Preparing souls to meet God
In last week’s newsletter I wrote about the priesthood and vocations, and about how we need priests because the priest acting ‘in persona Christi’ (‘in the person of Christ’) prepares souls for Heaven and seeks to bring those entrusted to his care to eternal salvation. A priest is not a priest for himself but for others.
There was once a Catholic priest who worked extremely hard in the Midwest of America in the early 1900s. He rode his horse thousands of miles going from village to village to celebrate Mass and administer the Sacraments to the few Catholics who lived in those areas. One day, after he had finished Mass a lady said to him, “Father, have you heard about old man Jones? He’s dying.” The priest immediately took the Blessed Sacrament, his holy oils and ritual and followed the woman’s son, also on a horse who led him many miles through the woods. Finally they arrived in a dilapidated one-room cabin. The priest entered and saw the bed in the corner with the old man lying there emaciated from cancer. He was just skin and bones. When the man saw the priest dressed in his black cassock, he said, “Father, I knew you would come.” The priest immediately heard the man’s confession, anointed him and gave the Apostolic Pardon. The death rasp had already begun, so the priest knelt down by the bed, held the man’s hand and began to pray the Rosary. As evening came, the sun went down and the cabin became darker and darker. Suddenly this very weak dying man sat up in bed and exclaimed, “I see the Blessed Virgin and she’s smiling at you and me!” The priest turned around quickly, but all he could see was darkness. When he turned back the old man was dead. The priest said, “I stayed there kneeling on the floor holding the old man’s hand until they went cold. Then I cried and thanked God that I was a priest.”
What a grace it is to die a happy death with the Sacraments of the Church. It is something we should all pray for, and that there will be a priest to anoint us when our time comes. What a privilege it is for a priest to help people die well. If you’re declining in health due to old age or serious illness and that death is a possibility, please call one of us priests to give you the Sacrament of the Sick. Father is not too busy for this! Similarly, if a loved one of yours is in the hospital and death is a possibility, call the priest to anoint them in plenty of time. Don’t leave it till the last minute as Father could be out elsewhere. Remember, this is the supreme moment in our lives. Also, anyone in poor health or who is about to undergo serious surgery qualifies to receive the Sacrament.
Something else I particularly want to mention, because people generally don’t know about it, is the Apostolic Pardon. You should know what this is, because not all priests will automatically do it. When a person is dying, the Apostolic Pardon forgives temporal punishment due to our sins, but not the sins themselves which is why it is usually administered with Confession and Anointing. If we die in a state of grace, if anything remains from our lives for which we have not done sufficient penance, the temporal punishment for those sins is completely forgiven through the Apostolic Pardon. The words the priest uses are: “By the faculty given to me by the Apostolic See, I grant you a plenary indulgence and the remission of all your sins, and I bless you. In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Normally, an Apostolic Pardon is something only the Pope can give, and as you know a Plenary Indulgence also requires one to go to Confession, receive Holy Communion and pray for the Pope’s Intentions, all of which may not be possible for someone who is dying. If the dying person is properly disposed to receive the Plenary Indulgence, he/she doesn’t need to go to Confession, receive Holy Communion or pray for the Pope’s Intentions. The Indulgence is given them there and then by the priest which would mean they go straight to Heaven. What a magnificent gift from Our Lord and the Church which priests can use. “From a sudden and unprovided death, spare us, O Lord.”
Fr Paul Gillham, IC
Returning to Mass at Pentecost (a letter from the Bishops’ Conference)