Tuesday, August 12, 2008


The Church no longer has Last Rites.

This is not a Vatican II thing.

We are talking Trent. As far back as then there was the clarification that the danger of death was not a condition for the reception of this sacrament. Unfortunately they did not go so far as to change the name of the sacrament from Extreme Unction then causing people to this day to try to wait to the very last possible second in order to be anointed.

The reason I mention this is because of an incident that happened this past weekend. We had our 80th anniversary celebration of our parish. After a great Mass (but are not all Masses great?) and a picnic and various other activities I retired to my humble abode and unexpectedly fell into a deep sleep on my couch. Waking up some time later I did not bother checking my emergency cell phone thinking that I had slept with it right next to my ear and surely if it had rung I would have heard it.

As it turned out I did not.

Fortunately I happened to check the phone later and found a message asking for “Last Rites” which turned out to be not only for a parishioner but for a family with whom I have been friends since before my priesthood. Thank goodness the call was caught!

Another call came about a week before asking for the same service but I was in Cleveland. It would be a couple of hours before I could make it but fortunately they thought it could wait.

Of course there are always emergencies that lead a person’s life to unexpected peril but for the vast majority of the cases this is not true. It is good to be anointed when it is needed, not trying to wait to the last possible moments as some used to in the early years of the Church with baptism hoping to get a free pass into heaven (since baptism wipes away all sins.) Risky business if you happened to get hit by a first century bus or if your twenty-first century priest decided to go for a walk in the woods and his cell phone does not pick up your call.

The opposite extreme which is equally as bad is getting anointed every time you get a head cold. There must be some serious (not necessarily grave) illness, debilitating chronic condition or extreme old age. A future surgery is also a reason to be anointed. Minor surgery is like Minor Asia: there’s nothing minor about it.

If you get sick and recover you should offer thanks. If you recover but then get sick again, you may also be anointed again. If your condition deteriorates dramatically that is also a condition in which you may be anointed again. If it is a persistent chronic problem and a sufficient amount of time has passed (6 months to a year) you may wish to be anointed again. To be avoided is being anointed as often as you shower. “Fr. X just anointed me but you can too! I could use the blessings Fr. Y.” That would be a bit like stepping out of the confessional and going into the next one just for blessing of it. It is rather an abuse (which is also why we may only receive Communion up to two times in one day and the second time must be in the context of the Mass.)

So plan! Be anointed before that surgery! Be anointed at the onset of illness and do not wait to the last second! It may not happen! And it would have been avoidable.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Father.

I'm wondering about your opinion of healing Masses, which are all the rage in charismatic circles? They're HUGE around here. I have a friend who attends every one she can, although she DOES have a chronic illness that frequently sends her to the hospital. Yet those Masses are also attended by people who suffer from...head colds. The other part of all this rage is the "generational healing" stuff, and I'm wondering if you're familiar with that, too. (related but OT to this except for the context of annointing.)

Adrienne said...

I second that question from adoro. We just started to have a charismatic healing Mass once a month. A retired priest who is very into the Charismatic thing does it. We went once and had to leave after the homily because the liturgical abuse was to the extreme.

As to waiting till the last moment? If Father gives them Sacrament of the Sick without first explaining that they need not be in extremis, the poor folks think they are going to die in the next hour. I learned early on when making nursing home calls to properly catechize them early on after one poor little lady almost had a heart attack. I'll never forget her looking up at Father and asking, "am I dying?"

Anonymous said...

I've been to a healing Mass that was very reverent, not "charismatic" in style at all, so in our area at least they aren't all full of liturgical abuses. But that was the ONLY one I've ever attended so I can't speak for what takes place elsewhere even in our diocese.

Anonymous said...

Hello Father,

Our diosesan director of liturgy told us that we could receive multiple times in one day if the readings were different.

In other words, you could go to Saturday morning Mass and receive, then go to a funeral and receive again, then go to a wedding and receive again, then go to Saturday evening vigil Mass for Sunday and receive again.

Was he incorrect? And if so do you know the appropriate Canons that refer to this?


Anonymous said...

I always get anointed before minor surgery ever since a great priest at my last parish advised me to do so! Thank you :-)
I also have the same question as Tony. I have received 3 times on Sunday on occasion. It's when I've been sacristan at one mass, sang in choir at another and then filled in as Eucharistic Minister at still another. Or sometimes the 3rd mass is a mass for my mom and dad, one I'm just attending. Should I only be receiving at 2 of them?


Anonymous said...

Healing Masses -

It depends on what you are talking about and that's hard to discern. But they are certainly allowed and promoted by the Church though people can tend to abuse just about anything and make it horrid.

Tony & MJ, here is an answer to your question: http://jimmyakin.typepad.com/defensor_fidei/2005/02/how_many_times_.html

Fr. V

Unknown said...

Well, I have all of you beat... I am in the situation where the docs are 99.9% sure I have MS, the upcoming tests are simply the "its official" stamp. I asked to be anointed and was refused by the priest, saying that chronic conditions weren't serious enough.

Anonymous said...

MS isn't "serious enough"!!???? Does he know what MS is? How debilitating?

Prayers for you.

Unknown said...


Right now, I have balance issues and some numbness. Apt with the neurologist(sp?) coming up soon to discuss treatment options, side effects etc.

Unknown said...

Oh he knows.... uhhh I have a little bit of a temper and asked what part of a debilitating neurological disease wasn't serious and if it was the part where the 'attacks' made me stutter or where my balance was so off I was afraid to go up to receive the Eucharist for fear of doing a face plant in the middle of the church and have resorted to using a cane until we can get the symptoms under control.

umm... did I mention I have a temper?

Anonymous said...

Hey Kat,

I remember you saying you recently entered the Church. If you have a good conversion story (who doesn't?) you should e-mail it to Fr. V for a guest blog. I'm burning with curiosity.

Easter Almuena said...

I cannot tell you how glad I am for reading this. A dear sister in Christ is going to undergo a major surgery. I am going to send her the link. Thanks Fr. V!

Unknown said...


I really doubt its all that interesting.