Ecclesiastical Year for Catholic Schools - Andreas Petz

Extreme Unction

The Sacrament of Extreme Unction

1. The Sacrament of Extreme Unction was instituted by Christ chiefly for the spiritual strength and comfort of the dying. It is called Extreme Unction because it is the last unction or anointing of the Christian and because it is usually administered at the close of life.

2. The visible or outward sign of this Sacrament instituted by Christ is, as St. James the Apostle writes, anointing with oil, with the words: "Through this holy unction and through His most tender mercy, may the Lord pardon thee whatever sins thou hast committed by thy sight, taste, hearing," etc. The anointing with Oil constitutes the matter of the Sacrament, while the words are the form.

3. The effects of Extreme Unction are:

a) An increase of sanctifying grace,

b) A cleansing of the soul from venial sin, and the remains of sin which were not remitted in Holy Communion, and the sacrament of Penance. The remains of sin may be mortal sins, venial sins, temporal punishment due to sin, the evil inclinations of the heart, and the weakness of the will, which are the just consequences of sins committed, and which may remain even after the sins have been forgiven.

c) It calms the mind, fills the heart with consolation, and renders the sick person resigned to the will of God.

d) It often relieves the pains of the sick person, and sometimes even restores. health, if it be expedient for the salvation of the soul.

"The prayer of faith shall save the sick man and the Lord shall raise him up."

4. Since the effects of this Sacrament are so rich in graces, it should not be delayed too long; for, to partake of these graces in abundance, the sick person must do his part also. We must not expect the restoration of bodily health, if we put off the reception of this Sacrament until it can no longer sustain life without an apparent miracle.

5. We should prepare for this Sacrament by receiving the Sacraments of Penance, and Holy Communion received as Viaticum. We should awaken acts of faith, hope, humility, contrition, and resignation to the Divine will of God.

It is the duty of relatives, and of those who are in attendance upon the sick to see that they receive the Last Sacraments in due time. This responsibility rests partly with the doctor, who, as a matter of course, ought to apprise the friends of the sick person of his condition when it becomes serious. Catholics ought therefore to secure, if possible, the services of a Christian physician. Sometimes the attendants on a sick man fear to agitate him by mentioning the Last Sacraments to him. This is indeed mistaken kindness, for they cannot thereby retard the approach of death. Such false friends resemble people who would not warn a blind man if he were nearing a precipice, lest they should frighten him. Their cowardice will give them much to answer for. Th; friends of the sick person should see that the room is cleaned and set in order, the patient should be cleanly dressed, and those parts which are to be anointed should be washed, that is, if it can be done without danger.

A table should be placed near him covered with a clean white cloth; and upon it a Crucifix and two candles, or at least one, if possible, of wax, also a plate with some cotton, to wipe the unctions, some bread crumbs or salt, a vessel with water and a clean cloth, further, a vessel with Holy Water. While the sick man makes his confession, all should leave the room as the priest may have to speak above a whisper.

5. Every Catholic who has come to the age of reason, and is in danger of death by sickness or from a wound or accident can, and ought to receive Extreme Unction. Those who cannot receive this Sacrament are the following:

a)   Persons who are in danger of death but not sick such as, soldiers in war, or criminals condemned to death.
b)   Children who have not attained the age of reason.
c)   Idiots who never have had the use of reason.
c)   Those who are under ban of excommunication, or public sinners who die without any sign of repentance.

7. The minister of this Sacrament is the priest, and certainly, also, the bishops; formerly several priests were called in to administer this Sacrament, and in the Greek Church even now the sick man is anointed by three priests. This is not, however, necessary for the validity of the sacrament; even in early times one priest alone, administered this Sacrament; and this is the general custom in the Roman Church to-day.

Every priest can validly administer this Sacrament, but except in case of necessity it should be administered by the parish priest.

Manner of Administering Penance

1. On entering the house the priest says: "Peace be to this house." This is the salutation which the priest utters in the name of Christ. Into whatever, house you enter, first say: "Peace be to this house" (Luke, 10.5). This salutation is to be imparted to the sick man, and to the whole house as well, by the administration of this Sacrament.

2. The priest presents the sick man a Crucifix to kiss, because he comes in the name of Jesus the Crucified who has purchased this peace for us.

3. Thereupon he sprinkles the sick person with holy water, the sick room and all present, in order to purify the hearts and, as far as possible, even the dwelling from sin, for peace will not abide where sin dwells. The sick person and those present should seek to cleanse their hearts by an act of contrition.

4. The three preparatory prayers which follow are likewise a blessing of the house and its inhabitants, from which it follows that the administration of Extreme Unction is salutary for the entire household, providing its efficacy is not frustrated by indifference and unbelief. The priest is here the mighty dispenser of blessings. Upon his entrance the Evil Spirits must depart and the Angels enter. By virtue of the power of the Holy Name the priest prays that peace, health, and a spirit of devotion may be imparted to all present.

5. While the Confiteor is being said for the sick person by some one present, he should excite in his heart an act of contrition. Then the priest gives him absolution, as before Holy Communion, but in the singular. The same is done before administering the Viaticum. All of the prayers pertain to the welfare of the sick man.

6. Before anointing the sick person the priest admonishes those present to recite some prayers for him. The Penitential Psalms with litanies will be most appropriate. While the people are engaged in prayer he performs the unction. He anoints the sick man with Consecrated Oil in the form of a cross on the organs of sense, which have been instrumental to his sins (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands and feet). At each unction he repeats the following form of prayer: "Through this holy unction, and through His most tender mercy, may the Lord pardon thee whatever sins thou hast committed by seeing, hearing," etc. If the sick person is actually expiring, the priest only anoints his forehead; but he continues to anoint the other parts, so long as life has not departed. In the Sacrament of Baptism, the senses are consecrated to the service of God; in Extreme Unction they are to be cleansed from the sins in which they participated, contrary to the object of their baptism. The sick person should have an ardent desire to be cleansed from sin.

Extreme Unction is for the health of the soul, and oftentimes for the body; it effects the remission of mortal sins which through infirmity of mind and body, he has not been able to confess, as well as the remission of some temporal punishment, and besides, bodily health when it is expedient for the welfare of the soul.

7. The prayers are followed by another blessing and the laying on of hands, placing the patient under the immediate protection of God, thereby obtaining consolation and strength for him in life and in death. The priest surrenders him to the Lord, as it were, by giving him the Crucifix to kiss and placing it before him. He then leaves the house in the same manner as he entered it, imparting a blessing.

General Absolution

1. General Absolution is the Papal Benediction with a plenary indulgence for the dying. It is the blessing in articulo mortis—at the moment of death. It is therefore not a remission of sin. The remission of sin must precede General Absolution. The Church desires that the souls of her children should return to their Maker entirely cleansed.

In Baptism the Church remits sin and its eternal punishment, in Extreme Unction and General Absolution it also remits the temporal punishment due to sin. A dying person, who can and will make use of these three means of grace will go directly to heaven.

2. Even in the earliest Christian times, General Absolution was usually given to the dying; but the power to do so was more restrictive until Benedict XIV, 1747, decreed that all Bishops, upon request, should be empowered to give their respective clergy the faculties for administering General Absolution.

3. In order to obtain this indulgence the sick person must be—

a)   in danger of death;
b)   he must have an ardent desire to gain the indulgence;
c)   he must have previously received the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist;
d)   he must excite in his heart, acts of love and contrition;
e)   he must be ready to accept death from the hand of God with resignation and invoke the name of Jesus either mentally or orally.

These conditions are necessary, as far as the patient is able to comply with them. Therefore General Absolution may be administered even to those who are unconscious, providing that they had previously desired it, or would have done so had they been conscious. It can only be received once in the same sickness, except when danger of death occurs again after previous recovery.

4. General Absolution is administered as follows:

a) On entering the room the priest says, as in Extreme Unction, "Peace be to this house," and sprinkles the sick person, the room, and those present with Holy Water. He is to be cleansed still more from sin—even temporal punishment is to be remitted thereby.

b) The priest begins in the name of the Lord, for only in this name is the remission of sin and its consequences, possible.

c) The antiphon: "Remember not the offences of thy servant, O Lord, neither take vengeance of his sins," admonishes the sick man to receive General Absolution with a contrite and penitential spirit.

d) Then the priest prays that the sick person may be purified from the stain of sin, through the merits of the life and death of our Redeemer.

e) The Confiteor follows, and then absolution, as in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.

f) The close is a prayer which contains the real General Absolution, or the Plenary Indulgence. In case of necessity this prayer alone is said over the dying.

5. The dying may also gain a Plenary Indulgence if they possess rosaries, crucifixes, medals, etc., to which indulgences for the dying are attached, and use them in the proper way; likewise if they belong to societies or Religious Orders entitled to these indulgences.