Monday, February 09, 2009

Things I've learned: requests for last rites

Since I'm the back-up for the chaplain at our hospital, that means I get calls now and then from the ICU or the Emergency Room, asking me to meet with the family of someone who's dying.

Nine out of ten times, the family will say something like this: "Dad hasn't been in church for years . . . but he was raised Catholic, and don't they do 'last rites' or something?"

Well, no they don't -- not any more. As I understand it, the Catholic church now prefers to call this service, 'the Anointing of the Sick,' with an emphasis on healing more than just preparation for death. And no, I can't do it myself; this service can only be performed by a Catholic priest.

Then again, that's probably more than the family really wanted to know just then.

That's why I've learned it's best to respond by saying: "I'd be happy to pray for you and this person -- and if you like, I could give the local priest a call and ask him to stop by."

And generally speaking, that's all they needed right then.


Bill Cork said...

There is technically no such thing as "last rites" in the Catholic context ... never has been.

The final sacraments include confession, anointing of the sick (what used to be called "extreme unction" in the days when it was ONLY done at death), and Holy Communion in the form of viaticum (food for the journey). And you're right, these are only done by a priest. But your pastoral response is the right one.

Nick said...

Good advice. I'll have to remember that when I'm in that situation.

Ansku said...

Thank you for sharing what you've learned. Wonderful pastoral response.