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Frequently Asked Questions
regarding
CONVERSION AT DEATH.

Q. 1. My Uncle is Lutheran. He believes that the Catholic Church is the true faith. He does not want to convert because he does not want to "rock the boat" as one would say. It would greatly offend his parents. He has indicated that when he is on his death bed, he wants to receive the Last Rites of the Catholic Church. Is this possible?

A. 1. You address a number of issues in your question. Canon Law # 844 addresses this matter. The following conditions must be met:

Canon 844 1 Catholic ministers may lawfully administer the sacraments only to Catholic members of Christ's faithful, who equally may lawfully receive them only from Catholic ministers, except as provided in 2, 3 and 4 of this canon and in canon 861 2.

Canon 844 2 Whenever necessity requires or a genuine spiritual advantage commends it, and provided the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, Christ's faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a catholic minister, may lawfully receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick from non-catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

Canon 844 3 Catholic ministers may lawfully administer the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick to members of the eastern Churches not in full communion with the catholic Church, if they spontaneously ask for them and are properly disposed. The same applies to members of other Churches which the Apostolic See judges to be in the same position as the aforesaid eastern Churches so far as the sacraments are concerned.

Canon 844 4 If there is a danger of death or if, in the judgement of the diocesan Bishop or of the Episcopal Conference, there is some other grave and pressing need, catholic ministers may lawfully administer these same sacraments to other christians not in full communion with the catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who spontaneously ask for them, provided that they demonstrate the catholic faith in respect of these sacraments and are properly disposed.

Canon 844 5 In respect of the cases dealt with in 2, 3 and 4, the diocesan Bishop or the Episcopal Conference is not to issue general norms except after consultation with the competent authority, at least at the local level, of the non-catholic Church or community concerned.

In simple words,

1. It must be physically or morally impossible for the non-Catholic to approach a minister of his own faith.

2. There has to be danger of death or other "grave necessity" such as in a time of war, persecution or natural disaster.

3. The non-Catholic must express belief in the Sacrament and request it. (An unconscious person cannot make such a request.)

4. The diocesan bishop must be consulted. (In the meantime, the person may die.)

ANSWER: Unless all of the above conditions of Canon Law # 844 are met, such being a rarity, it is impossible for a non-Catholic to receive the Last Rites (or any of the Sacraments that make up the Last Rites) in the Catholic Church.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION A "catechumen" is someone who is receiving instructions in the Catholic Faith in preparation for the Sacrament of Baptism and admission into the Church.

"For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament." (C.C.C. # 1259)

Although not a Catholic as of "yet," because of the sincere desire of converting to the Catholic faith, the catechumen is assured salvation in Christ.

The Lutheran Uncle who wishes to receive the Last Rites on his death bed is unlikely to be saved. He never had a sincere desire to convert to the Catholic faith as is required of the Catechumens. He was more concerned with what his relatives would say.

He gambled his salvation, choosing to live in sin until the last moment of his life, hoping then that the Catholic Church would accept him so he may be saved. He should have converted when the moment was ripe, when Christ called him. Instead, he turned his back to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour.




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