Understanding our Faith

Do we have Last Rites?

Until recently, it has been customary for Catholics to speak about the Last Rites, and this was so not only for Catholics but often for those making contact with priests to request ‘the Last Rites’ for those in their care.  Up until the Second Vatican Council, this was the common terminology when speaking about the rituals surrounding death.

As was so often the case, the changes brought about by Vatican II were based on a rediscovery of the history of the sacraments or other rituals of the Church.  On this basis, a richer and more varied set of rituals was developed.  These were set out in the Ritual book called “Pastoral Care of the Sick”.

In this segment over the coming weeks, we will look at the various elements which make up this varied pastoral and spiritual practice of the Church.  This week, we will look at the overall structure of this series of rites.

It is divided into two parts – Pastoral Care of the Sick and Pastoral Care of the Dying.

Pastoral Care of the Sick involves the following:
  • Visits to the Sick
  • Communion to the Sick
  • Anointing of the Sick: outside Mass or within Mass.  And then a simpler form to be used in a hospital or other place of care.  (Note that Anointing is part of care of the sick, not of the dying.)
Pastoral Care of the Dying involves the following:
  • Celebration of Viaticum (Communion for the dying): within Mass or outside Mass.
  • Commendation of the Dying
  • Prayers for the Dead

So these rituals move from the person who is ill, but not necessarily seriously so, right through to the person who is close to death.  Whereas Anointing used to be used close to the time of death, it is now used for anyone who has a debilitating illness which may not be associated with death.

In the coming weeks we will take a closer look at each of these rites and their use.

By Fr Frank O’Loughlin


Faith Reflections


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