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The Guardian, Britain’s liberal newspaper, has warm praise for the Catholic Church. The subject? Death

As a hospital chaplain administering to the dying you learn a lot about life and human dignity

By on Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A lady prepares to receive the Sacrament of the Sick at a care home in Rochester, New York (CNS photo)

A lady prepares to receive the Sacrament of the Sick at a care home in Rochester, New York (CNS photo)

There is a wise and wonderful editorial in this morning’s Guardian, which has warm praise for the Catholic Church. Read it here if you do not believe me. The writer puts his or her finger on a key point of concern in our culture, namely the way that death has been swept under the carpet, and the way the art of dying has been lost. A most suitable subject for Ash Wednesday.

At various times I have acted as a hospital chaplain or as a visitor at a hospice (sadly this is something I no longer do) and this has brought me into contact with a lot of people who were in the process of dying. You learn a lot about life and human dignity when you are with the dying. All of them, without a single exception, were people who died calmly, peacefully, indeed, serenely and happily, which was wonderful to see. I remember the very first dying people I ever visited in hospital: they were the sort of people who cheered you up with their radiant love of God and neighbour. It is some decades ago now, but I still remember them, and I particularly remember the way they so devotedly received Holy Communion in their hospital beds. Having known them gives me great existential confidence.

I really do not mind dying, or the prospect of death, having seen so many people go through it so happily. All I want when I am dying – I suppose I had better mention it just in case people don’t take it as read – is the presence of a priest, who will administer Holy Communion (if possible) and the Sacrament of the Sick. And I also want to hear the prayers for the dying, particularly the wonderful words of the Final Commendation, along with the Apostolic Pardon.

In case you do not know them, the Prayer of Commendation goes like this:

Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father, who created you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit, who was poured out upon you,
go forth Christian soul.
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 all the angels and saints.

There is an alternative prayer that is just as good:

I commend you, my dear brother/sister, to almighty God, and entrust you to your Creator.
May you return to him who formed you from the dust of the earth.
May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints come to meet you as you go forth from this life.
May Christ who was crucified for you bring you freedom and peace.
May Christ who died for you admit you into his garden of paradise.
May Christ, the true Shepherd, acknowledge you as one of his flock.
May he forgive all your sins, and set you among those he has chosen.
May you see your Redeemer face to face, and enjoy the vision of God for ever.

The Apostolic Pardon, which confers a plenary indulgence, is as follows:
By the authority which the Apostolic See has given me,
I grant you a full pardon
and the remission of all your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, +
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When I hear those words, which one day I hope to, I will be very happy to conclude my earthly journey.

  • Anonymous

    Father – as a Moral Theologian of some renown – would you care to reiterate the CDF directives and oft-repeated Papal teaching that nutrition and hydration are forms of natural care and not removable clinical treatment?

    Would you therefore condemn the guidelines of Liverpool Care Pathway v.12 which state they may be removed when ‘it is no longer tolerable’ or ‘in the patient’s best interests’?

    Will you also condemn the Liverpool Care Pathway’s 72hr prognosis-limit as being the determinant for sedating opiate provision for analgesia rather than a needs-based pain-alleviation system?

    [Remembering that the terminally with non-cancer diagnoses are more likely to have their lives unnecessarily shortened by opiates (Gomes 2011, Trescott 2008) AND that Pius XII's allocutio to anaesthetists Feb '57 spoke of the deprivation of consciousness for unnecessary, non-grave reasons as 'a deplorable practice'..'repugnant to Christian sentiments' and ultimately evil!]

    Will you also refuse to advocate or give support to any direct and indrect Episcopal, Conference or Conference quango endorsement of the Liverpool Care Pathway in its present form? 
    As it is Palliative Care which is far-from-congruent with Catholic teaching and which has already opened  the floodgates to euthanasia?

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Dear Paul,

    I really do worry about the LCP, and have grave reservations about it. Prescinding from what you point out above, which is correct, and which I endorse, I also note that the LCP is defective even by its own professed standards. In other words I have seen the LCP implemented without consultation of family, or without even telling family memebers what was going on. Moreover, I have  known of one person who was distressed to see her mother not having anything to drink, and who asked why this was so, only to be met with a stonewalling response.The LCP claims that it is a care plan in which the patient and the family are kept as fully informed as possible and are enabled to make informed choices - but this is not the impression I have from my own experience.

    I no longer work in hospitals, and have received no training whatever re the LCP and how we as Catholics should present it to the faithful – or not, as the case may be.

    You kindly say I am a Moral Theologian (that bit is right) of some renown (er…) but foundational moral theology is my speciality, and not medical ethics. So I am in the dark here, but I do not contradict anything you say above (apart from the last paragraph.)

    all best, ALS

  • Anonymous

     Well you’re more than half-way there and I appreciate your candour. Thank you; but we do have a problem – and though we may prefer to deny the reality; we have at present a hierarchy [esp. via Archbishop Smith] which is endorsing a form of palliative care which is murdering patients – not merely by negligence or abuse of the LCP guidelines; but by use of the very ambiguous and dangerous guidelines themselves.

  • theroadmaster

    The Catholic vision of life is the best preparation for the those on the brink of departure from our mortal world.  In other words the Church’s consistent teachings in favor of life from it’s inception to it’s natural end over the centuries has imbued Her pastoral, doctrinal and liturgical approach to death with an unsurpassed expertise which is of great comfort to those who grieve.  Our exit from this world is but a journey into the Heavenly realm where we will join the company of our loved ones, angels and saints under the Loving gaze of our Saviour.

  • Johnny Meehan

    the liverpool pathway, is not just cruel  it is evil, and those that are using it must feel guilt, one day it will be  exterminated i dont care how many new versions, they try to whitewash it with, it still is  a very evil way to euthanise patients who want to live not put to sleep forever. it will be stopped sooner rather than later.