There is nothing more important in the world than to die in the state of grace. If we die in a state of grace, we win everything because we win heaven, but if we die in a state of unrepented mortal sin we lose everything forever.
That’s why the Church and Her ministers, the priests, are ready on a moment’s notice to bring the saving graces of the sacrament to someone in danger of death. The “Last Rites” are known as the “Anointing of the Sick” and part of the ceremony is to give Holy Communion to the person about to die. That Holy Communion is called “Viaticum”, a Latin derivation that means “food for the journey.”
If a loved one is in danger of death, please call for a priest right away. Usually, if you call your parish, the answering machine will have a message, “If this is a sacramental emergency, please call XXX-XXXX right now and a priest will assist you.”
What does the priest do in that case? He gets the Holy Eucharist from the tabernacle, and puts it in a pyx (a little precious metal container with room for a few hosts, on a cord that hangs over his neck), and visits the sick or dying person. If the person is conscious, the priest will bless him or her with Holy Water, hear their confession and perhaps give them the “Apostolic Pardon” (more on that tomorrow), anoint them with the Oil of the Sick after praying silently with their hands imposed on the head of the patient, pray the Our Father, and then give them Holy Communion. The grace of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick can restore a person to bodily health, or give them great peace as they confront their final battle.
Additionally, and as time and circumstances permit, the priest and patient and loved ones in the room can pray the Litany of the Saints, and the sick person can also renew his baptismal vows. The whole experience is deeply spiritual, sublime, and powerful, as if eternity were presenting herself right there in that moment. You can get a profound sense or awareness of the reality of the Communion of Saints when the Last Rites are given and received with faith.