Wednesday, July 21, 2010


At death the rule book goes out the window.

The laws that we follows as Catholics are all about helping us lead a holy life – a life in which we have the best opportunity to obtain communion with saints for all eternity. They are there to keep us, to the best of their ability, in the commandments to love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves. They are not necessarily the best articulation of the law in assisting us in dying.

Many laws change when we are dying. Just for example, in case of just such an emergency, even a priest who has been defrocked, denounced, and despised is permitted (indeed constrained!) to carry on the sacraments for someone who is dying. The defrocking was there to help him and others live a better life. Faculties are granted to him in emergencies automatically in order to give the dying person the greatest opportunity available to be reconciled with his heavenly Father and so enter into heaven in the last moments of life.

Recently I was asked as to what a person should do when someone they know is dying. Pray with them. Help them unite their pains to Christ for the benefit of others. Talk with them about death. One of sad things is that this is one of the most important events in the person's life after baptism and nobody wants to talk about it! Of course one should call for the sacraments. If the person is near death request of the priest the apostolic blessing which has an indulgence attached to it. But if a priest is not available, does not know how to give the apostolic blessing, or forgets, there is still an indulgence available which throws out all of the otherwise necessary requirements for an indulgence. Here is how it is described in, “The Handbook of Indulgences Norms and Grants.”

“But if a priest cannot be present, holy mother Church lovingly grants such persons who are rightly disposed a plenary indulgence to be obtained in articulo mortis, at the approach of death, provided they regularly prayed in their lifetime. The use of a crucifix or a cross is recommended in obtaining this plenary indulgence.

“In such a situation the three usual conditions required to gain a plenary indulgence are substituted for by the condition ‘provided they regularly prayed in some way.’

“The Christian faithful can obtain the plenary indulgence mentioned here as death approaches (in articulo mortis) even if they obtained another plenary indulgence the same day.”

Lots of rules being thrown out the window here – but the point of law is to get us to live well while they are well, and to give us the best possible chance to die well – that is – in a state of grace.

Despite all of the rules being thrown out however there are still a couple of things that need to be done. The person needs to have some kind of regular prayer life. And they must also be properly disposed – they must be aware the indulgence – they must want it and be sorry of their sins. Pretty meager necessities if you ask me.


Robert M Kraus Sr said...

once again the "spirit of the law' overrules the 'letter of the law'

Margaret Comstock said...

Thank you, Father, for this information. I did not know about the indulgences. I have two friends whose spouses are seriously ill and I will bring this to their attention. To say nothing of taking it to heart for myself. At the age of 85 one can not escape thoughts of death - even when in good health.

Carol said...

Wow.. I did not know any of this, and now, I won't forget any of this. This is just one more instance of how the Church is even more Mater than Magistra. This is the kind of thing I used to love to bring RCIA folks to hear. So incredibly positive. Thanks so much for this.