May 12, 2010
The Church's Prayers for the Dying Christian
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.
On this past Holy Saturday, April
3, I received a call from a nearby nursing home asking me to come to
and anoint a patient who was dying. The woman was in her late 70s and
lost her husband about a month earlier. I learned later that she died on
Privileged to Minister to the Dying
For me, such a visit is always a graced-filled moment, because I am so much aware of the loving care the Church gives to one about
to enter eternity. For eleven years, I was Pastoral Care
Director for a large Midwestern retirement and nursing center. There were between 80 and 90 deaths each year and I had the opportunity to be
with many dying residents. Sometimes the family was present and at other times it
was just myself and the dying person. When I use the word dying keep in mind
that I'm with a person who in a matter of minutes or short hours will enter
eternity and see God face to face. In a way, you might say it is the closest we
get to the feel for eternity except when we ourselves experience it.
The Church's Care for the Dying
The Church is especially caring for the dying. We have special patrons for the dying, particularly St. Joseph. Imagine having Jesus and Mary at your
bedside at that moment. As another example, the prayers of the Mass remember each and every person, whatever the state of life or circumstance is. This includes those
facing death at that very moment, whether by natural causes, accident or persecution. In a word, the Church prays for all without exception.
part of the Christian community, the body of Christ, you and I are together
with all our brothers and sisters praying for one another. The
Eucharist is celebrated around the world from the rising of the sun through its
setting. There is never a moment when the Mass is not being offered somewhere on earth, never
a moment when we are not praying for one another.
When it comes to assisting the dying into eternity, the
prayers of the Church are filled with hope and anticipation of the person's union with
God and reunion with his or her loved ones. I have often felt the presence of
the dying person's deceased loved ones in the room with me, preparing for that magnificent
Listen to the opening prayer for the dying: "Go forth, faithful
Christian, from this world in the name of God the Father almighty who created you, in the name of Jesus Christ,
the Son of the living God who suffered and died for you, in the name of the
Holy Spirit who was poured out upon you, go forth faithful Christian." Note the beautiful image: "Go forth." It is a true send-off, armed with the prayers of the Church.
Listen further: "May you live in peace this day; may your home be with God in
Zion, with Mary the Virgin mother of God, with Joseph, and with all the angels
and saints." The prayers depict a wonderful meeting and heavenly homecoming. Further
we pray, "I commend you, dear brother/sister to almighty God." (It's like the
Church is writing a letter of recommendation for that person.) "I entrust to
you to your creator." The Church is gently handing over its brother or sister
to the Lord as a precious gift. "May
holy Mary, the angels and all the saints come to meet you as you go forth. May
Christ welcome you into his garden of paradise; my Christ the true shepherd
welcome you as one of his sheep and acknowledge you as one of his flock. May He
forgive all your sins and set you among those he has chosen. May you enjoy the
vision of God forever."
I must tell you that I get chills whenever I recall the
opportunities I have had to pray those words at the bedside of one soon to be
with God. And remember, I'm not praying
them only as Fr. Jim. I'm praying them in the name of whole church. As a believer you are there as part of the person's family, for indeed, we are
brothers and sisters, the very body of Christ.
Readers respond to Friar Jack Wintz's April E-spiration, Musing: Sister Thea Bowman:
Her Song Goes On
Dear Responders: I'm struck by the natural spontaneity and enthusiasm of your emails. You seem to capture the spirit of Thea herself, even though she died 20 years ago. Once again, let me remind all readers of Friar Jack's E-spirations that I keep you, and all your loved ones, in my prayers. Good health, healing and love to all! Friar Jack
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