Anointing of the Sick & “Last Rites” in the Church
As a family which is united in Christ, Christians are to care for one another. We do this both in body and spirit through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. The Sacrament of the Sick is unique in this, being a Sacrament concerned with both the visiting of those who are ill and to pray for them. In his epistle, Saint James writes, “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven” James 5:14-15).
While the Anointing of the Sick may be celebrated with all baptized Catholics who are seriously ill, preparing for surgical procedures and more, there are prayers which are reserved for those who may be dying. Traditionally called ‘last rites,’ priests may also pray the Apostolic Pardon for those who are in danger of death. This is a pardon that can be given by any priest and has the special grace of granting total forgiveness before death. The Apostolic Pardon is typically preceded by the Sacrament of Confession, to the extent that the dying person is able to participate in the sacrament. If you or a Catholic you know is near death, it is important you notify their priest well in advance of their final hour.
In addition to these ‘last rites’ is the reception of the Eucharist as viaticum. Viaticum is a Latin word meaning, “with you on the way.” Just as the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist form a unity called “the sacraments of Christian initiation,” so too it can be said that Penance (Confession), the Anointing of the Sick and the Eucharist as viaticum constitute at the end of Christian life “the sacraments that prepare for our heavenly homeland” or the sacraments that complete the earthly pilgrimage. Once again, if you or a Catholic you know is near death, it is important you notify their priest well in advance of their final hour.
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