ASK FATHER: Can a dying Catholic receive the Apostolic Pardon if there is no priest present?

From a reader…


Can a Catholic receive the Apostolic Pardon if he/she dies without a priest present. I read somewhere that, even in the absence of a priest, the Catholic Church grants a plenary indulgence to all Catholics at the moment of death if they are disposed to receive it.

This is a very good question.  Thank you for asking.

We know about, or ought to know about, the Apostolic Pardon, or Blessing, before death.  This is a remission of temporal punishment due to sin for one who is properly disposed (in the state of grace).  Thus it is to be imparted by the priest primarily after sacramental absolution and anointing.   The Apostolic Pardon can be given once during the crisis.  If the person recovers, the Pardon could be given once again if there is a relapse.

HOWEVER… what if a priest is not available?

That happens, as we have seen to our great sadness in this time of COVID-1984 Theatre.

Just as an aside, if the whole COVID thing has in fact been overblown to keep people in the state of fear, and therefore people died (for whatever reason) without the sacraments because priests were forbidden access… imagine for a moment the implications for the judgment of those who were responsible for whipping up the terror and causing the restrictive policies.  I digress.

The Church provides for those who are dying when there is no priest.  A person who is in articulo mortis, near death, can obtain a plenary indulgence provided that they had a habit of prayer in their lifetime.  The use of a crucifix to look at is very helpful to obtain this indulgence.

If this seems a little vague, that’s okay.  There is flexibility here in that, often, at the point of death, people are unable to speak, and so they cannot perform the work of a vocal prayer.  However, if they had the habit of prayer, especially certain prayers – think of the daily Rosary, praying the Angelus or Regina Caeli as a regular daily practice, praying the canonical hours – that stands in the place of the prayers that the dying person certainly would have offered he if could have.

So, it is habitual prayer that substitutes.

This one of the reasons why I have, on this blog and in preaching, tried to get the point across that we should “practice” dying, through mortifications and prayer.

If we want to be good at playing the piano, we have to practice.  If we want to be good at just about anything we have to apply ourselves so that we get good at it and it becomes easier to do.   Virtues, for example, are habits that we must develop through repetition and effort.  If something is hard to perform, we don’t have the virtue.

In a similar way, if we want to make a good death, we should “practice” those aspects of dying that we can control: daily penances, reflections on death while healthy and active, prayers to God for a good death by whatever means He wills, prayer for the dying and the dead, etc.

Think about this, and the fact that one say you are going to die.

Does this issue of the plenary indulgence at the point of death make you consider establishing regular habits of prayer?

Remember, the priest might not get there in time.

Moreover, because the priest might not be right there when it is time…


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Pingback: ASK FATHER: Can a dying Catholic receive the Apostolic Pardon if there is no priest present? – Via Nova Media

  2. Also make the Five First Saturdays and the Nine First Fridays. One of the promises of the Nine First Fridays is not dying without the Sacraments.

  3. MaterDeicolumbae says:

    To know how much our Holy Mother Church loves us and has so much kindness, compassion, and gentleness re our salvation brings me to tears…

  4. Pingback: Can a dying Catholic receive the Apostolic Pardon if there is no priest present? | Catholicism Pure & Simple

  5. Tradster says:

    Father, please clarify an important point about this. According to the USCCB Manual of Indulgences, this special plenary indulgence does have an important qualifier: “12.2 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, etc.” It is unclear to me exactly what is intended by “duly disposed”. The assumption is one must be in a state of grace without mortal sin, but does it also mean that the dying person must have the desire for the pardon in his mind? Having sufficient time and/or presence of mind when dying is not something anyone can assume he will have.

    [That’s why I wrote, above, about the habits of prayer. Take a look again. Think about this, too. At Mass, if a priest has the moral intention to consecrate a ciborium of hosts, place on the corporal for that reason, even if he isn’t thinking about the ciborium at the moment of the consecration, it is nevertheless consecrated.]

  6. Josephus Corvus says:

    Tradster – I seem to recall reading that for indulgences in general all that is necessary is to have the general desire to gain an indulgence – not that you need to specifically think about it before doing an act. That way you are covered if you perform an indulgenced act, but didn’t know it was indulgenced. Similarly, I would suspect that knowing about the pardon, you would always have the desire taken care of even if your time came suddenly.

  7. Josephus Corvus says:

    The one thing that I’m confused about is that it seems like most readers of Fr. Z’s blog qualify for the plenary indulgence (practicing Catholics, good prayer life, desire for the pardon, etc.). That seems to indicate that many of us will be either going straight up or straight down. That just doesn’t seem right, not to be expecting a stop in Purgatory. What am I missing?

  8. Let’s not make too many assumptions or presumptions. We are all works in progress. However, establishing good habits, real habits, of prayer really will help at crunch time.

  9. Kathleen10 says:

    Fr. Z, I know I’ve said this before, but I just hate to think of people missing this.
    When Catholics go to Confession and are in a state of grace, or when people do receive the Apostolic pardon at the end of their lives, it is such a tremendous consolation to the loved ones left behind, who can at least rest assured their beloved had a very good chance at going to heaven. It is a disturbing thing to have to wonder, where are they.

  10. APX says:

    One of the promises of the Nine First Fridays is not dying without the Sacraments.

    My grandma was very faithful to keeping the First Nine Fridays…she died in her nursing home at the start of the pandemic without the sacraments.

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