Sunday, November 08, 2009


As part of our remembrance of the month of November, as that which Catholics associate with intentions of the dead and the Life Beyond, we devote this piece to the preparation of the dying.

Catholics in the health care professions, particularly those devoted to home and hospice care, may have a unique opportunity to bring their commission through Baptism to the fore. But it is no less so to friends and family of those who perpare for the Inevitable.

Here at "Chez Alexandre" we have a silver troika, consisting of a crucifix between two candlesticks. When a patient under Sal's care has passed away, we have been known to recite the Psalms together while the crucifix with lit candles is on the table before us. We have found the so-called "penitential psalms" also known as the "psalms of confession" to be quite suitable. They are: Psalms 6, 31(32), 37(38), 50(51), 101(102), 129(130), and 142(143). (NOTE: The numbering system from the Latin Vulgata is given preference here. Most modern usage employs the Greek, or Septuagint numbering, which appears here in parenthesis.) Of these, Psalm 50(51), the Miserere is the most appropriate:

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
    In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
    And cleanse me from my sin ...

Every Catholic home should have a "sick call set" handy, for the use of the priest or deacon who visits the sick or dying. It consists of a crucifix and two candles on a white tablecloth by the bedside, along with a vial of holy water, and a dish of regular water with a small white cloth for ablutions. The use of the palm from Palm Sunday, and a bell to announce the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, is optional. It has become common to have such a set self-contained in a wall crucifix, the top portion of which can be detached, to access the accessories contained in the base. (See image at left.)

The priest who comes to the door with the Sacrament does so in silence, and should be greeted by a person carrying a lighted candle. He will say, "Pax huic dómui." ("Peace be unto this house.") The greeter should respond, "Et ómnibus habitántibus in ea." ("And all who dwell therein.") The cleric is led to the room in silence. All genuflect or kneel in the presence of the Sacrament. In the event that the patient needs to confess his sins, all must leave the room, including the primary caregiver. A priest is trained to know when other assistance is needed. In the event that the patient lacks capacity to confess, a general absolution may be given.

If a priest or deacon is unavailable, the faithful are nonetheless able to help prepare a soul for the journey. A page devoted to this is found at A prominent feature to this guide is the prayer known by its beginning word in Latin: Proficiscere.

Go forth, O Christian soul,
    out of 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 for you;
in the Name of the Holy Ghost,
    Who sanctified you ...
... may your place be this day in peace,
    and your abode in Holy Sion.
Through Christ our Lord.

Of course, circumstances may dictate the length or brevity of such preparations. The communal praying of the Rosary, particularly the use of the Sorrowful Mysteries, is most commendable whatever the circumstances.

Once the soul has passed on, a different set of prayers is appropriate. As the time before death is devoted to preparation, that which follows requires intercession from on high. One most appropriate form is the Responsorium, the responsory for the dead:

V. Do not remember my sins, O Lord.
R. When you come to judge the world by fire.

V. Direct my way in your sight, O Lord, my God.
R. When you come to judge the world by fire.

V. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
    and let your perpetual light shine upon him.
R. When you come to judge the world by fire.

V. Lord, have mercy.
R. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Our Father ...

Our series continues next week, with a reflection on Catholic funerals, and the practices associated with them.

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