QUAERITUR: Why don’t priests use the Apostolic Pardon for the dying?

From a reader:

I understand that the Sacrament of the anointing is not the same as the apostolic pardon. Why is it that some priests do not say those words for this pardon and give both the blessing and the pardon? I had a card with the words on it and told my girlfriend who just died and she told the priest she wanted the apostolic pardon which he did give her and now she is in heaven without purgatory.

Thanks for being concerned about the good death of your friend.  We have to help each other.

We have great confidence that by using Holy Church’s sacraments, and also her authority to bind and loose, the “power of the keys”, we can even at the moment of death be forgiven both all of our sins, in the Sacrament of Penance or Anointing, and all of the temporal punishment due to sin with the Apostolic Pardon.

Of course we propose these things, but God disposes them according to His will.

The Apostolic Pardon, or Benediction, forgives temporal punishment due to our sins, not the sins themselves.  If anything remains from our lives, provided we die in the state of grace, for which we have not done adequate penance, the temporal punishment due to those sins, if we have not done adequate penance in life, is forgiven us through the Apostolic Pardon.  This is why the Apostolic Pardon is often given after the Last Rites of sacraments of penance, anointing, and Viaticum.

The older form of the Apostolic Blessing:

Ego facultate mihi ab Apostolica Sede tributa, indulgentiam plenariam et remissionem omnium peccatorum tibi concedo et benedico te. In nomine Patris, et Filii, + et Spirtus Sancti, Amen. … By the faculty given to me by the Apostolic See, I grant you a plenary indulgence and the remission of all your sins, and I bless you. In the Name of the Father and the Son + and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the newer form I think the words “et benedico te” were removed.

When it comes to forms of Anointing, Penance and the Apostolic Pardon, I always use Latin.

This is a marvelous faculty, given by Holy Church to the priest so that he can grant this remission of temporal punishment and forgive sins.  Used in conjunction with the Last Rites a soul is well prepared to go on to judgment.  Well prepared.  We cannot force God and force souls, but we have confidence that God’s promises to the Church and the Church’s teaching to us are all true.

Why don’t more priests use the Apostolic Pardon?

I am not sure that they don’t.  I know that my priest friends, my circle, as it were, know what it is and would use it.

Other priests?  Not sure.

If they don’t, then I suspect that it is simply because they may not know about it.  It is quite possible that, given the state of seminary training over the last decades, they were never taught about the Apostolic Pardon and perhaps their liberal, discontinuity pastors in their first assignments didn’t use it.  As the old not-quite-Latin adage goes, “nemo dat quod non ‘got‘”.

Another reason they may not use it is that they don’t think the circumstances warrant using it, namely that the person isn’t very close to death after all.

But I think that priests, being generally good men and being involved in the sometimes beautiful, sometimes frightening, always awe-filled moment of a person’s dying breaths and last heartbeats, would want to do everything they could to help the person to his or her judgment.  These are not moments to fool around.  I can’t imagine a priest who would not want to use the Apostolic Pardon appropriately – provided he knew it.

Therefore, it is not a bad idea to have the card with the prayer on it, just in case.

Also, for all you priests and seminarians out there, dig into what the Apostolic Pardon entails.  Don’t be ignorant of this powerful aid for a person’s dying challenge.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. momoften says:

    I know my mother received the Apostolic Pardon from my pastor….he does it for all those who have received last rites. I agree that poor formation in the seminary is the reason why most priests don’t use it, as they don’t know of it, or don’t think of it. Thanks for information behind it, I did not know all of it.

  2. Brad says:

    People need to make this a line item in their living will, even if they think they are surrounded by family, friends and clergy who would know about it or, shall we say, desire to invoke it. In mine I felt the need to clarify that I am talking about “apostolic pardon” and not some other deathbed rite(s).

  3. Phil says:

    Two questions:
    Does any and every priest have the faculty to grant the Pardon by virtue of their ordination, or is special permission needed?
    Second: I know of a priest who gave the Pardon to a dying person and then celebrated the “Mass of Canonization” when that person died. If the priest claims he “knows” the individual is in heaven because he received the pardon, what does this mean for the celebration of the funeral Mass, prayers of petition, black vestments, etc?

  4. albizzi says:

    Often I pray our Lady to intercede on my behalf to get from the Lord the grace to have a priest assisting me the hour I will die, in particular to hear a last confession and be given the last rites.
    In addition I will keep the words of the Apostolic Pardon in the case he doesn’t know them.
    Everybody should pray so.
    How many people would be saved with that Apostolic Pardon since having prayed a few prayers is enough to get the plenary indulgence?
    Sad to ponder how few are those who know it.

  5. Geoffrey says:

    What happens if a person receives the Apostolic Pardon and recovers?

    Also, I am willing to bet that very few of of the laity know about the Apostolic Pardon. Catechesis is needed all around!

  6. Ralph says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful aid. I was unaware of it’s existance. I will try to find a card for each member of my family to carry.

    I know the Church allows a layperson to baptise in case of emergency of impending death. (For example, at the birth of a baby who most likely will not live or a horriable car accident) Is there any such provision for Last Rites or Apostolic Pardon?

  7. Random Friar says:

    In wallet, laminated.

  8. Panterina says:

    Wow, I never heard of the Apostolic pardon before… and I teach catechism. Thank you for sharing, Father. As the reader’s story illustrates, sometimes it takes for the laity to remind the priest. But if don’t know ourselves, well then… it’s time to make a laminated card for the wallet.

  9. Three things need to happen:

    1: All Catholics, clergy and laity, need to be made aware of the Apostolic Pardon.

    2: The Apostolic Pardon needs to become standard operating procedure at every death bed.

    3: We all need to pray daily for final perseverance and protection from sudden and unprovided death.

  10. I can only speak from my own experience. We were not taught about it at the seminary. The only reason I know about it was that our “Death and Dying” class was so deadly dull that I repeatedly read the “Pastoral Care of the Sick” book so that I didn’t have to listen to the instructor.

  11. Speravi says:

    Is there any such provision for Last Rites or Apostolic Pardon?

    There is no provision for laity granting either of these, but there is also not nothing:

    “Priests who minister the sacraments to the Christian faithful who are in a life-and-death situation should not neglect to impart to them the apostolic blessing, with its attached indulgence. But if a priest cannot be present, holy mother Church lovingly grants such persons who are rightly disposed a plenary indulgence to be obtained in articulo mortis, at the approach of death, provided they regularly prayed in some way during their lifetime. The use of a crucifix or a cross is recommended in obtaining this plenary indulgence. In such a situation the three usual conditions required in order to gain a plenary indulgence are substituted for by the condition ‘provided they regularly prayed in some way.'”

    In articulo mortis

    § 1. Sacerdos, qui christifideli in vitae discrimen adducto sacramenta administrat, eidem benedictionem apostolicam cum adiuncta indulgentia plenaria impertire ne omittat.
    § 2. Quodsi haberi nequit sacerdos, pia Mater Ecclesia eidem christifideli rite disposito benigne indulgentiam plenariam in articulo mortis acquirendam concedit, dummodo ipse durante vita habitualiter aliquas preces fuderit; quo in casu Ecclesia supplet tres condiciones ad indulgentiam plenariam de more requisitas.

  12. jesusthroughmary says:

    Is this pardon not already part of the Last Rites as traditionally constituted?

  13. Cath says:

    Just a few months ago our priest made the Apostolic Pardon part of his homily and said don’t forget those two words ever. My son just told me he says it to himself everyday.

  14. Fr Martin Fox says:

    I use the Apostolic Pardon whenever I can.

    “Last Rites” is an amorphous thing in the newer dispensation. If you open up the “Pastoral Care of the Sick” ritual book, it has prayers for all manner of situations. It doesn’t have just one form of “Last Rites”; it has prayers in one section for a continuous celebration of several sacraments: confession, confirmation, anointing and Viaticum. It has, in another section, prayers for the dying.

    In addition–and this will seem obvious once I point it out–not everyone visited fits a standard form. Aside from not everyone needing confirmation, not everyone requests confession; many patients in the hospital cannot receive Viaticum (pity) because of tubes or being unresponsive.

    Also, not all patients who really are in danger of death, are ready to face this. I am open to what other priests say on this: how do you address this? So I don’t always pray the commendation of the dying for everyone I visit.

    Finally, when I administer the Apostolic Pardon, I explain it whenever I can, because otherwise it sounds like sacramental absolution.

  15. Joan A. says:

    I am getting (1) confused as to what is actually meant by “last rites” and (2) why I and apparently others including priests have never heard of this Apostolic Pardon. Below is the Wikipedia explanation (one most people would look up). Note they stress if there is Anointing, there normally would NOT be the Pardon. They make it sound like a “special circumstance” or permission must exist. There are references to the little book the priest uses.

    Twice I have been called to an urgent death situation and begged by relatives to “get a priest” or “get the last rites”. I don’t even know what the priest did, I led him to the deathbed with immediate family and stepped out. I do anticipate being in similar situations in the future.

    Now that I see there is this Pardon, naturally I would want to ask the priest to use it. However, it looks like one of these situations where an uninformed priest may refuse or argue. It looks like he may have good reason, from the Wikipdedia version anyway.

    I have been in horrendous situations due to the incompetence of hospital chaplains and staff – the family in tears, and everyone looking to me to get and direct a priest, a stranger too. What do I say to the priest that is concise and respectful so he knows what to do and I am not overstepping? Do I have to start carrying around a “Pastoral Care” book in my purse?

    In the Catholic Church, the Apostolic Pardon is an indulgence given for the remission of temporal punishment due to sin. The Apostolic Pardon is given by a priest, usually along with Viaticum (i.e. reception of Communion by a dying person, see Pastoral Care of the Sick, USA numbers 184, 187, 195, 201). It is not usually given as part of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. However if the Anointing of the Sick is given with Viaticum, in exceptional circumstances or an emergency, it may be given then. (See Pastoral Care of the Sick, USA numbers 243, 265) Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Apostolic Pardon was called the Apostolic Blessing.

  16. JP Borberg says:

    My condolences to the bloke who asked the question and my prayers for him and his missus. Sounded like a happy death, which is a huge consolation, but that still doesn’t mean it’s easy.

  17. Fr Martin Fox says:


    I think what the wiki article is trying to convey is that the anointing is frequently given in situations that are not, “at death’s door” situations; and thus would be cases when the Apostolic Pardon would not readily given.

    As I tried to explain earlier in the thread, many times I visit someone at the hospital, and folks are definitely not thinking about “last rites” or being at death’s door. If so, then the matter is simple, you do all the prayers for the dying. But here’s my dilemma: I walk in, and I think, “this person could be dying”; but no one else is acknowledging that.

  18. mjd says:

    As I arrived into my mother’s ICU room, she was thrashing from side to side and in a bad state of mind. I was upset she was not at the Catholic hospital nearby. Before I flew in, I called the parish that was closet to the hospital; I was told a priest never came. Through divine providence, the secretary, who previously worked at a parish run by the Norbertines, called for a priest. Fr. Michael gave the Apostolic Blessing. She died the next week, on Friday afternoon, as I was praying the second sorrowful mystery. I am forever grateful that God sent this holy priest.

  19. Bryan Boyle says:

    What’s that old Nike commercial tag? “Just do it”?

    I think that applies here.

    Personal note: I’ve had close friends who I’ve visited in the hospital, full of life and laughter during the visit, apparently well on the mend, and receiving a phone call on the way home from visiting them, apparently, without warning, without notice, died. Just like that. The sawbones said they were on their way to recovery. They were looking forward to getting out and back to independent existence. We propose, God disposes. We do not know the day or the hour, and the next one is not guaranteed.

    Second…I was in the position, a couple years ago, of being on the receiving end of the sacrament of the sick. You can bet I asked, on the gurney, on the way into the operating room, for that pardon. Luckily, it was a Catholic hospital, luckily the triage nurse understood, luckily the priest was there in moments (and luckily, while the condition was life threatening, it was not a moment of being in extremis…so, medicine for the body could pause to take care of the soul.)

    I’m thinking, in moments like this, storming the gates of heaven through the generous pouring out of all the sacraments of our Faith upon a suffering person by a priest would be the least they would consider doing, and, in fact, would be derelict in not doing so. I know, in looking back, this simple gesture in healing the pains in my soul enabled me to face the more temporal necessities with calmness, and, indeed, trust in the skill of the man wielding the knife. So, fathers, Just Do It.

  20. Rick says:

    This is taken from the book (2006) “Manual of Indulgences” by the USCCB (page 54)


    1. A priest who administers the sacraments to someone in danger of death should not fail to impart the apostolic blessing to which a plenary indulgence is attached.

    2. If a priest is unavailable, Holy Mother Church benevolently grants to the Christian Faithful, who are duly disposed, a plenary indulgence to be acquired at the point of death, provided they have been in the habit of reciting some prayers during their lifetime; in such case, the Church supplies for the three conditions ordinarily required for a plenary indulgence.

    3. In the latter case, the use of a crucifix or a cross in obtaining the plenary indulgence is commendable.

    4. The faithful can obtain this plenary indulgence at the hour of death, even if they already acquired a plenary indulgence on the same day.

    [Thanks for posting that! That was very helpful.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  21. virmagnussum says:

    While I know the conversation pertains to what is done in the Latin church, I actually had a conversation about this with a very solid Ukrainian Catholic priest of mine. I asked if the Ukrainian last rite formula included theology about a plenary indulgence, or the theological equivalent, and he was unsure how to answer the question.

    He said that the Eastern theology was more preoccupied with keeping the person in the divine life as opposed to expiating temporal punishment of sin. The formula for the dying included several absolutions and requests that this person be made one with Christ, analogous, I suppose, with the plenary indulgence, but certainly not using the same words or concepts that the Latin rite uses.

    I haven’t investigated the Ukrainian rites for the dying myself, however, I would be curious if the blessings conferred within the full set of rites would have the same effect. My hunch is yes.

  22. Joan A. says:

    Fr. Martin Fox,

    First, thank you for helping me understand that. Second, if you don’t mind my being forward and offering you the opinion of a fairly well-informed (I read Fr. Z!) layperson, regarding your “dilemma”:

    Always do the prayers for the dying (all of them if possible) or other suitable prayers that YOU believe are necessary or a good idea. Don’t ask anyone what they want if it’s clear who the sick/dying person is; hardly anyone understands these things anyway so just begin. Simply go about saying the prayers in your normal priestly manner, and 99% chance no one is going to stop you, question you, or possibly even listen to you. The dying and those around are confused, distraught, and if they are Catholic and have asked for a priest, they are not then going to start questioning particulars. The vast majority of people will feel, “The priest knows the right thing to do.” Also, there’s a some chance the person dying is on drugs that impair cognition.

    If someone is “in denial” and challenges you using prayers for the dying, how about saying, “I’m not sure when I’ll next be here, would you allow me to give this person the fullest blessings of the Church right now, just on the chance they don’t eventually pull through?”

    God bless you.

  23. RJS007 says:

    I think we need to be careful here. You can’t just go through your whole life hurting people or missing Mass and then suddenly near death receive a rightful annointing of The Sick or with This Apostolic Pardon I never heard of but will accept for now until more research on my part is made and say this kind of person skates right into the bosom of The Heavenly Court. That is wishy washy Catholicism and I don’t buy it. Again, we are diminishing the basis here for The Doctrine of Purgatory if we go about presenting things that have to do with erasing one’s “Temporal actions” that rightlfully need cleaning according to one’s DEEDS “whether in this life or the life to come”.. To Bind And Loose does not mean there is no more consequence offered for sin. This is absurd. I will research this matter but I cannot accept something so blatantly unclear and not mentioned in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. If this is a valid act, so be it, but to presume on God to obey us men (Priests) for not allowing a soul to rightfully undergo a purification after death is rather presumptious to me.

    I will defer to Fr. Z for now, but this needs more careful study. (This Apostolic Pardon).

  24. Widukind says:

    I agree with Fr. Fox, that when walking into a sickroom each situation will be found to have its differences. Some judgements have to made quickly. Sometimes I err, and most of the time I probably do things just to make sure all the bases are covered. A difficulty comes when a person has awareness and is somewhat responsive, do you offer confession? I have found that after clearing the room, etc., that although the person has given some indication that they would like confession, the person says that they cannot remember anything to confess or seem confused about it and says nothing. When I sense any disminshment in thinking or awareness with a person, I have now been asking them directly to be sorry for their sins, without a confession as such, and then giving them absoltion. The dilemna is, at what point does oral confession (the speaking of sins) becomes a burden to the one suffering illness? How clear does one have to be in mind for it to be necessary to speak ones sins? Can you give them the benefit of the doubt and give them absolution?
    As to the Apostolic Pardon. I always give this at the end of the rites, and in which I have at the beginning absolved the person. I do this whenever there is the knowledge that the person is in serious trouble and is probably dying. I have given it in at least one situation a couple of times, due to the person taking a very long long time to expire and the family’s hysteria when a slight change in condition for the worse rattled them. The sad thing is, in the present rite, the pardon is divided into two parts, as in a sense either part could be used by itself. It doe not make sense at all. So, I use both options together.

  25. Father G says:

    I was taught the Apostolic Pardon at the seminary so I do use it…in fact, I used it today.

  26. Where may I obtain a card of the Apostolic Pardon? I would like to give several cards.

  27. RJS007 says:

    I researched various Catholic Articles of Faith including The Section in The Catholic Catechism of the Catholic Church and this term “Apostolic pardon” is not even mentioned. As I researched further, The catholic Catechism Always pointed out that forthe reception of The Annointing, the person has to be ALIVE and that while “Forgiven is still accountable to God concerning Temporal Punishments due to sin”.. So sorry folks. As they say, this is just not a definituon of The Catholic Church and while maybe it may be offered in conjunction with a Bishop’s approval, it does not in any way take away the need for Contrition before or after death. The person has to give an expiation. This is fully researched in The Catechism and applies to any Priest here. Sooo… There is no such thing as an Official Apostolic Pardon. Please Fr. Z. and Frs All….Do not confuse the faithful more than they are already. If I am wrong, i will stand corrected. But my citations here are clear and concise. There is no magical incantation to take away Temporal Punishment. Sorry to dissappoint you folks. Get back to the already aforementioned display of contrition and teach your people Old Fashioned PENANCE. So Knight of Mary, no such Charism exists by The Priests. But, they can always offer you the Annointing of The Sick. The rest is up to you.

  28. RJS007 says:

    The Apostolic Pardon (or blessing) is an indulgence given in situations of danger of death, usually after the absolution of the sacrament of penance. The focus is on the remission of temporal punishment due to sin. The words of the prayer explain the meaning of the act: “Through the holy mysteries of our redemption may almighty God release you from all punishments in this life and in the life to come. May he open to you the gates of paradise and welcome you to everlasting joy.” Or “By the authority which the Apostolic See has given me, I grant you a full pardon and the remission of all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

    The Handbook of Indulgences #28 states: “Priests who minister the sacraments to the Christian faithful who are in a life-and-death situation should not neglect to impart to them the apostolic blessing, with its attached indulgence. But if a priest cannot be present, holy mother Church lovingly grants such persons who are rightly disposed a plenary indulgence to be obtained in articulo mortis, at the approach of death, provided they regularly prayed in some way during their lifetime. The use of a crucifix or a cross is recommended in obtaining this plenary indulgence. In such a situation the three usual conditions required in order to gain a plenary indulgence are substituted for by the condition ‘provided they regularly prayed in some way.’

    Ps. The words above “MAY”, do not mean “WILL” and giving a “FULL PARDON” for the REMISSION of SINS does not say anin the prayer anything that can mean a free ride into heaven without the avoidance of Temporal Punishment due to sin. Everything is dependant upon the Soul and It’s Creator after The Annointing and this addditional prayer.

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