Friday, August 24, 2012


Part of the problem of telling people how to die is that they don’t want to talk about it until it is painfully obvious that they or someone with whom they are close are about to.  But it is handy information to have in your hip pocket.  Nobody likes to take up research on the topic when death is a few heart beats away. 
Here is one of the most important things you should know:
Imminent death is not a prerequisite for the sacrament of anointing of the sick.
Imminent death is not a prerequisite for the sacrament of anointing of the sick.
Imminent death is not a prerequisite for the sacrament of anointing of the sick.
(I heard on the radio yesterday that if you say something three times people are more likely to hear and remember it.)
I have this image in my head of certain personages, otherwise holy, intelligent, good people standing next to a hospital bed with a stop watch and counting down the seconds.  “…three, …two…ONE!  We are down to two hours of life for Aunt Maybell!  Call the priest!  Call the priest!  Tell him to get out here NOW!”


At least that is the way it appears from this end of the telephone lines.  Save for cases of emergency such as getting hit by a truck, one should not wait until the last seconds to be anointed.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, anointing is to take place at the onset of the malady.  (This has been true since Trent though perhaps not in practice.)  It may be repeated if the persons becomes well and then falls into sickness again, if the condition worsens, or if a long period of times has passed.  The condition must be serious however, though not fatal.
Why this information on a post about manners?  Because manners means making things run as smoothly as possible for everyone involved.  In this age of less priests and more duties for them to do, it is not in keeping with the best possible manners to unnecessarily cause an emergency.  Further, there is a risk of the person being denied the sacrament because of the lack of priests and the small window of time available that may be avilable.  Perhaps he is at a diocesan meeting two hours away and calls are being forwarded to another parish where the priest is already on another call and won’t be back for a couple of hours.  Knowing your sacraments and taking advantage of them when they are intended as possible is just plain good manners.  And of course there are always true emergencies, we just need not create artificial ones.
Times have changed since Mrs. Lenner wrote her book.  In describing how one should be prepared for an anointing she writes, “the room should be in perfect order, the patient should be bathed and wearing fresh night clothing.  A woman patient’s costume should always be modest.  Near the sickbed there should be a table covered with a white cloth and holding a crucifix, two lighted blessed candles, a vessel of holy water, a spoon, a dish with five or more bits of cotton, and a damask napkin.  If the priest comes bearing the Blessed Sacrament, as he will of the patient is conscious, he should be met at the door by a person bearing a lighted, blessed candle and be conducted to the sickroom.”
Though nice, in reality, none of this done today.  Here are my recommendations for a modern day anointing.  After determining that a anointing should take place, if the person is mobile it may done in the church by setting up an appointment with the priest.  If the person is not mobile, the priest should be called at the earliest convenience and a mutually agreeable date and time set.  I highly recommend NEVER being absent from your home for such an appointment because you had a beauty parlour appointment or a bowling banquet.  (Yes, this does happen!)  That makes priests, justifiably or not, very grumpy.


It would be nice, if possible, to have the room and person as presentable as possible.  This is for the comfort of the patient who is incapable of making their place presentable to visitors.  All of the accoutrements about which Mrs. Fenner spoke are no longer necessary.  I do recommend a crucifix being present in the room in general however since the Church grants an indulgence.  #28 from the book of indulgences states that “if the 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 some way during their lifetime.  The use of a crucifix or a cross is recommended in obtaining this plenary indulgence.”
The priest should be told of the condition of the person especially if death is not that far away.  There is an apostolic blessing that the priest will give if the situation is dire.  It is desirable that family, friends, and loved ones, (and as it turns out, often the health care professionals) be present and pray.  Sacraments are by their nature public prayers.  Except for confession and counseling it is absolutely wrong to excuse yourself for the anointing so that there might be privacy.
AND FOR THE LOVE OF PETE – TURN OFF THE TELEVISION.  It is often the case that the television has just become background noise for all the people in the house, but it can be very annoying and, worse yet, distracting during the celebration of the sacrament since today Buffy and Kent are actually to be reunited after being divorced three times because Buffy just found out that she is pregnant by the recently deceased brother of Kent and is tricking him into thinking it is his child which he has always wanted.
Because of the laws of the United States, it is extremely important to tell the admissions office of your institution that you are Catholic.  Notification is no longer made to you parish and no inquiry will be made.  You must declare your religious preferences for the Church to know that you are in the institution and are desiring of sacraments.  The information fairly will no longer magically notify your parish.

No comments: