Good morning Father Angelo,
I am a nurse who works in a hospice in Trentino; I am often in touch with people at the end of their life.
Sometimes it happens that, because of sudden change of clinical conditions, there is not enough time to contact the priest of our city, therefore the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick cannot be administered. Other times, relatives ask to wait for their kinsman to become unconscious, perhaps because they are afraid to discuss and talk with him about the imminent death, so that at the end there is no time for administering the last rites. . I believe that people should be made more aware regarding the steps that should be taken in order to provide spiritual support to their dears, but I realize that unfortunately this is not always possible.
Anyway, the focus of my letter is not his one.
I did some research on whether or not it would be possible for a layman to act as a priest or a bishop administering the last rites; I understood that it is not possible since it would invalidate the sacrament.
Moreover, this act would be a crime of simulation in administration of the Sacrament, punishable under can. 1379 CIC (see can. 1443 CCEO).
In those cases where there is not the possibility to administer the sacrament, how can I help to satisfy the patient’s spiritual needs? Even if I am not a practicing Catholic, I still recognize this need as a basic one.
Within the limits of organizational possibilities of assistance, because of very short time, do you think that a moment of prayer, once the impossibility to administer the sacrament is recognized, could be anyway a moment of consolation for the person? And could it have a religious meaning for the “salvation of soul” ( I cannot explain myself better).
Thank you for the attention. I warmly greet you.
Answer from the priest
1. I am happy for the question you ask yourself, because this is really an act of Christian charity.
There is not a more beautiful act of charity than offering God to our neighbors, helping them to obtain Eternal Salvation. .
2. When it is not possible to contact relatives, and the dying person is already unconscious, you can inform the priest, so that he can give his blessing.
This blessing is really beneficial because it dispels the demons and helps make the moment of the death more peaceful.
The blessing is a good that no one rejects.
If the dying person does not show signs against the faith and the religion, the priest can give him the sacramental absolution sub conditione.
Sub conditione (under condition) means that the priest gives the sacramental absolution to the dying person under the condition that the person has called upon God from the bottom of his heart and has repented of his sins.
The absolution bestows the sacramental grace and perfects repentance when still imperfect or insufficient.
Giving the absolution sub conditione means that the sacrament is not exposed to uselessness (that is, to a profanation) because in the case in which the dying penitent is not contrite, the absolution has no effect.
4. Give the absolution to an unconscious dying, and stay close to him while praying, it does not demand a level of exposure that would appear inappropriate to other people as if the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick were also administered.
Nevertheless, the priest has the responsibility to decide whether it is advantageous to administer the last rites sub conditione.
5. A layman cannot administer the Anointing of the sick, because this sacrament remits mortal sins, and only ordained ministers have this divine power.
As you wrote, a layman who administered this sacrament would commit a serious profanation, punished by the Church.
6. When it is not possible to call a priest, what should we do?
We should pray.
There is a prayer by means of which Jesus, in a private revelation not rejected by the Church, promised a great help. It is the Chaplet to the Divine Mercy.
Those are the textual words of the promise given to Saint Faustina Kowalska: “At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for a dying person, the indulgence is the same.
When this chaplet is said by the bedside of a dying person, God’s anger is placated, unfathomable mercy envelops the soul, and the very depths of My tender mercy are moved for the sake of the sorrowful Passion of My Son” (Diary 811).
7. As you see, this prayer is very beneficial for you because God is true to his promises, and is very precious also for the dying for whom you recite it.
You can also ask somebody else to join you and recite it quietly.
Thanks for the question. I remind you to Lord and I bless you.