This article is part of a seven-part series on the seven sacraments—view the entire series here.
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What are the Last Rites?
Last Rites are the sacraments received when a person is nearing death. When a person is in danger of death a priest may be called in order that dying persons might receive the last rites, which include Confession, Anointing of the Sick (formerlyextreme unction) and final reception of holy Communion (Viaticum). These sacraments provide the forgiveness of sins, help the individual to prepare for death, and bring peace and courage to the sick person as the Holy Spirit guides them on their final steps to eternal life.
Anointing of the sick also known as extreme unction
As stated above the last rites are not a sacrament, but a group of sacraments offered at or near the hour of death. The sacrament of anointing is actually not always administered within the context of the last rites, which makes it all the more intriguing that the two are often confused. Anointing is offered to persons who through sickness or old age, and the complications thereof, are nearing death. However, it is also offered to persons who are struggling with illness but not in danger of death, provided the nature of the illness is sufficiently serious. Anointing of the sick is a sacrament that must be administered by a priest or bishop, and there are no extraordinary ministers for this sacrament like there are for baptism and Communion.
Extreme unction is an unusual sounding name to modern ears. However, it is very descriptive. Extreme comes from the word “extremis,” which Merriam-Webster defines as:
in extreme circumstances; especially: at the point of death
Unction is a very interesting word it has three meanings all of which apply quite well to the sacrament. It could mean:
- The act of anointing as a rite of consecration or healing. Check.
- Something used for anointing. Check.
- Religious or spiritual fervor or the expression of such fervor. Check.
So, unction refers to the act of anointing the sick, the oil used to anoint the sick AND the spiritual disposition and hoped for response to the anointing. The hope for the sacrament is to bring about the physical healing of the individual who receives it as a continuation of Christ’s healing ministry. However, the sacrament also conveys a spiritual healing that is always present even if a physical healing does not result from anointing. The sacrament also carries with it the forgiveness of sins, especially beneficial for those who lose the capacity to make a good confession near the end of their life.
What’s in the name of a sacrament?
So, why the multiple names for this sacrament of healing? Well, many sacraments are known by other names for example: marriage and matrimony, penance and confession, holy Communion and the Eucharist and the sacrament of the altar and the blessed sacrament. In the same way that we use different names to emphasize different aspects of the sacraments listed above, the Church uses the name anointing of the sick to emphasize that one need not be approaching death in order to receive the graces proper to this sacrament. The name extreme unction, which became the technical term for the sacrament in the 12th century, may seem to imply in the word ‘extreme’ that it is reserved for the final stages of life. That is not necessarily the case so the language of anointing the sick is often preferred to communicate that the sacrament is open to others as well.
What else are the last rites?
So we know that there are three common sacraments offered in the last rites, but the one that is most proper to the dying (for those who are still able to ingest food)is Viaticum or the final reception of holy Communion. For some who may still be journeying toward the Church near the hour of their death the last rites may also include baptism and confirmation. The proper order to administer the sacraments near the hour of death would be confession first, then the anointing of the sick and finally the reception of the Eucharist. It is a very beautiful thing that the last act of our loved ones as they pass from this world would be to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord. Another reason for this order would be that if miraculous healing of the sick person were to occur through the sacrament of the anointing of the sick there would be no need to receive Viaticum. If the individual has not been baptized yet it would be proper to be baptized first and then receive the sacrament of confirmation before receiving the rest of the sacraments proper to the last rites.
What role does music play in the anointing of the sick
Music has long been associated with healing, and medical science is starting to recognize its healing properties through music therapy. Studies are showing that bringing music into the care of the sick greatly improves response to treatment and quality of life. So, there are some well accepted medical applications that come into play when incorporating music into the lives of the sick and dying. In addition, bringing music into these difficult and potentially grieving times is a great spiritual blessing for friends and family of the person who is ill. Before my grandmother passed away the whole family gathered outside the family home and sang MerleHaggard and Creedence Clearwater Revival songs until the wee hours of the morning telling stories about the past and laughing. Those songs still bring me comfort to this day when I find myself missing her.
Liturgically music has a role in any application of the sacraments. Even sacraments that are not administered within the context of the Mass leave room for music whether in chanted prayers or suggestions of “an appropriate hymn may be sung at this time” in parenthesis. All of the sacraments, however, have an option to celebrate the rite within the context of the Mass and for anointing of the sick that would commonly be called a healing Mass. There would of course be opportunity within this liturgical context to select music with a message of healing.
Outside of the celebration of the sacraments it also makes sense to share comforting music with the sick person. Whether to prepare them for the future reception of the sacraments, to meditate on the gift of God’s Grace after the reception of the sacraments or simply for the comfort of music therapy. OCP has a treasure trove of beautiful music for these purposes.
However, I would like to highlight 3 newer songs that offer great comfort along the journey of dealing with illness.
Songs of healing and comfort
“Healed in Christ” is a beautiful song to accompany those struggling with illness and their family and friends. From Sarah Hart’s new album Sacrament. The lyrics are extraordinary as you’ll hear in the video below, and Sarah’s natural style leads her listeners toward hope and great comfort in times of trial and difficulty.
Josh Blakesley’s song “We Come to You” from his album Waiting is a beautiful and thoughtful song of hope that draws the listener to place their brokenness and their needs at the feet of Jesus who has the power to heal us and make us whole again.
Grayson Warren Brown composed this beautiful song “Meditation” with a simple and repeatable line that prays for Jesus to heal us, hold us and help us find rest. If you are seeking to incorporate just a small amount of simple music into an anointing, this is the perfect song to use.
Download this blog as a PDF to read at your convenience!
This series is intended to provide a more in-depth look at each of the Sacraments, their institution in the Bible and current practice, while providing some beautiful musical suggestions. Explore more from related articles in this series:
Baptism What is Baptism?
Eucharist What is the Eucharist?
Confirmation What is the Sacrament of Confirmation?
Confession Sacrament of Reconciliation
Anointing of the Sick Last Rites and the Anointing of the Sick
Matrimony Being husband and wife
Holy Orders What is the Sacrament of Holy Orders?
Jethro Higgins, father of 6, has Directed Youth & Young Adult ministry programs and led liturgical music ensembles since 2004. Jethro received his Master of Science in Business Analysis from the Catholic University of America and is currently studying at The Augustine Institute in the Master of Arts in Theology program.
Why is Anointing of the Sick not the same as the Last Rites? ›
Last Rites are the set of prayers and Sacramental activities that occur as someone is preparing to die, when it's pretty clear that that person is dying, in the process of dying. Anointing of the Sick is a Sacrament that is given for the healing–bodily healing and spiritual healing–of a person who is seriously ill.What are the words spoken in the Last Rites? ›
This prayer is simple. It goes, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”What is Anointing of the Sick and last rights? ›
The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, often referred to as Extreme Unction or Last Rites, is a ritual of healing appropriate not only for those in immediate danger of death but also for those suffering from physical, mental, or spiritual sickness.What happens if a Catholic does not get Last Rites? ›
The Decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary says, “The Church prays for those who find themselves unable to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and of the Viaticum, entrusting each and every one to divine Mercy by virtue of the communion of saints and granting the faithful a Plenary Indulgence on the point ...Does Anointing of the Sick forgive grave sins? ›
However, it is a comfort to know that Anointing of the Sick does forgive mortal sin also if the critically ill person is unable to receive the sacrament of Penance.Does Anointing of the Sick forgive mortal sins? ›
Mortal sin must be eradicated by Baptism or Reconciliation, but Anointing of the Sick forgives venial sins that make us lethargic towards God. In the case when one is anointed while unconscious, a mortal sin may be forgiven, provided the sick person had contrition for the sin when they lost consciousness.Do you have to be alive to get last rites? ›
They may be administered to those awaiting execution, mortally injured, or terminally ill. Last rites cannot be performed on someone who has already died. Last rites, in sacramental Christianity, can refer to multiple sacraments administered concurrently in anticipation of an individual's passing.How many times can you receive Anointing of the Sick? ›
A person can receive the sacrament as many times as needed throughout his or her life, and a person with a chronic illness might be anointed again if the disease worsens. Imminent death from external causes—such as the execution of a death sentence—does not render one apt for the sacrament.What does Anointing of the Sick means? ›
The Catholic Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, formerly known as Last Rites or Extreme Unction, is a ritual of healing appropriate not only for physical but also for mental and spiritual sickness.Do you go to heaven after last rites? ›
As mentioned above, Last Rites are performed to help prepare an individual for their journey into the afterlife. It is meant to be a final cleansing of a person's soul. During the process, they will confess and be absolved of their sins so that they may enter heaven instead of hell.
Can a Catholic layman give last rites? ›
“The Last Rites”
Viaticum may be administered by a priest, deacon or a trained layperson.
This means that the official stance of the Catholic Church is that there is no cost to have last rites given to your loved one. A quick look at Catholic forums confirms this practice in the U.S. This policy is based on the teachings found in the Bible.What are three effects of Anointing of the Sick? ›
There are five effects of the Anointing of the Sick. It unites us to Christ's Passion, strengthens us to endure suffering, forgives our sins, restores our health if it's conducive for our salvation, and prepares us to enter eternal life.Can you be anointed after death? ›
Like any sacrament, anointing of the sick can be given only to someone who is alive; however, as the precise moment of death is not known or defined with precision, someone may be anointed conditionally ("if you are alive" prefixed to the sacramental formula) during a brief period after being declared clinically dead.Can a dead person receive Anointing of the Sick? ›
What if the person has already died? The priest will not administer the Sacrament of Anointing but will pray for the dead person. Sacraments are celebrated for the living, yet the dead are effectively helped by the prayers of the living. Prayers after death may be led by anyone and prayed by all present.What mortal sins Cannot be forgiven? ›
Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matthew 12:22-32).What are the 4 mortal sins? ›
These sins are vices and are defined as contrary to the Christian virtues of holiness. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth (acedia).Who Cannot receive the Anointing of the Sick? ›
A person who has not been baptized, however, cannot receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick or any other sacrament. It is Baptism that initiates a person into the life of grace and the liturgical life of the Church.Does the last rites include confession? ›
The Last Rites involve the administration of Anointing of the Sick as well as Confession (if possible), Viaticum (final Holy Communion) and the prayers of commendation.What happens after last rites? ›
Nothing physically happens to a person who dies without having the last rites administered to them. These are the final prayers and blessings a person receives that give spiritual comfort and a renewed faith that they will walk with Christ to meet their maker.
Who performs last rites if there is no son? ›
If the deceased has no male heir, either the son-in-law or a close male relative does the rites. After Gangadhar passed away, a few persons tried to identify his male relatives for the last rites, but finally his two daughters lit the pyre.Can Anointing of the Sick only be received once? ›
Unlike some Sacraments (i.e. Baptism) Anointing is not a Sacrament that can be received only once, nor is it intended to be frequent (like Holy Communion). The Church allows for this Sacrament to be administered several times for the same person, if necessary.Do you have to be conscious to receive the Anointing of the Sick? ›
14. The sacrament of anointing may be conferred upon sick people who, although they have lost consciousness or the use of reason, would, as Christian believers, probably have asked for it were they in control of their faculties.Do you have to be dying to receive Anointing of the Sick? ›
Does a person have to be dying to receive this sacrament? No. The Catechism says, "The anointing of the sick is not a Sacrament for those only who are at the point of death.What are the stages of the Anointing of the Sick? ›
In the essential rite of the sacrament, a priest or bishop lays his hands on the sick person's head. Then he anoints the sick person on the forehead and palms of the hands with the oil of the sick, a holy oil that has been blessed by a bishop.What is the grace of Anointing of the Sick? ›
Grace for Spiritual and Physical Healing
the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Penance; the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul; the preparation for passing over to eternal life.
Various symbols have been associated with the Anointing of the Sick sacrament. Blessed or consecrated oil, the sign of the cross, praying hands, hands, the forehead, and laying down of hands are the most common symbols of the sacrament.How many times can you receive last rites? ›
A person may be anointed more than once, especially if they take a “turn for the worse.” The elderly can be anointed when the frailties of age or dementia begin to take their toll. The Code of Canon Law provides that the last rites may be given to any Catholic disposed to receive them.How long do souls stay in purgatory? ›
Regarding the time which purgatory lasts, the accepted opinion of R. Akiba is twelve months; according to R. Johanan b.Can Catholics be cremated? ›
Although the Catholic Church prefers in-ground burial or entombment of a deceased person's body, cremation of the body prior to burial is allowed within the confines of the religion.
Can a divorced Catholic have Last Rites? ›
Catholics who are divorced and remarried outside of the Church may receive the Sacrament of Anointing and Last Rites if they are in danger of death. For more information about Anointing of the Sick or administration of the Last Rites, contact the parish office in the parish where you participate.When should I call priest for Last Rites? ›
A priest should be called whenever a Catholic is in danger of dying so that he or she may receive the Last Rites. The complete ritual includes Confession and Absolution, the Apostolic Pardon (a plenary indulgence), Anointing of the Sick, and Viaticum (Holy Communion).Can nuns do the Last Rites? ›
Although only priests can administer Last Rites, nuns, religious brothers and lay people can also become Catholic chaplains. Of the 2,600 members in Lichter's organization, about 450 are priests, down from 834 just 20 years ago.Do you tip your priest? ›
"You can also give your officiant, rabbi, or priest anywhere between $50 $100 as a personal tip, in addition to your donation." Norwood advises making the donation ahead of time, "as it will be one less thing to worry about on the day of." If your officiant is attending your rehearsal dinner, give them an envelope with ...How much do you tip a Catholic priest for a funeral? ›
If you are charged a fee for the clergy member's services, a tip or donation is not necessary. If there is no cost for these services, consider an honorarium, which could range from $50 to $300.What is it called when a priest blesses your house? ›
House blessings (also known as house healings, house clearings, house cleansings and space clearing) are rites intended to protect the inhabitants of a house or apartment from misfortune, whether before moving into it or to "heal" it after an occurrence. Many religions have house blessings of one form or another.Is Anointing of the Sick the last sacrament? ›
The proper order to administer the sacraments near the hour of death would be confession first, then the anointing of the sick and finally the reception of the Eucharist.Is the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick for the dying only why? ›
No. The Catechism says, "The anointing of the sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived" (CCC 1514).How has the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick changed? ›
Since Vatican II, the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick has undergone both a change of name (no longer Extreme Unction) and meaning. It is no longer a sacrament for those at the point of death. Rather the appropriate time is whenever any one of the faithful is sick.What are the rites of the anointing of the sick? ›
The rite can be performed in a home or a hospital by a priest, who prays over the person and anoints his or her head and hands with chrism (holy oil). The priest may also administer the sacrament of the Eucharist and can hear a confession if so desired.
What is the purpose of the last rites? ›
The purpose of Last Rites is to cleanse the soul of an individual who is sick or dying and prepare them for their journey to heaven. Traditionally, this was done on people's deathbeds. However, Last Rites can now be performed on those who are elderly, ill, or undergoing a potentially life-threatening medical procedure.Can you get last rites more than once? ›
A person may be anointed more than once, especially if they take a “turn for the worse.” The elderly can be anointed when the frailties of age or dementia begin to take their toll. The Code of Canon Law provides that the last rites may be given to any Catholic disposed to receive them.When should I do last rites? ›
It's best to receive the graces of all the so-called “last rites,” including confession, anointing and Holy Communion, before death. If that's not possible, such as when death seems to be coming very quickly, don't hesitate to call a priest immediately and he will do what he can.What is your most important realization about the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick? ›
The sacrament that helps unite those who are suffering with Jesus' saving and healing power is the Anointing of the Sick. Through this sacrament people receive forgiveness for their sins and comfort in their suffering; they are restored in spirit; and sometimes they even experience the return of physical health.What are the 4 main effects of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick? ›
It gives comfort, peace, courage, and even the forgiveness of sins if the sick person is not able to make a confession. Sometimes, if it is the will of God, this sacrament even brings about the restoration of physical health. In any case this Anointing prepares the sick person for the journey to the Father's House.What are the 5 effects of Anointing of the Sick? ›
There are five effects of the Anointing of the Sick. It unites us to Christ's Passion, strengthens us to endure suffering, forgives our sins, restores our health if it's conducive for our salvation, and prepares us to enter eternal life.Who Cannot receive the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick? ›
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that “the Anointing of the Sick 'is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death.What happens during last rites? ›
“The Last Rites”
The proper celebration for those about to die is Viaticum, the last time that person receives the Body and Blood of Christ. This is a special Eucharistic service celebrated near the time of death. Viaticum may be administered by a priest, deacon or a trained layperson.