We know not the day nor the hour when the Lord will call us home, but the Church offers us a way to ensure our souls are prepared for death. While the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick can be given to someone who is not in imminent danger of death, a priest can offer one who is dying the sacraments of Penance, Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist as viaticum.
The Catechism says these sacraments “constitute at the end of Christian life ‘the sacraments that prepare for our heavenly homeland’ or the sacraments that complete the earthly pilgrimage.”
Father Carter Griffin stopped by The Inner Life® this week to discuss the Anointing of the Sick and Last Rites. He and host Chuck Neff also took some powerful calls from listeners sharing their experience with this sacrament of healing.
Explaining the elements that constitute Last Rites for the dying, Fr. Griffin said, “You have there the final touch, you have forgiveness and penance, you have the anointing of the sick, the strengthening of the soul and healing, if possible also physical healing. You have viaticum, the Bread for the journey home, and then you have the cleansing of all stain of sin. I mean, what Catholic wouldn’t want those before they die?”
A listener named Gordon called in to share how much the Anointing of the Sick and Last Rites meant to his wife, and how much it meant to him that she received them before she died.
Gordon explained that his wife had been sick for several years, but one day last June he knew she needed to go to the hospital. Due to the pandemic restrictions, Gordon was not allowed inside, so he sat outside for two days on and off trying to get word about how she was doing.
Gordon recalled, “I got a call from the doctor saying, ‘You better come in.’ She couldn’t see anymore but I could tell by her eyes that she knew we were there. She was telling me she wanted the priest, we had talked about that before, so I called the chaplain there trying to arrange it. Our parish priest was not available so I called a good friend priest who said, ‘Sure, I’ll come right over.'”
“They wouldn’t let him in,” Gordon said. “I argued with them but they wouldn’t let him in.”
Gordon was driving his sister-in-law home when he got a call from his daughter at the hospital. She said, “Dad you better come because the priest is here.” Gordon thought to himself, “How did he get in?”
Due to heavy traffic Gordon did not make it to the hospital while the Last Rites were being performed, but his daughter left her phone on so that he could listen to the anointing prayers.
“We did not make it there in time, but we could hear the priest give the last blessing and everything else,” he said. “Then the doctor’s voice came on, he was looking at her, and he said, ‘She’s gone.'”
“She stayed awake. She knew that was what she wanted. It was such a relief for all of us that she died right after the last blessing because of how much it meant for us in that respect.”
Father Carter Griffin told Gordon, “That is often the case, by the way. You said that she died shortly after it was over. And that does happen, people kind of hold on to receive the sacrament.”
Gordon shared that as much as it meant to his wife to receive Last Rites before she died, it also meant so much to him. He said, “I can’t really express how much Last Rites means to the person who is receiving it, and to the whole family. It’s a wonderful sacrament and one that gives you closure to a certain extent. Knowing that the person you love – we were married for over 52 years – is finally going to get her reward in heaven.”
Listen to Gordon’s call below: