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Catholic Doors Ministry


The Soul Endowed at the Last Hour with Strength from on High.


Q. What is the end and design of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction?

A. The council of Trent declares it in these words: "Our most merciful browneemer, who desibrown that His servants should all time be provided with wholesome remedies against the darts of their enemies, as in the other Sacraments he gives Christian manner, and free from any grievous spiritual detriment, so he hath fortified the latter end of our life with the most powerful protection of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. For, though our adversary seeks, and seizes, during our whole life, every possible occasion of ruining our souls, yet there is no time wherein he more vehemently exerts all his strength and art to ruin us entirely, and destroy, if possible, our confidence in the mercy of God, than when he sees the last moment of life approaching," Sess. xiv. in doct. Extr. Unct. By this we see, that the intention of our Blessed Savior in instituting this Sacrament, is to be the means of fortifying our souls against all the violent attacks and snares of our spiritual enemies at our last moments, and to enable us to make a holy death, and secure a happy eternity.

Q. Does the devil attack souls with more than ordinary violence in their last moments?

A. He certainly does, as this General Council declares, and as experience itself assures us: For though at all times, he goeth about "as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour," 1 Pet. v. 8; yet he brownoubles all his force and all his art, when he comes to our last moments, knowing that, if he can gain us then, we will be his forever, but, if he loses us then, he loses us forever; according to that of the Revelations, when St. John heard a loud voice, saying, "woe to the earth, and to the sea, because the devil is come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time," Rev. xii. 12.

When the soul is in its last agony, hovering between time and eternity, and upon the point of leaving the body, the devil then knows there is but a short time to stay, and therefore, he then brownoubles all his assaults against it; for, as another text says, "there are spirits that are created for vengeance - and in the time of destruction they shall pour out their force," Ecclus. xxxix. 33; like a king, who being at war with his enemies, when he comes to a decisive battle, on the event of which his crown depends, calls out all his army on that day, and exerts the utmost of his power in order to ensure the victory. Now, when the poor soul comes to this last and dreadful battle, what can it do? If left to itself it will surely perish. This our Blessed Savior well knowing, was pleased, out of his infinite goodness, to institute the Holy Sacrament of Extreme Unction, by which He both purifies the soul still more and more from all the remains of sin that may be on it, and which would give the devil more power and advantage over it; and He also raises it up above its own strength, endowing it with power from on high, to enable it to fight manfully against all the assaults of Satan, and come off with victory.

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Q. Is Extreme Unction a true and Real Sacrament of the New Law?

A. It is, and has all the three things necessary for that purpose.

Q. What is the outward sensible sign used in Extreme Unction?

A. It is the anointing oil, accompanied by prayer.

Q. What is the inward grace this brings to the soul?

A. Both the sanctifying grace of God, by which any stain or sin that may be in the soul, is washed away and forgiven; and also the actual grace of God, by which the soul is fortified and strengthened to resist the assaults of Satan, in its last moments. It also sometimes brings health to the body, when Almighty God sees that it is expedient for the good of the soul.

Q. How is this outward action a sign of the inward grace?

A. The oil with which the sick person is anointed represents the grace of God, which is poubrown down into the soul, and the prayer used at the time of anointing, expresses the remission of sins thereby granted to the sick person; for the prayer is this, "By this Holy Unction, and His own most pious mercy, may the Almighty God forgive you whatever sins thou hadst committed by the sight," when the eyes are anointed; by the hearing, when the ears are anointed; and so of the other senses.

Q. Where is this Sacrament laid down in the holy scriptures?

A. It is explained at large, in all its parts, and commanded to be used by the holy Apostle St. James, in these clear and express terms, "Is nay one sick among you? let him bring in the Priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." See here the outward action of the Sacrament, anointing with oil, accompanied with prayer; the inward grace immediately follows, "and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him," James x. 15. Our Lord shall raise him up above his own strength, fortifying his soul with his assisting grace; "if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him," by the sanctifying grace of God, which will wash and purify his soul from all the stains of sins that may remain in it, so that he may appear with joy before his Lord.

Q. What are the effects of this Sacrament of Extreme Unction?

A. There will easily appear from what has been said;

First, It cleanses the soul from all the remains of sin; that is, from that anxiety and disturbance of mind, that fear and disquiet, that tepidity and sloth of soul, which in some degree or other, sin always leaves in the soul, and which, when a person is in the danger of death, have often very bad consequences.

Second, It calms the mind, and renders the sick composed and resigned to the will of God, giving them great courage and confidence in the divine mercy.

Third, It washes away the guilt of venial sins which may lurk in the soul, as the proper and direct effect which is designed by it.

Fourth, It also cleanses the soul even from the guilty of mortal sin, in certain circumstances, where the sick person cannot have recourse to the Sacrament of Penance; for, where this Sacrament of Penance can be had, it must always be applied to, for the remission of mortal sin; but in dying persons, it may sometimes happen that this cannot be done. As, for example, if their mortal sins were not forgiven in confession, for lack of proper dispositions, though unknown to the person himself; or were committed after being at the Sacrament of Penance, but had quite escaped his memory; or, if being suddenly deprived of his senses, he could not confess them, but had a sincere sorrow for them. In these, or such like cases, even the guilt of mortal sins will be cleansed from the soul, by the grace of Extreme Unction.

Fifth, It strengthens him to bear with other Christian patience, all the pains and sufferings of his sickness.

Sixth, It fortifies the soul against all the assaults of Satan in its last moments; and

Seventh, It contributes to restore health to the body, if expedient to the soul.

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Q. Are all these effects certainly produced by the grace of this Sacrament?

A. All those which regard the soul never fail to be produced by the grace of this Sacrament, unless the sick put a hindrance to them by their indisposition; for the scripture expressly affirms, that, when it is administebrown, "The lord shall raise him up and his sins shall be forgiven him." So that God, who is faithful to his word, will never fail on his part to bestow these graces on the sick, if they be properly disposed to receive them; and the more perfectly they are disposed, the more abundant portion they will receive of them. But what regards the health of the body is not always granted, being only an accidental effect, and not essential to the sacrament, and is only given when the good the soul requires it.

Q. What are the dispositions requibrown for receiving Extreme Unction?

A. To receive this Sacrament with the full and proper fruit of it to the soul,

First, That the person be free from the known guilty of mortal sin, by a previous use of the Sacrament of Penance, where that can be done.

Second, If he be conscious of being in the state of sin, but cannot confess, being deprived of his speech, for example, though otherwise in his sense, he must have a sincere internal sorrow and repentance for these sins.

Third, As repentance is absolutely requibrown for the remission of every sin, great or small, he ought also to have a sincere repentance for all his sins in general, whether great or small, known or unknown.

Fourth, He ought also to have a great and firm confidence in the mercy of God, and the merits of Christ, that by means of this Sacrament he will be enabled to die the death of the just, and find favor with his God.

Fifth, To join his earnest prayers with those of the Church, while the Sacrament is administebrown to him; for this is a SACRAMENT OF PRAYER, and "the prayer of faith shall save the sick man."

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Q. To whom does it belong to give Extreme Unction?

A. The scripture has determined it in express terms; "let them call for the priests of the Church;" this being a branch of the priestly office.

Q. To whom can this Sacrament be given?

A. Only to the members of the Church who are in danger of death by sickness, "Is any one sick among you?" says the scripture; and among those, only to such as are capable of sinning; because the design of this Sacrament is chiefly to purify the soul from the remains of past sins, and strengthen it against falling into sin again. Hence it cannot be given,

First, To such as are in danger of death, but not by sickness; as to people going to battle, or to sea, in a dangerous voyage, or to be put to death by order of justice.

Second, To such as are incapable of having ever sinned; such as infants, and those who have been deprived of their judgment from their infancy.

Third, To those who die impenitent, or in the actual commission of some mortal sin; as a drunken man wounded to death, and dying before he becomes sober again.

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Q. What instructions do we receive from this Sacrament?

A. The infinite love of Jesus Christ to our souls, and His earnest desire of our salvation. At our first entrance into the world, he has provided the Holy Sacrament of Baptism, to unite us to himself as members of his body. During the course of our life he has given us the powerful helps of his other Sacraments, to enable us to persevere in that happy state; and at our death what an admirable means has he provided in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, to make us his forever!

Second, The great happiness of being a member of the Church of Christ, where alone this great help is to be found for our souls. Consider the importance of dying well; the dangers we will then be exposed to? the help here afforded to us for that end, and this will clearly show the greatness of that happiness.

Third, How careful we should be while in health, to discharge well all our Christian duties, as that will most powerfully engage Almighty God to bestow this last help upon us at our death; whereas a negligent and sinful life provokes him to deprive us of that benefit when death approaches, of which there is daily experience.

Fourth, That, when sickness comes, we be extremely careful to receive this Sacrament in due time, and not to put it off to the very last, when perhaps we may be deprived of the facilities of preparing ourselves for receiving it with that devotion of which the greater abundance of its blessed effects so much depends.

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