Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 26, 2009
Blessings, words to ease a dying soul
When no priest is present, one needs to know what to say and do for the person who is near death
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - A man struck by a car lays dying on the street. Maybe he is a loved one, perhaps a stranger. Regardless, neither a clergyperson nor chaplain is likely to be present before he dies. What is the right thing to do?
"The only thing you can do is stay with the one dying and say the act of contrition, Our Father, Hail Mary, just pray with them. That's all we can do," said Ursulines of Chatham Union Sister Helen Edwards, chaplain at Capital Care-Dickinsfield. "We can stay with them, maybe give them a little holy water."
One can make a perfect act of contrition if in danger of death and no priest is available. This means that the sinner is sorry for his sins out of love for God and remorse for offending him. The sinner must also have the absolute intention of going to Confession to a priest or bishop as soon as possible if he survives.
An example of an act of contrition is the following: "O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because my sins offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen."
Hospitalized people of no religious faith are usually left to die with their family members.
"I know a man died recently at Norwood and he never had a religion. He didn't want to talk about God or anything. But somebody, one of the ministers, came in from the hallway, and that was it. We give them a blessing, but we don't know how much it works on them," she said.
Dickinsfield has a crisis group that stays with a dying person if no relatives are present. That way, no one dies alone. The crisis group will pray the rosary and keep the dying person calm.
Father Ray Guimond is the chaplain for Grey Nuns Community Hospital and Kipnes Centre for Veterans. He agreed that the best approach is to say the usual prayers, including the Our Father, Hail Mary and the lesser-known Chaplet of Divine Mercy. The chaplet is a devotion based on the visions of Saint Mary Faustina Kowalska. The chaplet is often said as a rosary-based prayer with the same set of rosary beads used for reciting the rosary or the Chaplet of Holy Wounds.
"Some might even have some little booklets that have special prayers for the dying. Those are traditional prayers, and they would comfort the person," said Guimond.
THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD
If, when coming upon a dying person, reading Sacred Scripture, particularly Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd), to the person is recommended. A spontaneous, made-up prayer is also appropriate.
Especially for the dying who have not been involved with God, they need to repent. Guimond said it's never too late though. Even for those on their deathbed who have never been baptized and never followed Christ's path, there is still hope.
"You can still pray for them. Anybody who dies, God's mercy is there for them. You know, the thief on the cross was not baptized but he went to heaven. Even if they have resisted Baptism, they can still say yes anytime.
"Even on their last breath, they could say, 'Have mercy on me, O Lord.' They need conversion, and they need to ask the Lord for forgiveness."
Father Thomas Stefanyk, the spiritual care coordinator at the Youville Home (Grey Nuns) of St. Albert, said that offering comfort is of utmost importance, especially if the person is in distress. From a clergyperson's perspective, they try to draw out feelings.
From a layperson's perspective, the best is to provide reassurance to the dying person.
"If you're a layperson, try just to comfort them and let them know that they're safe and not alone, and not just having somebody there with them, but not alone as far as having God with them," said Stefanyk.
People can still accept God on their deathbeds, but he said it's unlikely. Some people, however, have an awakening that there is a higher power.
"A layperson cannot absolve sins. So if a person is confessing their sins and their life and they're trying to make amends for what they've done and trying to get everything resolved, the layperson cannot absolve them. That's the right of the priest," said Stefanyk.
A layperson can perform a Baptism though. A dying person can be baptized with saline solution in the back of an ambulance, or baptized in sand, depending on the circumstances.
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