The basic preparation for death. Spiritual writers are united in declaring that ordinarily, the only adequate preparation for death is a righteous life. It is a commonplace and miserable error to think of this preparation as a set exercise without much, if any, reference to one's previous manner of life, and that somehow, one will be miraculously granted a sufficient period of time at the end of their days to repent of one’s sins and die in God’s grace. There is no way, of course, to combat the obviousness of this position.
Nevertheless, in what follows here we are contemplating that array of actions, mental and moral attitudes, ministrations, etc. which are commonly rated as the proximate preparation for the coming of the supreme moment. No matter how carefully conformed to the law of God and the precepts of the Church one's life may have been, no Christian will want to enter eternity without some immediate forearming against the terrors of that last passage.
When should a priest be called? We shall deal first with the case of those to whom the dread summons comes after an illness which has not deprived them of consciousness. The Roman Ritual is explicit in its injunction to the pastor to hasten to the bedside of the sick person at the first intimation that one of his flock is ill. This he is to do without even waiting for an invitation. Indeed, it is impossible to unduly accentuate the importance of this timely coming of the priest to offer opportune spiritual aid to the one who is ill. Practically, in the actual conditions of modern life, it must often happen that the priest can only know of this need for his services through information furnished by the relatives or friends of the sick person. They, therefore, have a very definite obligation in this matter.
Too often there is a mistaken interpretation of charity towards a loved one, or, even worse, a weakly surrender to human respect, to deny the reality of impending death, and so the minister of God is sent for, if at all, only when the patient is unconscious and death is absolutely imminent. For the Catholic Christian, getting ready for death is not simply being passively submitted to the administration of certain religious rites. As far as it is possible, it is the conscious, deliberate employment of prayer; the forming or deepening of a special temper of soul and acceptance of such sacramental help as will fit the human spirit to appear with some confidencebefore its Judge. Thus the failure to call the priest in a timely way may, far from being an exhibition of tenderness or consideration, be the most irreparable of cruelties. To be sure it is not always necessary that the patient should be told that his case is past remedy; even when the approach of death is fairly discernible; and even when such distressing information must for any reason be conveyed, there is always room for the exercise of a great deal of prudence and tact. It may be that the sick person will have important affairs to set in order, and that a hint of the probability of a fatal issue of his illness will be the only adequate stimulus to quicken him into a discharge of his obligations. In such instances it may be not only a kindness but a duty to impart such knowledge straightforwardly, yet gently. It is plain that a special measure of delicacy is necessary when this office falls to the attending priest to perform.
Winding up our earthly affairs. Beyond question it is of paramount importance that all such matters as the disposition of temporalities, payment of debts, satisfaction of burdens of restitution, etc. should have been settled so as to leave an undivided attention for the momentous considerations which are to engage the mind of the one who is presently to pass through the portals of death into eternity.
Confession. So far as priestly assistance goes the first step in the process of preparation for death is the receiving of the patient's confession and the conferring of sacramental absolution. Indeed, inasmuch as it offers the ordinary means of reconciliation with God, it is the most indispensable factor in helping the soul to qualify for its departure from the body. The Roman Ritual indicates that the priest is to draw upon all the resources of his prudence and charity in order to obtain a confession from the sick person, even though the danger of death may yet appear remote.
The confession need not necessarily be of the sort that is described as general, unless, of course, the reasons exist that would make it obligatory at any other time of life as well. It will often be useful where, with due regard to the remaining strength of the stricken penitent, it is possible to make, at least in some sense, this general avowal of the sins of one's life. Whether there is question of a general confession or merely the ordinary one, the priest has often to remember that in this trying juncture, the Divine precept exacting an entire recital of offenses admits of more than usually benign interpretation.
Where the person is incapable of sustained mental effort without serious prejudice to his failing powers, the priest need give himself no scruple about being satisfied with incomplete, or less specific, forms of accusation. The law of integrity is not to be rigorously urged under such circumstances. Even when nothing but the most general acknowledgment of one's sinful condition can be obtained, it is incontrovertible that in the premises this is a valid substitute for a more detailed confession. (To be continued next week.)
MINISTRY OF CONSOLATION: Everyone is aware that the month of November is the month of the Holy Souls. We pray for our dearly departed loved ones. We at St. Paul’s are very blessed to have a wonderful Ministry of Consolation. This is headed by Mrs. Gina Cinelli. The other members of the Ministry are: Marilyn Keenan, Jesse Cromer, Susan Eaton, Ann Kissel, and Lee Regan. They assist the families at the time of loss in planning the Funeral Liturgy and they arrange for Masses to be offered for the deceased. They have been of indispensable assistance to me.
FOUNDER’S SUNDAY: May we ask all of our funding parishioners to come to the 11.00am Mass next Sunday to receive a special blessing. Please sit in the “pie” near the Blessed Mother’s Shrine.
In Jesus and Mary,
Monsignor James F. Pereda