The Sacrament of Extreme Unction
There was a certain ruler whose son was sick at Capharnaum. He having heard that Jesus was come from Judea into Galilee, went to him, and prayed him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.--JOHN iv. 46, 47.
The miracle recorded in today's Gospel took place during the first year of our Lord's public ministry. He had but lately returned from Jerusalem into Galilee, and was at Cana. A Roman officer, whose son was at the point of death in Capharnaum, and who had heard of the fame of Jesus, knowing that the Saviour was again in Galilee, came over to Cana and besought Him to come and cure his son. So great was the faith of this officer in the power of our Lord, that the Saviour at that very same hour healed the dying boy, and shortly afterward bestowed the gift of faith upon the officer and his whole family. Thus our divine Lord healed not only the body of the sick, but ministered to the spiritual needs of the family as well.
Christ has also left in His Church a means of curing the ills of our bodies and souls in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. In imitation of the faith of this Roman officer we should have prompt and ready recourse to this Sacrament whenever there is danger of death.
I. The nature of Extreme Unction, 1. According to its name this Sacrament means the last anointing, since it is the last Sacramental anointing to be administered. The first anointing is given at Baptism, the second at Confirmation, the third at Ordination, and the last at Extreme Unction. 2. That this final anointing is a Sacrament is proved from the Apostle St. James (v. 14, 15), from the unbroken tradition of the Church, and from the fact that it has all the essentials of a Sacrament, as we shall see below. 3. Extreme Unction, although it consists of several anointings, is but one Sacrament, since it signifies but one thing, namely, sanctifying grace. 4. The matter of this Sacrament is the oil of the sick, i.e., olive oil consecrated by the Bishop. 5. The form of the Sacrament is the solemn prayer pronounced by the priest at each of the anointings, or a shorter form that is used in urgent necessity. 6. Extreme Unction was prefigured when the Apostles anointed the sick and cured them (Mark vi. 12, 13); it was instituted by Christ, Who alone could give to anointing and prayer the power they possess in this Sacrament; it was promulgated by the Apostle St. James.
II. The administration of Extreme Unction, 1. This Sacrament cannot be given, (a) to those not in danger of death from sickness or old age; (b) nor to those who have never had the use of reason, since it was instituted as a remedy against sin; (c) nor to those who die manifestly impenitent. 2. The five different senses are anointed separately, as well as the feet; but in case of necessity one anointing is sufficient. The reason for anointing each of the senses is because these are the gateways of temptation and sin. 3. Extreme Unction should not be repeated as long as the sick person continues in the same danger of death. 4. The dispositions for the reception of this Sacrament are: (a) the state of grace, hence it is the practice to administer Penance and Viaticum before Extreme Unction; (b) great faith, devotion and resignation on the part of the recipient. 5. The minister of this Sacrament is the pastor or priests of the parish, or in case of necessity, or with permission, any priest.
III. The effects of Extreme Unction, 1. This Sacrament remits sins, in particular, venial sins. 2. It frees the soul from the languor and infirmity produced by sin, and fills the soul of the dying with peace and tranquillity. 3. It gives the dying strength against final temptations. 4. It restores bodily health, when this is for the good of the sick person.
LESSONS. 1. Do not neglect to send for a priest when there is danger of death, and especially, when possible, before the sick perspn becomes unconscious, so that the full benefits of this Sacrament may be obtained. Remember also that a secondary effect of this Sacrament is to restore the sick person to bodily health. Hence it is unreasonable to dread or delay the reception of this Sacrament; 2. Send for a priest even in case of a sudden death, since life often remains for a considerable time after the person is apparently dead. 3. Those present at the administration of this Sacrament should join in the prayers that are offered for the dying person. 4. During health we should often reflect on this Sacrament, so as to live holily, and prepare ourselves for its worthy reception in the hour of death.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part II
The Sacrament of Extreme Unction
"In all thy works," says Ecclesiasticus, "remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin (Eccles. vii. 40)," words which convey to the pastor a silent admonition to omit no opportunity of exhorting the faithful to constant meditation on their last end. The Sacrament of Extreme Unction, because inseparably associated with this awful recollection, should, it is obvious, form a subject of frequent instruction, not only because it is right to explain tthe mysteries of salvation, but also because death, the inevitable doom of all men, when frequently recalled to the minds of the faithful, represses the licentiousness of depraved passion. Thus shall they be less appalled by the terrors of approaching dissolution, and will pour forth their gratitude in endless praises to God, whose goodness has not only opened to us the way to true life in the Sacrament of Baptism, but has also instituted that of Extreme Unction, to afford us, when departing this mortal life, an easier access to heaven.
Why this Sacrament is Called Extreme Unction
In order to follow as nearly as possible the same order observed in the exposition of the other Sacraments, we shall first show that this Sacrament is called "Extreme Unction," because among the other unctions prescribed by our Lord to His Church, this is the last to be administered. It was hence called by our predecessors in the faith, "the Sacrament of the anointing of the sick," and also, "the Sacrament of the dying," names which naturally lead the minds of the faithful to the remembrance of that last awful hour (Hugo, de Sacr. part. 15, c. 2.; Pet. serm. I, de dedicat. Eccles).
Extreme Unction is a True Sacrament
That Extreme Unction is strictly speaking a Sacrament, is first to be explained; and this the words of St. James, promulgating the law of this Sacrament, clearly establish: "Is any man," he says, "sick amongst you? Let him bring in the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man; and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him (James v. 14)." When the Apostle says: "if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him," he ascribes to Extreme Unction at once the nature and efficacy of a Sacrament.
That such has been at all times the doctrine of the Catholic Church, many Councils testify, and the Council of Trent denounces anathema against all who presume to teach or think otherwise (Sess. 43, de Extrem. Unc. c. I, can. 3). Innocent III, also, recommends this Sacrament with great earnestness to the attention of the faithful (Ep. I, ad Decent. c. i, cited dist. 95, c. illud superfluum; see Councils Chalons, c. 48, Worms. c. 72, Constance, Florence).
Extreme Unction is but One Sacrament
The pastor, therefore, will teach that Extreme Unction is a true Sacrament, and that, although administered with many anointings, each given with a peculiar prayer, and under a peculiar form, it constitutes but one Sacrament. It is one, however, not in the sense that it is composed of inseparable parts, but because each of the parts contributes to the perfection of the whole, as is the case with every object composed of many parts. As a house which consists of a great variety of parts derives its perfection from unity of plan, so is this Sacrament, although composed of many and different things and words, but one sign, and it effects only that one thing of which it is the sign.
The Matter of Extreme Unction
The pastor will also teach what are the component parts of this Sacrament, its matter and form. These St. James does not omit, and each is replete with its own peculiar mysteries (James v. 14). Its element, then, or matter, as defined by many Councils, particularly by the Council of Trent, consists of oil consecrated by the Bishop. Not any kind of oil extracted from fatty or greasy substances, but olive oil alone, can be the matter of this Sacrament. Thus its matter is most significant of what is effected in the soul by the Sacrament. Oil is very efficacious in soothing bodily pain, and this Sacrament soothes and alleviates the pain and anguish of the soul. Oil also contributes to restore health and spirits, serves to give light, and refreshes fatigue; and these effects correspond with and are expressive of those produced through the divine power on the sick by the administration of this Sacrament. These few words will suffice in explanation of the matter.
The Form of Extreme Unction
With regard to the form, it consists of the following words, which contain a solemn prayer, and are used at each anointing: "BY THIS HOLY UNCTION, AND THROUGH HIS GREAT MERCY MAY GOD PARDON THEE WHATEVER SINS THOU HAST COMMITTED BY SIGHT, SMELL, TOUCH, etc., etc. That this is the true form of this Sacrament we learn from these words of St. James: "Let them pray over him, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man (James v. 14, 15)," words which intimate that the form is to be applied by way of prayer. The Apostle does not say of what particular words that prayer is to consist; but this form has been handed down to us by apostolic tradition, so that all the Churches retain the form observed by the Church of Rome, the mother and mistress of all Churches. Some, it is true, alter a few words, as when for "God pardon thee," they say, "God remit to thee," or "God spare thee," and sometimes, "May God remedy all the evil thou hast committed." But as the sense is evidently the same, it is clear that the form observed by all is strictly the same.
Why the Form of this Sacrament is Expressed by Way of Prayer
It should not excite surprise that, while the form of each of the other Sacraments either absolutely signifies what it expresses, such as "I baptize thee," or "I sign thee with the sign of the cross," or is pronounced, as it were, by way of a command, as in administering Holy Orders, "Receive power," the form of Extreme Unction alone is expressed by way of prayer. The propriety of this difference will at once appear, if we reflect, that this Sacrament is administered not only for the health of the soul, but also for that of the body; and as it does not please Divine Providence at all times to restore health to the sick, the form consists of a prayer, by which we beg of the divine bounty that which is not a constant and uniform effect of the Sacrament.
Why the Administration of this Sacrament is Accompanied with Many Prayers
In the administration of this Sacrament special rites are also used, consisting principally of prayers, offered by the priest for the recovery of the sick person. There is no Sacrament, the administration of which is accompanied with more numerous prayers; and with good reason, for at that moment more than ever the faithful require the assistance of pious prayers. All who may be present, and especially the pastor, should pour out their fervent aspirations to the throne of grace, in behalf of the sick person, earnestly recommending him, soul and body, to the divine mercy.
This Sacrament Instituted by Christ
Having thus seen that Extreme Unction is to be numbered among the Sacraments, we rightly infer that it owes its institution to our Lord Jesus Christ. It was subsequently made known and promulgated to the faithful by the Apostle St. James. Our Lord Himself, however, seems to have given some indication of it, when He sent His disciples, two and two, before Him; for the Evangelist informs us that "going forth, they preached that all should do penance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them (Mark vi. 12, 13)."
This anointing cannot be supposed to have been invented by the Apostles, but was commanded by our Lord. Nor did its efficacy arise from any natural virtue peculiar to oil; its efficacy is mystical, having been instituted to heal the maladies of the soul, rather than to cure the diseases of the body. This is the doctrine taught by St. Denis, St. Ambrose, St. Chrysostom, St. Gregory the Great; so that it cannot be doubted that Extreme Unction is to be recognized and venerated as one of the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.
To Whom and When to be Administered
But although instituted for the use of all, Extreme Unction is not to be administered indiscriminately to all. In the first place, it is not to be administered to persons in sound health, according to these words of St. James: "Is anyone sick amongst you (James V. 14)?" This is also proved by the fact that Extreme Unction was instituted as a remedy not only for the diseases of the soul, but also for those of the body; now only the sick need a remedy, and therefore this Sacrament is to be administered to those only whose malady is such as to excite apprehensions of approaching dissolution. It is, however, a very grievous sin to defer the Holy Unction until, all hope of recovery being lost, life begins to ebb, and the sick person is fast verging into a state of insensibility. It is obvious that if administered while the mental faculties are yet unimpaired, while reason still exercises her dominion, and the mind is capable of eliciting acts of faith and of directing the will to sentiments of piety, the Sacrament must contribute to a more abundant participation of the graces which it imparts. Though this heavenly medicine is in itself always salutary, the pastor will be careful to apply it when its efficacy can be aided by the piety and devotion of the sick person.
Extreme Unction, then, can be administered only to the sick. It may not be given to persons in health, even when they are in danger of death, as when they undertake a perilous voyage, or encounter the fatal dangers of battle, or have been condemned to death and already ordered for execution. Its participation is also denied to those who have not the use of reason; to children incapable of committing sin, who therefore do not require to be purified from its stains; to idiots and insane persons, unless they give indications in their lucid intervals of a disposition to piety, and express a desire to be anointed. To persons insane from their birth this Sacrament is not to be administered; but if a sick person, while in the possession of his faculties, expressed a wish to receive Extreme Unction and afterwards becomes delirious he is to be anointed.
How this Sacrament is Administered
The Sacred Unction is to be applied not to the entire body, but to the organs of sense only--to the eyes, the organs of sight; to the ears, of hearing; to the nostrils, of smelling; to the mouth, of taste and speech; to the hands, of touch. The sense of touch, it is true, is diffused throughout the entire body, yet it is more developed in the hands, its peculiar seat. This manner of administering Extreme Unction is observed throughout the universal Church, and is in keeping with the medicinal nature of the Sacrament. As in corporal disease, although the malady affects the entire body, yet the cure is applied to that part only which is the seat of the disease; so in spiritual malady, this Sacrament is applied not to the entire body, but to those members which are properly the organs of sense, and also to the loins, which are, as it were, the seat of concupiscence, and to the feet, by which we move from one place to another.
Repetition of Extreme Unction
Here it is to be observed that, during the same illness, and while the danger of dying continues the same, the sick person is to be anointed but once; should he, however, recover after he has been anointed, he may receive the aid of this Sacrament as often as he shall have relapsed into the same danger of death. This Sacrament, therefore, is evidently to be numbered among those which may be repeated.
Dispositions for the Reception of Extreme Unction
As all care should be taken that nothing impede the grace of the Sacrament, and as nothing is more opposed to it than the consciousness of mortal guilt, the constant practice of the Catholic Church must be observed, of administering the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist before Extreme Unction.
And next, let parish priests strive to persuade the sick person to receive this Sacrament with the same faith with which those of old, who were to be healed by the Apostles, used to present themselves. But the salvation of his soul is to be the first object of the sick man's wishes, and after that the health of the body, with this qualification, "if it be for the good of his soul." Nor should the faithful doubt that those holy and solemn prayers which are used by the priest, not in his own person, but in that of the Church and of our Lord Jesus Christ, are heard by God; and they are most particularly to be exhorted on this one point, to take care that the Sacrament of this most salutary oil be administered to them holily and religiously, when the sharper conflict seems at hand, and the energies of the mind as well as of the body appear to be failing.
By Whom this Sacrament should be Administered
Who the minister of Extreme Unction is we learn from the same Apostle that promulgated the law of the Lord; for he says: "Let him bring in the priests (James v. 14). By the word priests (presbyteri) as the Council of Trent has well explained (Sess. xiv. c. 3), he does not mean persons advanced in years, or of chief authority among the people, but priests who have been duly ordained by Bishops with the imposition of hands (2 Tim. i. 6). To the priest, therefore, has been committed the administration of this Sacrament; not, however, to every priest, as holy Church has decreed, but to the proper pastor who has jurisdiction, or to another authorized by him to discharge this office. In this, however, as also in the administration of the other Sacraments, it is to be most distinctly remembered that the priest is the representative of Christ our Lord, and of His Spouse, holy Church.
The Fruits of Extreme Unction
The advantages we receive from this Sacrament are also to be accurately explained, that if nothing else can allure the faithful to its reception, they may be induced at least by its utility; for we are naturally disposed to measure almost all things by our interests. Pastors, therefore, will teach that by this Sacrament is imparted grace that remits sins, and especially lighter, or as they are commonly called, venial sins; for mortal sins are removed by the Sacrament of Penance. Extreme Unction was not instituted primarily for the remission of grave offences; only Baptism, and Penance accomplish this directly.
Another advantage of the sacred function is, that it liberates the soul from the languor and infirmity which it contracted from sins, and from all the other remains of sin. The time most opportune for this cure is when we are afflicted with severe illness and danger to life impends, for it has been implanted in man by nature to dread no human visitation so much as death. This dread greatly augments the recollection of our past sins, especially if the most poignant accusation of our conscience goads us; for it is written: "They shall come with fear at the thought of their sins, and their iniquities shall stand against them to convict them (Wis. iv. 20)." Another source of vehement anguish is the anxious thought that we must soon afterwards stand before the judgment seat of God, Who will pass on us a sentence of strictest justice according to our deserts. It often happens that, struck with this terror, the faithful feel themselves deeply agitated; and nothing conduces more to a tranquil death than to banish sadness, await with a joyous mind the coming of our Lord, and be ready willingly to surrender the deposit entrusted whenever it shall be His will to demand it back. To free the minds of the faithful from this solicitude, and fill the soul with pious and holy joy is, then, an effect of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.
From it, moreover, we derive another advantage, which may justly be deemed the greatest of all. For although the enemy of the human race never ceases, while we live, to meditate our ruin and destruction, yet at no time does he more violently strain every nerve utterly to destroy us, and, if possible, deprive us of all hope of the divine mercy, than when he sees the last day of life approach. Therefore arms and strength are supplied to the faithful in this Sacrament to enable them to break the violence and impetuosity of the adversary, and to fight bravely against him; for the soul is relieved and encouraged by the hope of the divine goodness, strengthened by which it bears more lightly all the burdens of sickness, and eludes with greater ease the artifice and cunning of the devil who lies in wait for it.
Finally, the recovery of health, if indeed advantageous, is another effect of this Sacrament. And if in our days the sick obtain this effect less frequently, this is to be attributed, not to any defect of the Sacrament, but rather to the weaker faith of a great part of those who are anointed with the sacred oil, or by whom it is administered; for the Evangelist bears witness that the Lord "wrought not many miracles" amongst His own, "because of their unbelief (Matt. xiii. 58)." It may also be truly said that the Christian religion, since it has struck its roots more deeply in the minds of men, stands now less in need of the aids of such miracles than it did formerly, at the commencement of the rising Church. Nevertheless, faith should be strongly excited, in this respect, and whatever it may please God in His wisdom to do with regard to the health of the body, the faithful ought to rely on a sure hope of attaining, by virtue of this sacred oil, health of the soul, and of experiencing, should the hour of their departure from life be at hand, the fruit of that glorious assurance: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord (Apoc. xiv. 13)."
We have thus explained briefly the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. But if these points are developed by the pastor at greater length and with the care the subject demands it is not to be doubted that the faithful will derive very great fruit of piety from his instruction.
Extreme Unction and the Spiritual Care of the Sick
by the Rev. Ferreol Girardey, C.SS.R.
Death is so certain that no sane person has ever denied or doubted it. Death spares no one. The moment or hour of death is indeed terrible, for on it depends man's eternity. He who dies in the state of grace will enjoy an eternity of perfect happiness in heaven. He who dies in the state of mortal sin shall be doomed forever to the endless torments and misery of hell. As death comes but once for each man, there can be no remedy for a bad death. Hence it behooves us to spare no pains, to make every exertion, to use every means in our power that we may die a good death, worthy of a Christian.
The infinite love of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for mankind manifests itself to us in every way during the whole course of our life. At our first entrance into this world He has provided the Sacrament of Baptism for our spiritual birth and regeneration, making us thereby children of His heavenly Father, and uniting us closely to Himself as members of His mystical body, the Church. During our whole life, besides numberless special graces to supply our spiritual wants in all circumstances, He imparts to us in the other Sacraments powerful helps to sanctify ourselves more and more, and to persevere in His grace and friendship. And when the formidable hour of death approaches, and our enemies are about to make a last strenuous effort to bring about our ruin we may make use of a special Sacrament, the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, to strengthen us in that emergency, to enable us to obtain a final victory over our enemies, and to become forever united with Him in the ineffable joys of heaven. Let us this day consider: 1, the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, and, 2, how we should spiritually assist the sick and the dying that they may draw profit from their illness and obtain the grace of a truly Christian death.
Extreme Unction is a Sacrament
The Sacrament of Extreme Unction was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ to purify the dying, to strengthen them in their last combat, to enable them to pass through their agony with Christian fortitude, and if profitable to their soul, to restore health to their body.
Extreme Unction has all the requisites of a Sacrament. First, it was instituted by our divine Saviour Himself, as may be easily inferred from the language used by St. James when speaking of this Sacrament. He says: "Is any one sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him" (James v. 14, 15). From these inspired words of St. James it is clear that he speaks of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, and that this Sacrifice confers grace of itself. But this it could not do unless it were instituted by the Author of grace Himself, Jesus Christ, Who alone can so attach grace to sign or action.
In the next place we have in Extreme Unction a visible sign-- the oil solemnly blessed for the sick by the Bishop at Mass on Holy Thursday, and the anointing with it of the five senses of the sick with the prescribed formula designating what is being done by the priest. Finally, as we see from the words of St. James, in Extreme Unction there is an invisible grace, special to this Sacrament, that is conferred on the sick by the application of the visible sign to the senses of the sick. This grace consists in a certain remission of sins and other spiritual effects.
The Administration of Extreme Unction
The Church in her Ritual tells us that the Sacrament of Extreme Unction is a salutary medicine not only for the soul, but also for the body of the sick who are in danger of death. It directs the priest to administer it to them while they are still in possession of their senses, so that they may derive greater fruits from it by their faith and piety. It should usually be preceded by the confession of the sick person and the reception of the holy Viaticum.
Extreme Unction is to be administered only to those members of the Church who are in danger of death from sickness. Persons not baptized, or not members of the Church, cannot receive this Sacrament; nor children who have not yet attained the age of reason. In practice it should be administered to children over six years of age who are in danger of death. It should be administered to those aged persons having no particular disease, but whose failing strength shows that death may carry them off at any moment. It should be administered to the dangerously sick and dying, even though they be unconscious, especially if they have been practical Catholics, and even if they have been remiss and negligent in the practice of their religious duties, so long as they have not in health denied the faith.
Extreme Unction may be administered only once in the same spell of sickness. There are diseases that usually are of long standing, and that bring the patient several or even many times to death's door before ending fatally; for instance, consumption, heart disease. One day, or one moment the sick person shows symptoms of approaching death, and in a day or even a few hours, rallies again and is soon out of danger. A few weeks, a few months later, the same person seems again on the verge of death from the very same disease. Extreme Unction may and should be administered at every fresh spell or relapse into the danger of death.
Extreme Unction, being a Sacrament of the living, should be received in the state of grace. Hence the sick person should, if able, previously make his confession and receive the Sacrament of Penance. Extreme Unction is not of absolute necessity for salvation, but it would be very sinful for a dangerously sick person wilfully to neglect receiving so great a means of salvation, and for the priest failing to administer it through wilful neglect.
Extreme Unction can be administered only by those invested with the priesthood. In fact, it is a function pertaining not to every priest, but to the parish priest of the sick person, or his assistant. The Church has prescribed diverse beautiful ceremonies for its administration. The priest first sprinkles the room, the sick person and the persons present, with holy water, and recites appropriate prayers. The Con fiteor is then recited, during which the sick person should make acts of contrition, of confidence in God's mercy, and of resignation to His holy will. The priest then dips his right thumb into the blessed oil and with it anoints first the eyes, then the ears, then the nostrils, then the closed lips, then the palms of the hands, and finally the soles of the feet of the sick person, saying at each anointing: "By this holy unction and by His own most tender mercy, may the Lord forgive Thee whatever sins thou hast committed with thy sight-- with thy hearing--with thy smell--with thy taste and speech-- with thy touch--with thy steps." During this time the sick person should interiorly join the priest in asking God's forgiveness for the many sins he committed during life with the senses and organs of his body. We can see from this why this Sacrament, which is especially a Sacrament of prayer, should be administered to the sick while they are still in possession of all their faculties, that, joining in the prayers, they may derive greater benefit therefrom. In case the sick person is already in his agony and is actually dying, the ceremonies may be greatly curtailed, even, if necessary, to a single anointing and a single formula.
Effect of Extreme Unction
Extreme Unction produces many salutary effects. In the first place, it cleanses the soul from the remains of sin, uneasiness, worry of mind, tepidity and sloth, which, on account of the more or less insidious and violent temptations of the evil one at the hour of death, may prove greatly dangerous to the salvation of the sick person. In the second place, Extreme Unction imparts to the dying calmness, resignation, courage and confidence in the divine mercy. Thirdly, it purifies the soul of venial sins, and in certain cases it indirectly cleanses it of mortal sins; for instance, when from various causes, such as unconsciousness, speechlessness, the priest's ignorance of the language of the sick person, the latter cannot confess; also, if the sick person be in the state of mortal sin without being aware of it. Fourthly, Extreme Unction imparts to the sick person strength and patience to bear his pains and to give up his life willingly to God. Fifthly, "Blessed oil," says St. Cyril of Jerusalem, "has the power not only to burn away the vestiges of sin and purify the soul, but also to put to flight the invisible power of the evil one." Finally, if expedient to the soul of the sick person, Extreme Unction contributes to restore the health of his body. For this reason also Extreme Unction should not be deferred too long, otherwise it will hardly be able, without evident miracle, which no one has a right to expect, to contribute to the restoration of the actually dying person to health. Every priest who has been in the active ministry for a number of years can testify to the restoration to health of persons who were sick beyond recovery by the reception of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.
We should be grateful to God for having made us members of the Catholic Church, in which there are so many helps to salvation not only during life, but especially at the last hour, enabling us to die in His grace and friendship with the firm hope of sharing His own happiness in heaven for all eternity.
Spiritual Care of the Sick
It is in our power to practice charity toward the sick in two ways--by attending to their bodily wants and by assisting them in their spiritual wants. Our divine Saviour will at the last judgment declare worthy of heavenly reward those who, for His sake, performed corporal works of mercy toward the needy, among whom He makes special mention of the sick, because He considers these works as done to Himself, saying: "Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me" (Matt. xxv. 40). The Church grants an indulgence of forty days to those who, through motives of charity, visit the sick. How many religious Orders and congregations devote themselves to works of corporal mercy, and care for almost every ill to which mankind is subject, and practice therein the most heroic virtue, and are therefore a subject of wonder and admiration to even the enemies of our holy religion! While performing the corporal works of mercy, they profit by every opportunity to minister to the spiritual wants of the sick. And for many careless Catholics and great sinners even, hardened in crime, they are the means of converting and of helping to die a holy death, and how many non-Catholics do they not bring to the true fold, thus assisting them in securing their salvation! Thus, with God's help, they are instrumental in saving multitudes of persons, who, but for them, would be eternally lost! The ministering to the spiritual wants of the sick is as far more noble and more important than attending to their bodily wants, as the soul and eternity are above the corruptible body and this material and transitory world. What treasures of merit may we not lay up for ourselves in heaven if, when there is occasion, we care for the spiritual wants of the sick in our family, of those under our charge, without neglecting to minister to their bodily wants.
Sickness, the usual forerunner of death, came into the world as a punishment of sin, and should be accepted as such. Although it is, in this sense, a punishment, yet, under another aspect it may be a real blessing productive of many benefits. How many, who for years lived far from God, slaves to sinful habits, in total disregard of their salvation, and who would otherwise never repent or amend their life and thus die miserably in their sins, are thoroughly converted on a bed of sickness, which brings them back to their senses and to God, and rescues them from eternal perdition! If we thus look upon sickness and sufferings in the light of faith, we shall clearly see that they are not real evils, but real blessings of God's goodness and mercy.
Removal of Spiritual Dangers
The first spiritual care of the sick consists in removing from them what may prove injurious to their salvation, such as evil companions, bad books and papers, and the like. Also weapons and other means of destruction from those who may in some way or other be inclined to despondency, or are subject to temptations of self-destruction. In many cases a particular care should be taken in choosing a conscientious physician. How many physicians, for the sake of filthy lucre, do and prescribe things to their patients which are directly opposed to the divine law and cry to heaven for vengeance! Others, through a pretense of not exciting or frightening the sick person, prevent the priest being called, at least in time to prepare the sick for death, and thus endanger his salvation. Others, under the plea of calming, quieting pain, of prolonging the life of the sick, place them constantly under the influence of narcotics, and thus render them unfit and unable to realize their dangerous state and to prepare to render an account of their life before the judgment seat of Christ. The principal question with the sick and dying is not how to escape pain, but how to prepare to meet their God. Hence you must never allow physicians to exercise on the sick of your family or those intrusted to your care, such diabolical cruelty as to rob them of the power of making use of their last chance of salvation.
Encouragement of the Sick
Care should be taken to exhort the sick to bear their pains and discomforts with patience--that virtue which is so necessary, but so seldom practiced. Tell them to say: "O Lord, give me patience; Mary and mother, help me to bear these pains. My God, Thy will be done, and not mine. I accept all these sufferings as a penance for my sins, which have deserved hell, and for which Thou, O Jesus, hast undergone fearful torments and a most cruel death. O Lord, punish me now in Thy love and mercy, but spare me in eternity."
As to persons whose sickness is not dangerous, and only of very short duration, there is no necessity of sending for the priest. If the illness be chronic and keeps the sick person from leaving the house, the priest should be called to administer to him his Easter duties, and the Sacrament of Penance and holy Communion every month, or at least four or five times a year. To those sick persons who have neglected the practice of their religion, the priest should be summoned long before the sickness becomes dangerous, so that they may have time sufficient to return sincerely to God and prepare well for their last hour. When there is good reason to summon the priest to attend a sick person, it should be done in the day time as far as possible, nor should the priest be compelled, where there is no immediate danger, to lay important duties aside. When the severe illness comes on suddenly, or when there is immediate danger of death, then there must be no delay in sending at once for the priest. Care should, however, be taken that the messenger be capable of giving an intelligent account of the sick person and his illness, so that the priest may come better prepared to make the necessary ministrations. Every Catholic should know how to baptize newly born children in danger of death when the priest cannot be had in time. Pour any natural water on the head while saying: "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
If the sick person is to receive the last Sacraments, the room and bed should be clean; all unbecoming and worldly things should be removed. A small table covered with a white cloth, on which a crucifix is placed between two blessed candles, with holy water, and a tumbler of water and a spoon; near by a basin of water with soap and towel to wash the priest's hands. Care should be taken to help the sick person to prepare to receive the Sacraments worthily, by reading to him from a prayer-book or suggesting acts of faith, hope and charity, contrition, patience, resignation, conformity with God's holy will in accepting his pains and death itself; also acts of longing for holy Communion, and for the endless joys of heaven. After the administration of the last Sacraments, help the sick person to make acts of faith and thanksgiving, of self-offering, as also other acts similar to those made or suggested before their reception. If the sick person lingers for days and is perfectly conscious, a little pious reading, for instance, of the Passion of our Lord from the Gospel will fill him with sentiments of divine love and resignation to the divine Will.
Assisting of the Dying
f the sick person is very low avoid all worldly and unprofitable conversation; exclude persons visiting out of idle curiosity, or who may be a cause of sin to the sick. Let only those be in the room whose presence is necessary or really useful. From time to time suggest pious thoughts, pious aspirations, such as these: "How little I endure here, I a sinner, in comparison to Jesus Christ dying amid cruel torments on the cross; there was no one to give Him any relief, a drink of water, or a kind word; and here I am in a comfortable bed, with every relief that those who love me can give me!" Say sometimes to the sick person: "You cannot find rest or comfort; have a little patience, and you will obtain a rest of happiness in heaven!" Say: "O my Jesus, give me patience to bear my pains for the love of Thee Who hast died for me, and as a penance for my sins. I am willing to suffer as much and as long as it may please thee, but help me to be patient; I unite my sufferings and my death with thy Passion and death on the cross." Tell the sick person how great merit he can gain by an entire resignation, saying: "My Lord, not as I will, but as thou wilt." Inspire him with confidence in the divine mercy by mentioning how Jesus forgave repentant sinners, such as the publican, Mary Magdalen, the penitent thief; how He died to save them, and that we should therefore place all our confidence in His merits, and also in the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, given to us as our mother by Jesus Christ himself in His last will.W
hen the sick person nears his end give him repeatedly the crucifix to kiss; show him an image of Mary, repeat in his hearing: "My God, I believe in thee, I believe all that the Catholic Church teaches, and I wish to die in her faith; my God, I hope in thee; my God, I love thee with all my heart; I love my neighbor as myself, and for the love of thee I forgive all who may have injured me, and ask forgiveness of all whom I may have injured. My God, forgive me my many sins; I am sorry for them, and with the help of thy grace I will sin no more. Accept my sufferings and my death as an atonement for them. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and soul; Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony; Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul with you in peace." When the agony is on, place the blessed candle in his hand, sprinkle him and the room with holy water from time to time, to expel the spirits of darkness hovering around him to make their last efforts to cause him to sin, and keep on whispering in his ear the holy names of Jesus and Mary, while the prayers for the departing soul are being recited. Do not cease until he has breathed forth his last gasp, and the soul has left the body, to be ushered before its sovereign Judge, for its final account, on which depends its eternal lot! O death! how terrible art thou!I
f we thus strive to help the sick and dying to save their soul, God in His mercy will, as a due reward, not fail to send you similar help in your last moments to enable you to appear before Him well prepared for your great final account. You may rest assured that your charity will be richly rewarded, for, says He Who is to be our Judge: "Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these, my least brethren, you did it to me" (Matt. xxv. 40).