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The Episcopal Church: Last Rites
Last Rites are prayers and ceremonies said for people who are dying. Traditionally, the Last Rites have been part of Roman Catholic life and ritual. The Episcopal Church and other Protestant churches, however, have similar prayers and rituals. The Episcopal prayers for the dying, which are called "Ministration at the Time of Death," have some things in common with traditional Catholic Last Rites, but they are also somewhat different.
Catholic Last Rites
Catholic Last Rites, also called Extreme Unction, are the prayers and anointing given to a person who is gravely ill and in danger of dying. They include the Sacrament of Penance, also called confession of sins; the Eucharist and anointing with oil. The purpose of these rites is to prepare the person for death. If the person is conscious, they are given a chance to confess their sins and to receive absolution from the priest. They are given the bread of the Eucharist as a viaticum, which is Latin for "food for the journey."
The Episcopal Rite
The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church contains prayers entitled "Ministration at the Time of Death." Like the Catholics, Episcopalians are encouraged to call a priest when someone is near death. The prayers said over the dying are for comfort and mercy. They commit the dying Christian into God's hands and acknowledge the transition of the soul from this life to eternal life in heaven. Some, but not all, Episcopalians refer to these prayers at the time of death as "Last Rites."
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Eucharist and Anointing
Some Episcopalians, high-church Episcopalians in particular, use the ritual for the anointing of the sick as a part of the prayers for the dying. For Episcopalians, anointing is not mandatory as it is for Catholics. The Episcopal anointing rite for the dying is the same as the Episcopal healing rite. Some Episcopal priests also bring the bread of the Eucharist to the dying. Like anointing, Eucharist is not mandatory for Episcopalians as it is in the Catholic tradition. For the Eucharist given to the dying, Episcopalians use the same ritual as they would use for any home visit with communion. Catholics, on the other hand, have a specific viaticum ritual.
Does your church have a specific ritual used when a person is dying?
- The Episcopal Church: The Sacraments
- Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians; Don S. Armentrout
- The Episcopal Church: Last Rites
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Viaticum
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Extreme Unction
- The Book of Common Prayer Online: Ministration at the Time of Death
- The Vatican: Catechism of the Catholic Church
- Diocese of Gallup: Sacramental Guidelines Anointing of the Sick
- Fish Eaters: Extreme Unction