"Extreme Unction is the sacrament which, through the anointing and prayer of the priest, gives health and strength to the soul, and sometimes to the body, when we are in danger of death from sickness, accident or old age." ~St. Anne's Helper Catholic Confirmation Catechism #15
Don't wait! Call a priest as soon as possible. Time may be of the essence.
Oh, that dread and awesome moment. A danger of death is the time to administer Last Rites, and it might also be the last moment.
When death is near you want to have everything ready. What's most important is the Catholic sacrament.
I'll tell a few stories below and show you a handy kit that you can put together ahead of time.
Also we've copied the Catholic Prayers for the Dying so that you can print them or use them on your phone or tablet. Of the three versions I've heard or read, this one includes more traditional prayers and more consoling comfort.
Click on the links to print or view:
Gather these items into a ziplock bag:
Our own family's stories are the reason that we want to share the idea behind the following packet. Add your favorites or your special devotions for your loved one. I keep mine in a small zip lock bag in a drawer near the front door. Make these for family and friends especially those whose loved ones are in danger of death, and make an extra for yourself that you can leave at the hospital or another's home.
In the Prayers for the Dying there is a prayer that is specifically prayed at the Last Agony. If death might happen while you are away, be encouraged to say these prayers before you leave. They are good to pray when a respirator is removed, too.
It is also helpful to suggest the devotions that the sick person might not remember, and to help him or her pray them.
St. Joseph and St. Benedict are patrons for a holy death. You can also include other items like other scapulars or a scapular medal (not allowed in X-ray type situations); a Miraculous Medal; a St. Benedict Medal; the St. Philomena oil, cord, scapular, and booklet; the Pardon Crucifix with pamphlet; as well as other devotions and chaplets. Keep pictures of Jesus, Mary, and the saints where the patient can see them. St. Joseph is patron of the dying and there are St. Joseph prayers for the dying here.
My brothers and sisters and I have had the great grace to have been able to assist at the well provided deaths of our parents and two siblings. We have a lot to share, hoping and praying that you and yours will also have the great grace of a holy death. You can make and share this packet with family and friends so they have these treasures ready for you and yours.
In an emergency, call 911 and your priest. There's nothing like the stories of priests who have arrived before the ambulance. They're awesome to read.
There's no more exciting story and no more consoling truth than to know that the priest was able to administer Extreme Unction. My brother's story shows the priest in action in an emergency. See it below
These are really great notes to read and discuss with your older children and to send to family and friends. Be sure your children know where you store these and the Prayers for the Dying.
Usually, the priest brings most of what he will need, yet if, as in my father's case, there is plenty of time, you can set up the table, Crucifix, candles, cotton balls, glass of water, spoon, and bread ahead of time.
For your convenience, We've copied notes from the instructions that were in our old Sick Call set and the instructions from the set that my parents gave us for our wedding. They're different and both had good ideas. I'm also including notes that were in the Prayers for the Dying. There are notes for both cases: emergency and no emergency.
Extreme Unction is a special part of the Church's ministry to the sick and should not be postponed either until a person is very near to death, or until a medical emergency arises in his life. It is appropriate for this Sacrament to be administered in many different kinds of situations.
See and print: "Preparing for Last Rites" for your Sick Call set or to keep with your Prayers for the Dying booklets. See text below:
Dad was heroic. He stayed with Mom through it all. He knew that her plight was dangerous. When the hospital was sending her to the larger hospital for surgery he called the priest to come. At first, the priest would not come because the doctors had put him off saying that there was little danger, just a kink in the colon.
Then Father's Guardian Angel did his part and Father made it to the gurney right before she was put in the ambulance, her last lucid moments. Next? The new doctor did his best to let Dad know, without saying explicitly, that she might die on the table. God is good to have sent the priest in time.
This is when we first read this beautiful Prayers for the Dying booklet. Dad had kept it on hand and given us each a copy to keep on hand. This is where I got the idea to keep a collection of all of the things I might quickly need in case of emergency. What a good memory.
Monday. Dad had everything on hand. Before Mom's surgery my Dad and my husband both had made it plain to the doctor and several staff members that Mom's Brown Scapular was to remain. The staff agreed several times. Guess what? Snip! Dad followed the gurney only able to tie it on her foot. It's okay. We knew that it was her devotion that counted, but Dad was also going to do his best. They were able to replace it over her shoulders after the surgery.
Wednesday evening two of my sisters arrived to give Dad a break for the evening. He intended only to go home for a nap. As soon as he arrived home my sisters called him to tell him that Mom had taken a seriously worse turn. He called one of us who called the rest of us so that all our local adult siblings and several spouses arrived in stages behind him. Those next hours Dad led us in praying the Mysteries of the Rosary with only a break to greet arriving family and to say the Prayers for the Dying. She died shortly after midnight surrounded by her praying family.
Dad had had a copy of the Prayers for the Dying in a little pamphlet. Beautiful traditional prayers. We wanted to have that booklet ourselves, so Dad copied it for us and we've copied it to a PDF printable so that you can have the same prayers. You can also use it from your phone.
Again, Dad had given us a super good example. He'd had over 40 years of colon trouble, a life time really. The last couple of years were really rough, but he pulled through for a time and even regained most of his weight before his final battle. At one point before he made a long trip to seek better care he was able to ask his priest to give Extreme Unction. He invited all of us who were local. It was beautiful. He and Father were private for Dad's confession, but we and our children were all able to be there to see him receive the other sacraments. Father was good to explain everything.
A few months later Dad was strong enough for another surgery. The Sunday night after the surgery our sister-in-law was keeping watch with Dad and saw that his condition had changed and was worse. He had congestive heart failure so the priest was called, family was called at the same time. Because of Dad's example with Mom, more of us were there praying with and for Dad. Father stayed right up till time to leave for Monday morning's early Mass. He wanted to stay, but he saw that we would all continue praying. We wanted him to offer Mass and we felt that Dad would have wanted the very same thing.
Of course, there was plenty of time to have made sure that he had his scapular. We did the same as he had shown us to do with Mom. We prayed the Rosary and the Prayers for the Dying. Father had been using his prayer book which was huge. He'd already said the prayers in Latin and when we offered the pamphlet he was glad to have had the smaller format in English. We let him keep it as we had had our own copies.
My sister had had the Last Rites several weeks previous to her death at 50. Near the end, as the hospital realized that my sister's situation had changed, they quickly called the ambulance to convey her to a better qualified hospital. This time it was my turn to sound the alarm. By the grace of God, a wonderful Catholic nurse was there to let me know that since my sister's condition had changed, she could receive the sacraments again. What a comfort!
I called my sister's priest at that moment and, later, at the same time as the ambulance was driving away he called back. In spite of his being new to the area, he had already arrived at the larger hospital in the next city! The large hospital told him that she had checked out three days earlier, so he had to double check that she would actually be there and that he was in the right place. I had to tell him that they truly were really coming as were more family. He was good to wait and to stay till all was in good order. Again, these were her last more lucid moments. Just a day later, she had to write her last words, "High pain."
Father was there several times in the next twelve days to help her and to console her family. Both he and the Rector were there for her on the day of her death. Her condition must have changed again and the Rector is the one who gave her Extreme Unction again. Three times in just two months. What a consolation!
This time we had had more time to gather devotionals. By her last day she had the Brown Scapular, the St. Benedict medal, the Miraculous Medal, and the St. Philomena cord, oil, and scapular. Her friends were even able to visit, although she was unable to respond.
We were able to use emails to keep the family informed as to her difficulty. In the end, she had all these treasures and we had been able to be with her all day repeating the Rosary, the Prayers for the Dying, and the Acts of Contrition, Faith, Hope, and Charity every hour. (That can be a trick, but the staff knew us by that time.)
When they removed the respirator late that Friday night, fifteen of us were there praying. We said another Rosary after she expired and prayed another on the way home at nearly midnight.
Perhaps this is one too many stories, but it is an excellent example of God's providence before, during, and after an emergency.
Four months later, the Friday morning before the week of Christmas, my brother reached overhead for a key and dropped unconscious at 52. He and his good wife had had thirteen children, most of whom were home at the time. His two daughters who are nurses were right there to perform CPR and to call the ambulance and priest. His sons were at church getting ready to serve the late morning Mass. One was able to get another priest and ride with him to direct him to their home in record time. The other was able to go with his mother straight to the hospital.
Father arrived just after the ambulance and was able to give Extreme Unction before the EMTs loaded our brother into the ambulance. Yet another son drove Father's car behind the ambulance while Father read the Prayers for the Dying, with the rest of the family following in another car. Father stayed with the family till it was certain that the doctors could do no more.
On her way to the hospital his wife called to tell us, we called each other, and we emailed other family and friends asking for prayers. God bless email! Most of our local family members were at the hospital within two hours and we prayed all through the day, the same as we had with my sister.
Another of our priests arrived in the evening for two hours to console the family and to lead the prayers and the Rosary. When the respirator was removed late that evening, there were twenty five of us there and praying. We are all so grateful to have been able to witness his well provided death. So far, so good for his wife and family as well. God is good.
Email was a big help in gaining more prayers and a full church at the Rosary and the Funeral Masses. Many cell phones were a giant help in keeping the long distance family informed and praying.
I am so happy to have had that booklet these several times that I just want to share that with the whole world! It is so good to be prepared and yet, it is hard to think ahead of time, "Well, what would I want to have handy?"
The kindergarten teacher here taught the little ones to pray for all those who are near death. I was so delighted to hear that as my mother used to call us to request the very same intention, "Please ask the little ones to pray...." These are the great joys of keeping and living the Faith! I really am very happy. Writing this might look mushy, but a good end is sooooo good. To tears of gratitude. Fight to do all you can for someone at that most awesome moment, there's nothing like the victory of final perseverance.
I could rejoice for an hour. I take praying for those near death seriously, I really hope that others will do the same for me and mine, you and yours.
May God grant us each a holy death!
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Use printables in your Roman Catholic catechism class, Faith formation, or Sunday school lesson. ~Mary Fifer