think we can regulate our own lifespan, the more we are closer to the precipice of hell.
Therefore we should help a sick person prepare for the Last Sacraments both spiritually and corporally. We should remind them of the the Four Last Things - Death, Judgment, Heaven and hell. We cannot be shy or worried about how they will take it. Remember a soul is at stake. Being concerned for a sick person's spiritual welfare is the greatest love you can give to your neighbor as God asks for love of Him.
Thus, before the priest arrives we should help the patient get ready for his Confession. Let us ay with him acts of contrition, and ejaculations like "Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I love you. Save souls" or "Jesus forgive me my transgressions and bid me come to Thee."
Also, in preparation for Extreme Unction the patient's face, hands, and feet should be sponged with a wet towel. Though in the new rite of the sacrament the priest does not pay attention to these important details, for the true sacrament of Extreme Unction there hould be ready towards the foot of the bed, to the right a table with a clean white cloth. On it should be a crucifix, two lighted candles, some holy water, and a glass of fresh water with a tablespoon. There should also be a clean napkin, a saucer with six balls of cotton, and a piece of soft bread, or one or two slices of lemon for the hands of the priest, for wiping off the anointing. A basin of water and a towel should be near by, so the priest can wash his hands after anointing.
Upon the priest's arrival, if he is carrying the Blessed Sacrament, we should meet him with a lighted blessed candle, in silence. The priest himself brings the corporal, on which he lays the pyx containing the Blessed Sacrament.
We can help a dying person with prayer by kneeling near the patient's bed and recite the prayers for the dying, which may be found in the old Roman Missals used before the aberration known as the Novus Ordo was foisted on the faithful. We should suggest to him short ejaculation prayers that he can easily repeat, at least in his mind. We should recite with him especially those prayers which are enriched with plenary indulgences for the hour of death. The Hail Mary is the perfect prayer in preparation for death.
The Papal benediction with attached indulgence is gained by saying the holy Name of Jesus. If unable to say it, the person must at least think it, and with contrition kiss a blessed crucifix.
The following prayer is enriched with a plenary indulgence at the hour of death:
"O my God, I now at this moment readily and willing accept at Thy hand whatever kind of death Thou mayest wish to send me, with all its pains, penalties, and sorrows."
A person in good health, who recites this prayer in the state of grace, after confession and communion, may gain a plenary indulgence to take effect at the hour of death.
If we reflect that a plenary indulgence gained with proper dispositions means that the soul will go straight from death-bed to Heaven, we would be more zealou in helping the dying gain one.
During the agony, we should sprinkle the bed and the dying person with holy water. Those around should pray, instead of fussing, or showing too extreme grief. The first thing we can offer immediately to God in in relief of the soul of a loved one is an act of resignation to His holy will. Let us humbly say, "Lord, Thy will be done!" In those places where the beautiful custom is practiced in Traditional chapels of the "passing bell" should be ordered rung, in order that other Christians may pray for the departed soul.
In the case of sudden or unexpected death, a priest should be called always, because absolution and Extreme Unction can be given conditionally for some time after apparent death. If a person is apparently dead and has not received the Last Sacraments, we should immediately call the priest. A person may continue to live two or three hours after death has apparently taken place, especially if it is sudden. In that case Extreme Unction will avail his soul.
A good death is important for a good life is usually an assurance of a happy death. One who has lived all his days in an effort to please God is not likely to turn an impenitent sinner at the last moment. Conversely a bad death is possible for those who lead a wicked life. It is usually a forecast of a bad death. A hardened sinner refuses the Last Sacraments. Therefore let us all pray to God to deliver us from a bad death and do all in our power as soldiers of Christ to help others realize this and seek to please God, not man for, as the Almighty says in Genesis 3: 19 "for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return."
For previous installments, see APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH Archives