My father-in-law recently passed away. Before he died, he received Last Rites and a confession, but my wife is concerned about the validity of the confession. He suffered from a couple of strokes before he died, which took away his ability to speak. Can one make a valid confession without being able to speak? Your thoughts would be appreciated.
I think you can all be at ease. If the man received “Last Rites”, by which I think you mean that he was also anointed after being given the opportunity to confess, he was probably in pretty good shape to meet his Lord.
In normal circumstances, that is when a person is not dying, non-verbal communication is okay for making a confession. If a person has to write something, or indicate only by signs, perhaps as responses to questions, that’s okay. That is valid matter for the sacrament.
If a person is dying, however, it is possible to absolve the person even if he is unable to speak. The priest can ask for some sort of non-verbal sign. “Are you are truly sorry for all your sins? Do you love God and ask for His grace and mercy? Nod your head… squeeze my hand… blink your eyes….” Priests know what to do in these cases.
Even if the person cannot respond, the Sacrament of Anointing also has the power to forgive sins which the dying person cannot confess.
I think we all remember the moving scene in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited with the priest finally gets in to see Lord Marchmain as he is dying. [I added a video clip, below.]
The last moments of life are mysterious. It is hard to know what goes on during those last breaths between the soul and God. I imagine that stupendous graces are offered. We trust in His great mercy.
That said, dear readers, it is likely that most people die much as they have lived.
We develop habits throughout a lifetime. We accustom ourselves to turn to God to ask for mercy or, on the other hand, not to think much about God at all.
Do not… do not… presume that God’s mercy will be given to you automatically, without you doing your part to prepare for your own death.
Do not be presumptuous.
We have this lifetime to prepare for the moment when we come before the Lord and receive His judgment.
Foster habits of prayer and of life which will make you more and more conscious of God’s love and mercy.
In our death, His justice we are going to get whether we want it or not. But, in this life, His mercy is always there for the asking.
Listen, people. You may die suddenly, in a place and time that you cannot anticipate. Death can come from any direction and in any moment. Read the papers and watch the news. It is always somebody else… until it is YOU.
For good reason we Catholics have for centuries prayed in the Litany:
“A subitanea et improvisa morte… From a sudden and unprovided death, spare us O Lord.”
A sudden death can be a blessing. A sudden and unprovided death – death without recourse to the Sacraments – is a frightening prospect.
When it is your time, you may not be anywhere near a priest. Got that?
Examine your consciences and, regularly, …
GO TO CONFESSION.