Last rites

The last rites, in Roman Catholicism, are the last prayers and ministrations given to an individual of the faith, when possible, shortly before death. The last rites go by various names. They may be administered to those awaiting execution, mortally injured, or terminally ill.

Last Rites ca 1600
Administering the last rites (Dutch School, c. 1600)

Roman Catholic Church

Joseph T. O'Callahan gives last rites to an injured crewman aboard USS Franklin (CV-13), 19 March 1945
A Roman Catholic chaplain, Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O'Callahan, administering the last rites to an injured crewman aboard USS Franklin, after the ship was set afire by a Japanese air attack, 19 March 1945

What in the judgment of the Roman Catholic Church are properly described as the Last Rites are Viaticum (Holy Communion administered to someone who is dying), and the ritual prayers of Commendation of the Dying, and Prayers for the Dead.[1]

Of these, only Viaticum is a sacrament.

The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick has often been postponed until someone is near death, so much so that, in spite of the fact that in all celebrations of this sacrament, the liturgy prays for recovery of the health of the sick person if that would be conducive to his salvation, Anointing of the Sick has been thought to be exclusively for the dying and has been called Extreme Unction (Final Anointing).[2] If administered to someone who is not just ill but near death, Anointing of the Sick is generally accompanied by celebration of the sacraments of Penance and Viaticum. In such cases, the normal order of administration is: first Penance, then Anointing, then Viaticum.

Although these three sacraments are not, in the proper sense, the Last Rites, they are sometimes mistakenly spoken of as such.

The Eucharist given as Viaticum is the only sacrament essentially associated with dying: "The celebration of the Eucharist as Viaticum is the sacrament proper to the dying Christian".[3]

In the Roman Ritual's Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum, Viaticum is the only sacrament dealt with in Part II: Pastoral Care of the Dying. Within that part, the chapter on Viaticum is followed by two more chapters, one on Commendation of the Dying, with short texts, mainly from the Bible, a special form of the litany of the saints, and other prayers, and the other on Prayers for the Dead. A final chapter provides Rites for Exceptional Circumstances, namely, the Continuous Rite of Penance, Anointing, and Viaticum, Rite for Emergencies, and Christian Initiation for the Dying. The last of these concerns the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation to those who have not received them.

In addition, the priest has authority to bestow a blessing in the name of the Pope on the dying person, to which a plenary indulgence is attached.

People awaiting execution would receive Confession and Viaticum, but not Anointing of the Sick, since their impending death is not on account of an illness.

Eastern Orthodox Church and Byzantine-Rite Catholic Churches

Prithastie ranennogo
Russian Orthodox priest administering the last rites to a soldier on the field of battle

In the Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, the last rites consist of the Sacred Mysteries (sacraments) of Confession and the reception of Holy Communion.

Following these sacraments, when a person dies, there are a series of prayers known as The Office at the Parting of the Soul From the Body. This consists of a blessing by the priest, the usual beginning, and after the Lord's Prayer, Psalm 50. Then a Canon to the Theotokos is chanted, entitled, "On behalf of a man whose soul is departing, and who cannot speak". This is an elongated poem speaking in the person of the one who is dying, asking for forgiveness of sin, the mercy of God, and the intercession of the saints. The rite is concluded by three prayers said by the priest, the last one being said "at the departure of the soul."[4]

There is an alternative rite known as The Office at the Parting of the Soul from the Body When a Man has Suffered for a Long Time. The outline of this rite is the same as above, except that Psalm 70 and Psalm 143 precede Psalm 50, and the words of the canon and the prayers are different.[5]

The rubric in the Book of Needs (priest's service book) states, "With respect to the Services said at the parting of the soul, we note that if time does not permit to read the whole Canon, then customarily just one of the prayers, found at the end of the Canon, is read by the Priest at the moment of the parting of the soul from the body."[6]

As soon as the person has died the priest begins The Office After the Departure of the Soul From the Body (also known as The First Pannikhida).[7]

In the Orthodox Church Holy Unction is not considered to be solely a part of a person's preparation for death, but is administered to any Orthodox Christian who is ill, physically or spiritually, to ask for God's mercy and forgiveness of sin.[8] There is an abbreviated form of Holy Unction to be performed for a person in imminent danger of death,[8] which does not replace the full rite in other cases.

See also


  1. ^ M. Francis Mannion, "Anointing or last rites?" in Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly
  2. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1512
  3. ^ "Sacramental Guidelines" (PDF). Diocese of Gallup.
  4. ^ Hapgood, Isabel Florence (1975), Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church (Revised ed.), Englewood, NJ: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, pp. 360–366
  5. ^ A Monk of St. Tikhon's Monastery (1995), Book of Needs (Abridged) (2nd ed.), South Canaan PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, pp. 123–136, ISBN 1-878997-15-7
  6. ^ A Monk of St. Tikhon's Monastery, Op. cit., p. 153.
  7. ^ A Monk of St. Tikhon's Monastery, Op. cit., pp. 137–154.
  8. ^ a b Hapgood, Op. cit., pp. 607–608.

External links

Anointing of the Sick in the Catholic Church

Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of the Catholic Church that is administered to a Catholic "who, having reached the age of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age", except in the case of those who "persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin". Proximate danger of death, the occasion for the administration of Viaticum, is not required, but only the onset of a medical condition of serious illness or injury or simply old age: "It 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."Anointing of the sick has often been postponed until someone is on the point of dying, so much so that, in spite of the fact that, in all celebrations of this sacrament, the liturgy prays for recovery of the health of the sick person if that would be conducive to his salvation, Anointing of the Sick has been thought to be exclusively for the dying and has been called Extreme Unction (Final Anointing).The sacrament is administered by a priest, who uses olive oil or another pure plant oil to anoint the patient's forehead and perhaps other parts of the body while reciting certain prayers. It is believed to give comfort, peace, courage and, if the sick person is unable to make a confession, even forgiveness of sins. Several other churches and ecclesial communities have similar ceremonies (see Anointing of the Sick for a more general discussion).


Antyesti (IAST: Antyeṣṭi, Sanskrit: अन्त्येष्टि) literally means "last sacrifice", and refers to the funeral rites for the dead in Hinduism. This rite of passage is one of traditional Saṃskāras in the life of a Hindu. It is also referred to as Antima Sanskar, Antya-kriya, Anvarohanyya, or as Vahni Sanskara.The details of the Antyesti ceremony depends on the region, caste, gender and age of the dead.

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