In recent weeks I have given the ‘last rites’ to three people. This is a special ministry for a priest, as he or she administers the sacraments and prays with the dying person, sometimes alone, sometimes with family or friends.
In an age where there is discussion about euthanasia, and an opposition to it which can seem to be saying “hold on to life at all costs” traditional Christianity can steer a middle course. There comes a time when it is right for the dying person to ‘let go’ of life and move on, and for those who are close to the dying person to help them do so.
In each of the ‘last rites’ I have used the wonderful centuries old ‘sending on’ prayer the Proficiscere (here in a shortened version) –
Go forth from this world, O Christian soul: in the love of God the Father who created you, in the mercy of Jesus Christ who redeemed you, in the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens you. May the heavenly host sustain you and the company of heaven enfold you. In communion with all the faithful, may you dwell this day in peace. Amen.
At a time when death is often a taboo subject, this beautiful prayer gives us an image of community and companionship on a continuing journey through death.
Fr James Currie, private secretary to Cardinal Basil Hulme, described the last rites given to the Cardinal:
As we prayed, he died. He was a man ready to die: impatient to see God. It was as if he lay in a boat and we gently gave the boat a nudge and it sailed into the presence of God.