ASK FATHER: Dying man hasn’t asked for sacraments. Can he be anointed?

Extreme UnctionFrom a reader…


We have a question and prayer need for a man dying of cancer. He is a remarried Catholic without an annulment who doesn’t receive Communion.

Not sure if he attends Mass. His daughter-in-law’s pastor said he could receive the Anointing of the Sick and Communion because there was an exception in the case of the dying. The patient has not requested the sacraments or has agreed to a visit from the priest.

However Father said that Canon Law allowed for an exception in these cases. So assuming that this ill man would not be living in sinful actions on his death bed, if he desired to go to confession would that be sufficient to receive Communion? Second question, could he receive Communion if he did not express a desire to confess?

The pastor offering the sacraments to this man is a canon lawyer as well.

A Mass has been offered for this man.

Thank you for having Mass said for this man.  Why wait until a person dies to have Masses said?

While it is true that in case of danger of death there is a great deal of flexibility given in the administration of sacraments, the sacraments – and the persons own will – are to be respected.

The Sacrament of Anointing, is one the sacraments “of the living”, that is, they are to be received by one who is in the state of grace.  If a person is compos sui and make his own decision and understand what is going on, he must be given a chance to make his confession before being anointed.   Otherwise, if his communication is impeded, he should indicate by signs and respond to the priest’s questions.  If a person is not sui compos, cannot respond, and isn’t aware of what is going on, such a person can be anointed and, in that case, the sacrament can also act for the forgiveness of sins.

He he says he doesn’t want to be anointed, doesn’t want the priest, etc., … well… there it is.

The same is said, of course, for Communion, as Viaticum or not.  If this person is not in the state of grace, if he is able he should make his confession before receiving any sacrament.

Of course danger of death can accelerate things greatly, but, if a person is able by signs or speech to indicate at least sorrow for sins and love of God, that should first be ascertained.

Everyone: GO TO CONFESSION!  You don’t know when it will be your turn.  Today?  Tomorrow?  It will happen.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Geoffrey says:

    This cannot help me but think of Brideshead Revisited and its great ending…

  2. JKnott says:

    Thank you Father. This is very helpful.

  3. JGavin says:

    Agree with Geoffrey, the fist thought that came to mind was that scene. (read the book it is even better). I am reminded of an experience as a second year resident. I was approached by the wife of one of my patients. She was not Catholic. He was and was remarried to her. She knew, I surmise, that this issue of receiving the Sacraments was, at some level important to him. She did not want a priest to approach her husband outright.He was close to death. She thought it would frighten him. Instead she asked me to help. I spoke with the priest. We/he/me devised a plan that it would be routine rounding for the priest who would visit the patient and ask matter of factly would he like the sacraments. It worked. I do not remember if he died soon after. This was 30 years ago. I ahve always believed that at these moments the power of Mercy and forgiveness is all encompassing and supreme. I know it will have stripped away all his transgressions and prepared him for eternity.

  4. MikeM says:

    Relatedly, it’s worth ensuring that those who could be in decision-making roles should one become unresponsive/incompetent/etc. know of one’s desire to receive the sacraments.

  5. A dear friend of mine recently went through this. The entire family fell away from the Church due to the influence of the mother who turned vehemently evangelical and died out of the Church. Although my friend, unbelievably, returned to the Church, her dying father remained resolute in his denial of the Faith. “Oh I am fine”, he’d respond to offers of getting a confessor. My friend was in great anguish. We brainstormed scenarios as he languished, awaiting the end. Was he in his right mind? Did he really understand the eternal effects of this decision? Is there a Miraculous Medal pinned to his mattress? Could a priest visit and talk with him? The dad wanted nothing. Nor did he want a Catholic funeral – nothing like that.

    In order to help my friend accept the choices of the Free Will of her beloved dad, I finally told her, “Well, when someone decides to apostatize, there isn’t much you can do. This is his choice after a long life making this same decision over and over”.

    Although the Church exhorts us to try everything we can to bring a soul back at this critical time, we can’t make anybody a saint – they have to do it themselves.
    Additionally, wasn’t the Church very clear, that after death, apostates should not get a Catholic funeral or even be buried in blessed ground? As rough as that sounds, this practice is non-ambiguous and clearly demonstrates that our decisions have eternal repercussions that also can grievously increase the pain of the living.

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