ASK FATHER: Last prayer at the point of death

strigils smFrom a reader…


Forgive the morbid nature of my query, but with the nature of the world today (and the mindset of an undertaker) a question has been on my mind. If one were to know death was imminent, what would be the very best prayer to recite with one’s final breath? Thank you for the daily edification you provide!

That is a good question.

I think that whatever prayer was uttered with sincerity and hope would be treated well.

However, for my part, I – a poor sinner – would beg for God’s mercy.  Especially, invoke the Holy Name.

plenary indulgence is granted to those at the hour of death who devoutly invoke the holy Name of Jesus.

My Jesus, mercy!

Save me, O Lord!

Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

Holy Mary, pray for me.

Saint Joseph, pray for me.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, help me.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.

That said, I think many of us die the way we live.  Just as soldiers and athletes drill and drill and drill so that actions and reactions are nearly automatic in times of extreme stress, we all have to have habits of prayer which will kick in even in that solemn moment, when we may be in pain, afraid, in duress.

The soldier’s lot and the athlete’s striving are images of the Christian life.  We strive for the crown of glory at the of the struggle, Greek agon, the final “agony” we must all face.  Praying often short intense prayers during the day, every day, in little nooks and corners of our day or in the midst of even boring or of strenuous activities will help us to pray in the same way in the moments before we take our last breath, our hearts stop, our souls separate from our bodies, and we go to God, Christ the Just Judge, King of Fearful Majesty.

last rites extreme unction anointing viaticum 02Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis:
gere curam mei finis.

I meekly and humbly pray,
[my] heart is as crushed as the ashes:
perform the healing of mine end.

Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla,
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:

Tearful will be that day,
on which from the ash arises
the guilty man who is to be judged.
Spare him therefore, God.

Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem. Amen.

Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.

Dona mihi requiem!

If we develop these habits of prayer, it could be that, when the time comes, we won’t be so afraid and passing into the next life will bring longing and relief.

Dear readers… GO TO CONFESSION.

My Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Akita says:

    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

    I think this was the prayer of Father Groschel.

  2. Federico says:

    Act of contrition.

  3. Wirkes says:

    What in the world is that a picture of?? It almost scared me to death…so I uttered all the prayers suggested. But what is it? Fr> Wirkes

  4. Wirkes says:

    Many of the English martyrs cried out “Jesu,Jesu,Jesu” as they were being martyred. I pray I may do the same. Fr. Wirkes

  5. Giuseppe says:

    1) Act of Contrition
    2) Hail Mary
    3) “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”

  6. stephen c says:

    Many years ago I was driving in a small car that, after it spun out on an icy road, was broadsided right at the driver’s door by a truck going full speed at 55 MPH (the other driver later told me he applied the brakes as soon as he could but, as I said, it was an icy road – in Wisconsin in winter – and his truck, carrying a trailer loaded with firewood, did not slow down at all between the time he saw my car and the time he and his fully loaded truck hit my car). For the record, I later learned that the survival/fatality rate for such an incident between two cars was 50 percent at 35 miles an hour – the truck, with a gross weight double that of an average car, was going 55 miles an hour. Right before the truck hit, I realized I would likely be dead in a few moments (the prediction was obviously not correct, but the thought that the probability that I would die was, statistically, very correct). Having recently gone to confession, and having prayed much in the previous days, I did not scream or yell with fear, of course; I thought something like “oh well” (to tell the truth, I think that the phrase “oh, rats” for some reason came to mind…I have always felt fonder than most people of rats since that night). I thought of Mary and Jesus (surprisingly, I do not remember thinking at first of God or the Holy Spirit, except as the Ones who sent Mary or Jesus – even though I have always felt closer to them than to Mary or Jesus, maybe because Mary and Jesus had always had devoted relatives and friends in this world and I never did – if I did, they were not as obvious about it as the friends of Mary and Jesus were )(…well, I actually did, but that is another story). As Father Groeschel explained years later, sometimes God wants us to leave this earth, and that is sometimes, when we are old, an offer worth taking; I hope that the next time death approaches I am able to feel as safe as I did then. Anyway, the point of this comment is that I did not have time for an articulated prayer;maybe a better Christian than me would have found the time in those five or six seconds, , but I didn’t.

  7. ce lathrop says:

    There is no better prayer than the Lord’s Prayer, by which all other prayers are compared. But another good one is the Jesus Prayer, beloved of Eastern Christians.

  8. IloveJesus says:

    I used to have a bad habit of saying, “Oh sh**” when I would slam on my brakes. :/

    Because I didn’t want those to be my last words I made a concerted effort to change that to,
    “Praise Jesus!” :)

  9. IloveJesus says:

    Oh, I forgot to add, that after reading the accounts of many martyrs, I decided that my favorite line if I were before a firing squad would be,

    “I forgive you. Jesus loves you!”

  10. sarto2010 says:

    The prayer we were taught at school:

    “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.
    Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.
    Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul in peace with you.”

  11. Imrahil says:

    What our reverend host writes is a good prayer.

    If there is some time, I’d precede it by Actus contritionis (as contained, e. g., in the CCCC), Our Father, Hail Mary and have it followed by a Glory Be. Personally I would choose the Act of Contrition if that is the only prayer for which there is left time.

    And if I should have my wits and humour with me, I’d change the second part of the Hail Mary to “… pray for me sinner now in the hour of my death”.

  12. VexillaRegis says:

    Bl. Niels Steensen’s (Nicolaus Steno) last words were: Jesus sis mihi Jesus! (Jesus, be my Saviour!)
    I highly recommend you to read about this great saint.

  13. APX says:

    If one is about to die a quick, violent, unprepared for death, one will say at the moment of death whatever they’re in the habit of saying. For some, that will be expletives, for others something of a natural level, and for a few, it will be something of a supernatural level.

  14. Henry Edwards says:

    In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum
    “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

  15. JARay says:

    I think that we all should get into the habit of repeating some short invocative prayer. That we we get into a habit and that we stand a good chance of actually repeating that short prayer, if, and when, it does happen. I learned the small invocation listed by Sarto 2010, as a child at school but in an emergency I do not think that it will be possible to say all of that.
    Maybe…”Jesu mercy, Mary help” will fit my needs.

  16. Mary Ann says:

    Thy will be done…

  17. padredana says:

    I’m very curious about that photo. What exactly is that?

  18. jameeka says:

    padredana and Fr Wirkes: I don’t know how to do on PCs, but if you right-click on the image of some of Fr Z’s photos (on a Mac) there is a label. The label of this one is “Strigils”—you can look it up, and there is also an “aryballos”. This image appears to come from The British Museum. I believe this has to do with the theme of “agon” in Father Z’s post.

  19. jaykay says:

    One very brief prayer I’ve seen in the (many)memorial cards in my mother’s 1930s Missal (which she used right up to end-1969 and got annoyed when we kids disturbed the ribbons etc.) was “Jesus mercy, Mary help”. I think it was included as a reminder to people when in extremis, possibly subitanea but hopefully not improvisa, to gasp it with their last breath. Just as a reminder, and in those days people saw a LOT more sudden death than we do now. I hope to God I don’t forget it.

  20. gracie says:

    Henry Edwards,

    When Hurricane Sandy hit, my house was in its scheduled path. I did all the survival preparations I could, stayed up until 1 a.m. – listening to the tree trunks moving to the gale force winds – and realized what happened to me was going to be beyond my power to control. I said my prayers, but still – try falling asleep while waiting to see if a tree is going to crash through your house – and closed my eyes wondering how I was going to get through this. Suddenly I heard the words, “Into your hands I commend my spirit” in my head. (I’d like to say I put them there but I didn’t – my mind was totally in a “waiting to see if I was going to make it” mode.) I was startled but for some reason I knew I shouldn’t take it to mean I was necessarily going to die – in other words, I wasn’t being told what the outcome of this night was going to be – but one way or the other God would be with me and even if I died my life was going to continue, if you get my drift. In other words, I was going to be okay either way. I can’t explain it better than that. It took my fear away and I fell off to sleep. The next thing I knew, it was morning and the wind had died down. And yes, 3 large trees did fall on my property – 2 of my own and 1 of my neighbors – his tree landed just inches from my bedroom window.

  21. Kent Wendler says:

    Why wait? Pray now, as a regular intention, that the Holy Spirit will grant you in this life everything you need to fully cooperate with the Father’s Will for you.

  22. Wirkes says:

    Thank you Jameeka: Now I know what a Strigil is…..I learned a lot during my google search about it. Kudos to our wonderful FrZ…who never ceases to amaze! FrWirkes

  23. pannw says:

    A dear friend of mine and I were having some sort of deep conversation a few months ago and somehow we got on a similar topic. Her suggestion if faced with unexpected death with little time to prepare was to follow the lead of the good thief and pray, “Lord, remember me.” I try to say it often, in hopes it will come to me in a split second when most needed.

  24. Father K says:

    It would depend on the circumstances, but ideally I would say, ‘Father, I am sorry for all my sins. Into your hands, Lord I commend my spirit.’
    Note that we pray ‘from a sudden and unprovided death, O Lord deliver us.’ A sudden death can be a blessing. My own mother died that way and I was able anoint her literally as she was dying, so it was a sudden but by no means an unprovided death.

  25. Martin_B says:

    The intruments in the first picture are called “strigilis”.

    In ancient times they were used to scrap off dirt, dust, sweat an oil from the skin.
    As in this case, they were often stored together with a vessel of oil or a similar substance.

  26. DonL says:

    The “Glory Be…” comes to mind. it’s fast, and focuses on praising God, not me. Dying to self at the moment of death is praiseworthy, no?

  27. Gaz says:

    I’ve long thought that I hope I have the time and strength to pray a devout ‘Confiteor…’. Interesting that in my copy of “Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies” (1948) there is the ‘Profession of Faith to be made by a Dying Bishop.’ It’s the Creed of Pope Pius IV which features in a useful post on this blog. Learning this made me do a bit more homework and I now consider that candidates for RCIA should have a run-through of the Creed of Pope Paul VI (which I consider to be a gem of said papacy and helpful feature in this blog).

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