The Catholic Way of Dying
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First a definition: death is the separation of the soul from the body, a phenomenon we can’t know has happened with moral certainty until corruption has begun. “Death” does not mean the cessation of breathing or heartbeat, nor does “brain death” mean that death has occured. The soul isn’t “in” the heart, or “in” the lungs, or “in the brain, or “in” any particular part of the body. The treatment of the dying, the apparently dead, and their organs is goverened by this Truth.
Now, a person confronting death should receive the Sacrament of Unction for the possible restoration of body (His will be done) and, most importantly, soul. This is of prime importance and should never be neglected.
Other ways to help prepare the sick person for death are to pray the Holy Rosary (focusing on the Sorrowful Mysteries), the Divine Mercy Chaplet, to St. Joseph (the Patron of the dying) for a holy death, etc. — with the sick person, if possible, or in such a manner that he can hear you. This includes audible prayer for the unconscious; never think that those who are unconscious or in a coma can’t hear you!
The sick person should have a Crucifix (a St. Benedict Medal Crucifix, if possible) in view, perhaps to hold if he can, and should be encouraged to offer up his sufferings and to trust in the love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. A lit blessed candle, as a symbol of the sick person’s Baptism — a symbol of sanctifying grace and the promise of eternal life — should be placed nearby so he can see the flame (unless oxygen tanks are in use, of course!).
You’ll note that the Catholic way of death is different from that of other “Christian” groups. We don’t try to sanitize it and avoid the topic. We don’t speak in euphemisms about it. We don’t take salvation for granted, except the salvation of the souls of baptized children who’ve died before the age of reason (but we, of course, trust in the mercy of God for all others). And we don’t consider it a sin or, at the least, a faux-pas to mourn. While we don’t exactly “sit shiva,” we don’t see jumping up and down and singing happy songs as the natural reaction to having to miss someone until one’s own death. In other words, it’s OK to rend garments and weep; these things are not expressions of a “lack of faith,” but are normal, natural reactions to the evil of death, and to missing someone and realizing that it will be some time before you see him again, Deo volente.
It must be remembered that human sickness and death are great, great evils; they were not “supposed” to be a part of this world, and came about as a consequence of the sin of Adam. Christ, of course, conquered the tomb and gives us the hope of eternal life. Catholics, then, look at death for what it is — an evil — but cling to the hope He offers, trusting in His Divine Mercy while also realizing that He is Just. Christ Himself wept before the dead Lazarus.
Now, the sick person shouldn’t be denied the Truth of his situation any more than those around him should lie to themselves. It is not a loving act to ignore reality out of fear of not wanting to alarm the sick one, and to do so is to imperil his everlasting soul. The dying person needs to face his mortality, to repent, to pray, to receive Unction, to be encouraged to trust totally in Jesus and His forgiveness and love, etc. He must spiritually prepare himself for judgement, and to help him do this is the single greatest act of love you can offer.
Ways of Comforting the Dying and Encouraging Him to Focus on Christ and His Passion
Throughout the dying person’s time in his sick bed, it is good to offer to him short acclamations that encourage a focus on Christ and asking for the prayers of the Saints, especially Our Lady, and St. Joseph, who is the patron of the dying and of a happy death. Below are short prayers to aid those who are close to their end. Periodically whisper these prayers into the dying person’s ears, even if you think he is unconscious:
Into Thy hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.
O Lord Jesus Christ, receive my spirit.
Holy Mary, pray for me.
Holy Mary, Mother of grace, Mother of mercy,
do thou defend me from the enemy,
and receive me at the hour of death.
St. Joseph, obtain for me grace and mercy!
It is recommended, too, to read the 18th and 19th chapters of the Gospel according to St. John to the dying, helping him to focus on Christ.
Commending the Soul to God
Go forth, O Christian soul, ouf of this world, in the Name of God the Father almighty, Who created you; in the Name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, Who suffered for you; in the Name of the Holy Ghost, Who sanctified you, in the name of the holy and glorious Mary, Virgin and Mother of God; in the name of the angels, archangels, thrones and dominions, cherubim and seraphim; in the name of the patriarchs and prophets, of the holy apostles and evangelists, of the holy martyrs, confessors, monks and hermits, of the holy virgins, and of all the saints of God; may your place be this day in peace, and your abode in Holy Sion. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
O merciful and gracious God, O God, according to the multitude of Thy mercies Thou blotteth out the sins of such as repent, and graciously remit the guilt of their past offenses, mercifully regard this Thy servant (handmaid) N.____ and grant him (her) a full discharge from all his (her) sins, who with a contrite heart most earnestly begs it of Thee. Renew, O merciful Father, whatever has been vitiated in him (her) by human frailty, or by the frauds and deceits of the enemy: and associate him (her) as a member of redemption to the unity of the body of the Church. Have compassion, Lord, on his (her) sighs, have compassion on his (her) tears; and admit him (her), who has no hope but in Thy mercy, to the sacrament of Thy reconciliation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I commend you, dear Brother (Sister), to the almighty God, and consign you to the care of Him, whose creature you are, that, when you shall have paid the debt of all mankind by death, you may return to thy Maker, Who formed you from the dust of the earth. When, therefore, your soul shall depart from your body, may the resplendent multitude of the angels meet you: may the court of the apostles receive you: may the triumphant army of glorious martyrs come out to welcome you: may the splendid company of confessors clad in their white robes encompass you: may the choir of joyful virgins reeceive you: and may you meet with a blessed repose in the bosom of the patriarchs. May St. Joseph, the most sweet Patron of the dying, comfort you with a great hope. May Mary, the holy Mother of God, lovingly cast upon you her eyes of mercy. May Jesus Christ appear to you with a mild and joyful countenance, and appoint you a place among those who are to stand before Him for ever. May you be a stranger to all that is punished with darkness, chastised with flames, and condemned to torments. May the most wicked enemy, with all his evil spirits, be forced to give way: may he tremble at your approach in the company of angels, and with confusion fly away into the vast chaos of eternal night. Let God arise and His enemies be dispersed,, and let them that hate Him fly before His Face, let themm vanish like smoke; and as wax that melts before the fire, so let sinners perish in the sight of God; but may the just rejoice and be happy in His presence. May then all the legions of Hell be connfounded and put to shame; and may none of the ministers of Satan dare to stop you in your way. May Christ deliver you from torments, Who was crucified for you.. May He deliver you from eternal death, Who vouchsafed to die for you. May Jesus Christ the Son of the living God place you in the ever-verdant lawns of His Paradise; and may He, the true Shepherd, acknowledge you for one of His flock. May He absolve you from all your sins, and place you at His right hand in the midst of His elect. May you see your Redeemer face to face, and standing always in His presence, behold with happy eyes the most clear Truth. And may you be placed among the company of the blessed and enjoy the sweetness of the contemplation of your God for ever. Amen.
Prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary
May Mary the most merciful Virgin Mother of God, kindest comforter of them that mourn, commend to her Son the soul od this His servant (handmaid), that through her maternal intercession, he (she) may overcome the dread of death and, with her as guide, joyfully reach his (her) longed-for home in the heavenly fatherland.
Prayer to St. Joseph
To thee I have recourse, St. Joseph, Patron of the dying; and to thee, at whose blessed death watchfully assisted Jesus and Mary, by both these dearest pledges I earnestly recommend the soul of this servant (handmaid) in the sufferings of his (her) last agony, that he (she) may by your protection be delivered from the snares of the devil and from eternal death, and may merit to attain everlasting joy. Through the same Christ our Lord.
Prayers Just after Death
After the soul has left the body, the following responsory is said:
R. Subveníte, Sancti Dei, occúrrite, Angeli Dómini, Suscipiéntes ániman ejus, Offeréntes eam in conspéctu Altíssimi. Suscípiat te Christus, qui vocávit te, et in sinum Abrahae Angeli dedúcant te. Suscipiéntes ánimam ejus, Offeréntes eam in conspéctu Altíssimi.
V. Réquiem aetérnam dona ei, Dómine, et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Offeréntes eam in conspéctu Altìssimi.
[Pater noster (silently)]…
V. Et ne nos indúcas in tentatiónem.
R. Sed libera nos a malo.
V. Réquiem aetérnam dona ei, Dómine.
R. Et lux perpétua lúceat ei.
V. A porta ìnferi.
R. Erue, Dómine, ánimam ejus.
V. Réquiescat in pace.
V. Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam.
R. Et clamor meus ad te véniat.
V. Dóminus vobiscum.
R. Et cum spiritu tuo
Orémus. Tibi Dómine, commendámus ánimam fámuli tui (fámulae tuae) N.____, ut defúnctus (defúncta) saéculo tibi vivat: et quae per fragilitátem humánae conversatiónis peccáta commìsit, tu vénia misericordìssime pietátis abstérge. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum.
R. Come to his assistance, all you Saints of God: meet him, al you Angels of God: receiving his soul, offering it in the sight of the Most High. May Christ receive you, who hath called you, and may the Angels conduct you to Abraham’s bosom. Receiving his (her) soul and offering it in the sight of the Most High.
V. Eternal rest give to him (her), Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon him (her). Offering it in the sight of the Most High.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
[Our Father (silently)]…..
V. …and lead us not into temptation.
R. But deliver us from evil.
V. Eternal rest give to him (her), Lord.
R. And let perpetual light shine upon him (her).
V. From the gates of Hell.
R. Deliver his (her) soul, Lord.
V. May he (she) rest in peace.
V. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come to Thee.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.
Let us pray. To Thee, Lord, we commend the soul of your servant (handmaid) N.____, that being dead to this world he (she) may live to Thee: and whatever sins he (she)( has committed in this life through human frailty, do Thou in Thy most merciful goodness forgive. Through Christ our Lord.