the shortest distance is between
My dad died January 10 after a very short illness. Just a week before, he had been diagnosed with stage IV adenocarcinoma and given between a week and a month to live. With many thanks to our parish staff, I was able to spend that week with him and my family as we prepared for his death.
Dad had a full life, and he had a good death. Truly, it was an honor to give him everything the Church can provide to someone who is dying. We must always pray for the grace of a good, provided death. This means asking God that when we die we have the opportunity to be accompanied by the Church through the sacraments and rituals available to those who are approaching this consummating moment. There are two parts to this: that we may have the priests and other helpers to be able to supply these rituals, and that we may have the time to be able to seek out these prayers and receive their graces.
Viaticum is the last Holy Communion that we receive. “Food for the journey,” it is an important part of the series of things which constitute a provided death, but it is not always possible, physiologically, to consume a Host, especially close to death. Every time we go to Communion, think of it as if it were the first time, the last time, or the only time. That is how special the Eucharist is, every time.
Viaticum requires the ability to swallow; the other parts of the preparation for death do not require anything of the person who is passing away. The Anointing of the Sick in its form for those who are dying is a beautiful and important part of the preparation for death, a sacrament, but does not require the participation of the one who receives it. Likewise, the
Apostolic Pardon—a plenary indulgence granted only to those who are near death— does not foresee any participation by the one who receives it, though the effect is tremendous. The Apostolic Pardon is a full pardon of all sins, all spiritual debts from those sins, and anything else that a soul has picked up along the way.
As the person dies, the Commendation of the Dying is a series of consoling scriptures and prayers, telling the dying person that they are allowed to leave this world, and that the life to come awaits them.
We must not be afraid of death, our own or of others. It is always sad, and hurts, but it is also one of the most important moments of our lives. As Catholics, we see our life in the faith as leading up to our life with God, one long preparation for heaven and eternal happiness in God’s loving embrace.