The Last Sacraments (Confession, Holy Viaticum, & Extreme Unction), & Holy Communion Calls

But the children of the murderers he did not put to death, according to that which is written in the book of the law of Moses, wherein the Lord commanded, saying: The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: but every man shall die for his own sins.”
4 Kings (2 Kings) 14:6

What are the Last Sacraments? They are the sacraments administered to a person dangerously ill. The sick person first makes his confession, then receives the Holy Eucharist in the Viaticum, and Extreme Unction.
Extreme Unction 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 with confession.
The sacred Unction of the sick was instituted by Our Lord as a true sacrament of the New Law (Council of Trent, 14, 4). It confers grace, remits sin, and comforts the sick. In administering Extreme Unction the priest anoints the Christian who is in danger of death with the holy oils upon the organs of his five senses, and prays over him; by means of which the spiritual and not infrequently the bodily malady of the sick man is cured.
We have a serious obligation, if we are taking care of a sick person, to call the priest the moment there is danger of death. It is very wrong to delay calling the priest until the person is already on the point of death. While his mind is clear, he can prepare for the Last Sacraments better, and profit more from them. Some people do not call the priest to administer the Last Sacraments because they fear the patient would be frightened and become more worse. This is a great mistake, for actual observation has provided that a sick person is always more calm and peaceful after the visit of the priest.
Extreme Unction strengthens the sick because it confers on him grace to bear more easily the inconviences and pains of sickness,  and enables him more readily to resist temptation of all kinds. It is for the healing of the soul, and oftentimes the body; it effects the remission of mortal sins, which through infirmity of mind or body the sick man has not been able to confess, as well as the remission of some temporal punishment. And besides, at times it obtains bodily health, when expedient for the welfare of the soul. Extreme Unction compensates for all that, through no fault of his own, the sick man left incomplete in the Sacrament of Penance. It is thus the completion of the Sacrament of Penance, or the penance of the sick.
In common with all the other sacraments, Extreme Unction imparts a higher degree of sanctifying grace. This is of more importance to us at our death than at any other moment, for the degree of our future felicity depends on the degree of sanctifying grace we possess.
And the greater our love of God, the more capable shall we be of the enjoyment of eternal bliss. Thus this holy sacrament cleanses away all that is an impediment to our eternal salvation.
He, who enters upon the journey from time to eternity without fortifying himself with the last sacraments, is like a traveler who starts on his way with an empty purse. Nor can there be contempt of so great a sacrament without heinous sin and an injury to the Holy Ghost Himself (Council of Trent, 14, 9).

Note:

  • Those who have not yet received the Sacrament of Penance cannot receive Extreme Unction since it is the completetion of penance.
  • To this class belong idiots and children who have not yet attained the age of reason. It must not be supposed that this includes all children under seven, for children of five years of age have been known on their death-bed to ask for a priest, because they were conscious of having dinner against their parents.
  • Extreme Unction can only be administered to the sick once in the same illness; but if the sick person recovers temporarily, and then has a relapse, he may be anointed again.
  • Every priest who has been duly authorized by the bishop, may give the Papal benediction with a plenary indulgence, provided he makes use of the prescribed formula. The sick man must call upon the holy name of Jesus (the priest usually repeats some ejaculatory prayer to him, in which the name of Jesus occurs) verbally, if he can still speak; if not, mentally, otherwise the indulgence is not gained, and the crucifix is offered to him to be kissed.

How should we help a sick person prepare for the Last Sacraments?

We should help a sick person prepare for the Last Sacraments both spiritually and corporally.

  1. Before the priest arrives we should help the patient get ready for his Confession. Let us say with him acts of contrition, and ejaculation to keep him united with God.
  2. The patient’s face, hands, and feet should be sponged with a wet towel.
  3. There should be ready towards the foot of the bed, to the right, a table with a clean white cloth. On it should be the following:
  • A crucifix,
  • 2 lit blessed candles
  • Some holy water, and
  • A glass of fresh water with a tablespoon.
  • 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 nearby, so the priest can wash his hands after anointing.

4.  Upon the priests arrival, if he is carrying the Blessed Sacrament, we should meet him with a lighted blessed candle, in silence.

5.  The priest himself brings the corporal, on which he lays the pyx containing the Blessed Sacrament.

6.  While the sick man makes his confession, let all leave the room, as the priest may have to speak above a whisper.

How can we help a dying person?

1. We should kneel near the patient’s bed and recite the prayers for the dying, which may he found in most prayer books. We should suggest to him short ejaculations that he can easily repeat, at least in his mind. We should recite with him especially those prayers which are enriches with plenary indulgences for the hour of death.

2.  The following prayer is enriched with a plenary indulgence at the hour of death: “O my God, I now at this moment readily and willingly accept at Thy hand whatever kind of death Thou latest wish to send me, with all its pains, penalties, sorrows.”

If we reflect that a plenary indulgence gained with proper disposition means that the soul will go straight  from death bed to Heaven, we would be more zealous in helping the dying gain one.

3.  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 that we can offer immediately to God 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 case of sudden or unexpected death, should a priest be called?

 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 has apparently taken place, especially if it is sudden. In that case, Extreme Unction will avail his soul.

I highly recommend reading St. Alphonsus de Ligouri’s Preparation For Death. All information excerpted from: The Catechism Explained, p.p. 640-643 and My Catholic Faith, pp. 326, 327.

God Bless BJS!!

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