• Alexandra Clark | The Daily Knight

Help the Dying with the Last Gifts!

Alexandra Clark | The Daily Knight

The Last Rites can rightly be called the Last Great Gifts of Holy Mother Church. Christ, has truly thought of everything in regard to our salvation and sanctification! From the Sacrament of Baptism, with our birth into the Life of Grace and the adoption as a son of God, to the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, which prepares our final moments before death to which we can have firm hope of Eternal Life and be prepared to face our Just Judge. The wonders of God’s Love has provided everything we need if only we desired it and learn of its great Divine Grace! First, a little clarification is needed to get a better understanding of these wonderful Last Gifts.

Painting of Christ the Divine Physician of the Soul

What are the Last Rites and Extreme Unction?

The Last Rites can be confused with the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. Though the terms are related they do not mean the same thing. Extreme Unction, also known as Anointing of the Sick or Sacrament of the Dying is one of the seven Sacraments consisting in anointing the very sick and dying person. Whereas the Last Rites, are four rites in total with 3 being Sacraments that are applied to a dying soul. The four rites are:

1. The Sacrament of Extreme Unction, or also known as anointing of the sick

2. Holy Confession, which is the Sacrament of Penance

3. Holy Viaticum, which is known as the last Holy Communion, “called the Viaticum by sacred writers, both because it is Spiritual Food by which we are sustained in our pilgrimage through this life, and also because it paves our way to eternal glory and happiness. Wherefore, according to an ancient usage of the Catholic Church, we see that none of the faithful are permitted to die without this Sacrament.” (Council of Trent)

4. The final rite is the Apostolic Blessing, that grants a plenary indulgence which in turn can cancel all Purgatory time. This Apostolic blessing, says Fr. Couture, “is the only one in the whole ritual in which we ask Almighty God to restore the soul to the innocence of its Baptism.” This has been suppressed by Vatican II, more on that later.

Who then can receive the Sacrament of Extreme Unction and the Last Rites?

The Catechism of the Council of Trent answers that:

“St. James: Is anyone sick amongst you? (James 5:14). This is also proved by the fact that Extreme Unction was instituted as a remedy not only for the diseases of the soul, but also for those of the body. Now only the sick need a remedy, and therefore this Sacrament is to be administered to those only whose malady is such as to excite apprehensions of approaching death. It is, however, a very grievous sin to defer the Holy Unction until, all hope of recovery being lost, life begins to ebb, and the sick person is fast verging into a state of insensibility. It is obvious that if the Sacrament is administered while consciousness and reason are yet unimpaired, and the mind is capable of eliciting acts of faith and of directing the will to sentiments of piety, a more abundant participation of its graces must be received. Though this heavenly medicine is in itself always salutary, pastors should be careful to apply it when its efficacy can be aided by the piety and devotion of the sick person.”

When death approaches our friends or loved ones it can be a time of confusion, worries, anxiety, and sorrow. Knowing what to do as a Catholic is very important regardless if the soul dying is Catholic or not Catholic. It should be a great comfort to souls to know that there is a way to die well and to have a good death. And this should be prayed for everyday that we die a good death in God's grace.

Too many Catholics and souls in general do not know the great grace God has given in the Last Rites that help us finish the race, that race to Heaven as St. Paul mentions. We say rites because there is more than one beautiful gift given to the soul to help its final chance at reaching Heaven. Through these Rites, if a soul is well disposed, humble and contrite of heart, it can mean accomplishing the race to Heaven in great grace!

Extreme Unction, says the Council of Trent, “is first to be explained; and this the words of St. James the Apostle, promulgating the law of this Sacrament, clearly establish. Is any man, he says, sick amongst you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man; and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him. (James 5:14).”

We will briefly go over what you can do to prepare for death or help someone who is dying, what are the Traditional Catholic prayers for the dying, and some notes on how the Last Rites have been changed by Vatican II, as well as give some helpful resources links that both priests and family members can use to be prepared for the Last Rites.

Preparation for the Last Rites:

1. Calling a Priest to the Sick Soul

A priest should be called right away when a soul is in danger of death or gravely ill. This should never be delayed and even if there is doubt, call anyway, as the priest needs the person to be conscious to be able to administer the Sacrament of Confession and Holy Communion. One should always have the parish Emergency call number in their phone or written down. This phone number can be found on the parish bulletin or the online parish site. Keep in mind too, that it doesn't matter if it is 3am in the morning, that emergency is of the highest importance for the salvation of the soul. Be able to give these answers to the priest when calling:

A) What is the condition of the sick person…are they conscious?

B) Do you know if the person is Catholic?

B) Does the person desire or open to seeing a priest?

C) What is the address to the location of the sick person?

Dispositions for the Reception of Extreme Unction according to the Council of Trent:

As all care should be taken that nothing impede the grace of the Sacrament, and as nothing is more opposed to it than the consciousness of mortal guilt, the constant practice of the Catholic Church must be observed of administering the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist before Extreme Unction.

And next, let parish priests strive to persuade the sick person to receive this Sacrament from the priest with the same faith with which those of old who were to be healed by the Apostles used to present themselves. But the salvation of his soul is to be the first object of the sick man’s wishes, and after that the health of the body, with this qualification, if it be for the good of his soul.

Nor should the faithful doubt that those holy and solemn prayers which are used by the priest, not in his own person, but in that of the Church and of Our Lord Jesus Christ, are heard by God; and they are most particularly to be exhorted on this one point, to take care that the Sacrament of this most salutary oil be administered to them holily and religiously, when the sharper conflict seems at hand, and the energies of the mind as well as of the body appear to be failing.

2. Prepare for the Sick Call if You are Able to with the Following:

First of all, prepare the patient, if possible, and make sure that the sickroom is neat and clean. Have a small table near the sick person’s bed and cover it with a clean white cloth. Place the following items on it if you have them, if not, don’t worry, If you don’t have the items available, the Priest will bring what he needs that are essential. However, every Catholic home should have these items and look to obtain them now before some in the home is sick:

  1. A Crucifix, (the Death of Christ is our greatest example and consolation, it also helps in keeping the devil away for the final temptations)

  2. Two blessed candles (a symbol of sanctifying grace and the promise of eternal life -- should be placed nearby so the dying can see the flame)

  3. Holy water (in some sort of vessel, used for blessing and also keeping the devil away)

  4. A small glass of fresh water and a spoon (used for administrating the Holy Eucharist)

  5. A white napkin or cloth (for the use of the sick person)

  6. Several cotton balls (these will be used to wipe the Blessed Oil off of the sick person’s five senses after they have been anointed)

  7. A plate containing a slice of bread or a slice of lemon (the priest will use it to cleanse the Blessed Oil from his thumb afterwards, these will have to be burned or buried afterwards, as the Holy Chrism is on them)

  8. A small bowl of water and a small towel (so the priest can wash his hands after giving Extreme Unction)

The priest should be met at the door by someone with a lighted candle and bell (if possible), who will lead the priest to the sick room. All present should kneel out of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament the Priest will be carrying.

The first three named articles should be easy to procure, since every Catholic family should have a crucifix, blessed candles, and holy water in the home. However, if few or none of these items are available, don’t worry; the priest typically carries miniature versions of these items in his sick call kit.

Note that you can easily buy on Ebay, Etsy and some other Catholic stores what the call a “Sick box” or a “Last Rites Sick Call Crucifix” or a “Sick Call kit” to be used for your family.


The form of the Sacrament is the words and solemn prayer which the priest uses at each anointing: “By this Holy Unction may God pardon thee whatever sins thou hast committed by the evil use of (one of your five senses) sight, smell, hearing, taste or touch.”

3. Prayers for the Dying


O JESUS, I adore Thee as the author of the Holy Sacrament of Extreme Unction, and as the source of its priceless graces, which Thou hast acquired and merited for us by the shedding of Thy Precious Blood. I refer to Thee all the graces Thou didst ever produce in souls through Extreme Unction. I bless Thee a thousand times for all the glory Thou hast given to Thyself by this last Sacrament. I adore the infinite design of Thy Providence in the institution of Extreme Unction and I surrender myself to the accomplishment of Thy divine Plan for me according to Thy holy will. I implore Thee most humbly to grant me the grace of receiving this Sacrament at the end of my life. And if I should not be able to receive it, I implore Thee to produce in my soul, by Thy great mercy, the same graces I would acquire by its reception. 0 Jesus, I adore Thee in the holy anointing of Thy sacred body in the last days of Thy life by St. Mary Magdalen, and at Thy burial by St. Nicodemus and St. Joseph of Arimathea. I offer Thee all the holy unctions ever performed, in this last Sacrament, upon the bodies of all Christians who have received it or ever shall do so, in honor of and homage to the divine anointing of Thy deified body. (Taken from St. John Eudes, Fifth Meditation on Extreme Unction).

When a sick person is known to be dying, relatives and friends should gather around the sick bed in the home or in hospital, and say the following prayers. If a priest is present, he will lead the prayers, if not, a relative or friend should do this. Before beginning the prayers the dying person, room and others present are sprinkled with holy water and a Crucifix placed in the hands of the person dying. A blessed candle can also be lite by the beside, as a symbol of the sick person's Baptism -- a symbol of sanctifying grace and the promise of eternal life -- should be placed nearby so he can see the flame.

See the Resource section below for printable PDF of prayers for the dying.

4. Request a Requiem Mass for the Deceased Soul