OFTEN USED - RARELY UNDERSTOOD
The phrase "the Last Rites of the Catholic Church", is part of the stock in trade of the mainstream media, dragged out to prop up stories of death in a grab for dignity, before they move our attention on - or try to - to Paris Hilton's latest adventure or perhaps the current PR stunt of some drug driven Hollywood starlet.
For the non-Catholic, the phrase conjures up images of sombre mystery. But perhaps too few Catholics fully understand the phrase - particularly in our modern Western society, which is averse to any reflection on death and dying, let alone the religious dimensions of these experiences.
Most Catholics, when pressed about the last rites would fairly readily come up with the sacrament of extreme unction, now euphemistically re-packaged as the anointing of the sick. But, why "rites?"
Considering the circumstances of the dying person, hovering on the brink of Eternity, the Church in her great maternal care for her dying child, draws as fully as she can on the means and powers given her by Our Divine Lord.
The last rites then, are:
Confession - the Sacrament of Penance - given the right disposition, the dying person's sins are forgiven and the person is restored to full communion with Christ and His Church - completely reconciled.
Apostolic Pardon - Relying on Christ's authority ( Whatsoever you shall bind........whatsoever you shall loose upon Earth , it shall be loosed also in Heaven."), the Apostolic Pardon wipes away all of the temporal punishment due to all the sins of the dying person's life, given the proper disposition.
Anointing of the Sick - Extreme Unction is a Sacrament which confers grace, forgives sin, comforts the dying and, not infrequently, preserves the life of the person for a time, providing the opportunity to set to right any unfinished moral obligations before their death.
Profession of Faith - the dying person is given the opportunity to affirm their Faith in preparation for their meeting with Our Lord.
Viaticum - Food for the journey - receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion, becoming one in Him and He becoming One in the dying person, this is the perfect manner in which the faithful Catholic is made ready to complete the sojourn on Earth and enter into Eternal glory.
Considering the true significance of these sacred rites, it is of great concern that in some places the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is being trivialised by being administered to all comers in some churches, on the specious grounds that " we are all sick in one way or another ." These occasions are either the result of appalling Clerical ignorance, idiocy or of a malicious attempt to undermine respect for the Sacrament. Whatever the reason, they should be vigorously opposed by every legitimate means.