How to assist a person in dying a holy death

Catholic Candle note: Recently, Catholic Candle examined the permission the Church traditionally gives to a person who is in danger of death, to confess to a priest to whom an uncompromising Catholic could not otherwise support (or confess to) because that priest is a compromiser, an apostate, or someone whom it is otherwise impermissible to support. Find the article here: http://www.catholiccandle.org/2020/01/01/using-a-compromised-priest-when-dying/

 

Catholic Candle also addressed how uncompromising laymen can bury their dead in these times of great apostasy when an uncompromising priest is not available. Find the article here: http://www.catholiccandle.org/2020/04/02/a-traditional-catholic-funeral-and-burial-when-there-is-no-uncompromising-priest-available/

 

Between this last confession (discussed in the first of those articles) and the burial (discussed in the second article), is the crucial moment of death. Below, we give recommendations how to assist at a person’s death, based on the experience of some of the Catholic Candle Team, who recently assisted at the deaths of two uncompromising Traditional Catholics.

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How to assist a person in dying a holy death

What is death and when does it occur?

Death is the separation of body and soul. This separation occurs at an instant, not progressively, over time. However, we say a person is “dying” when his body becomes progressively less able to perform the physical functions of life. A person’s soul leaves his body sometime after his body ceases to function.

 

Cessation of breathing and of heartbeat are not death. Those two bodily functions cease before death. Likewise, so-called “brain death” occurs before death and is not real death. “Brain death” is merely the ceasing of those brain functions that can be measured by a monitoring machine.

 

Although we cannot be sure of the exact moment of death, we are sure it occurs after those bodily functions cease. We know that death has already occurred when the body undergoes a general corruption (i.e., throughout the entire body). Localized corruption of a particular part of the body is not a reliable sign of death. That localized corruption is called “gangrene” and can occur while a person is alive.

 

 

A dying person especially needs our help because temptations are often very great while a person is dying

 

We usually do not know the spiritual battles a person is waging in the last moments of his life, because he is usually too weak and frail to indicate “on the outside” the battles which are raging within him. But these battles occur!

 

The devil is a far better “doctor” than human doctors and he knows better than the human physicians when a person is about to die. In a person’s final hours, the devil knows it is his last chance to influence where the dying person will spend eternity.

 

As every faithful and informed Catholic knows, death is the most important moment of life. The devil knows that too. The devil also knows that the dying person is in a weakened state and has less strength to fight the devils and sin.

 

Although these final battles are usually hidden, occasionally God Wills that they become known to us, for our good. Here is the account of the death of one man we know of, written by his close relative, describing the man’s spiritual combat against the devils and sin during the last moments of his life:

 

My uncle was a pious and humble, bedridden traditional Catholic who was in veterans’ hospice care. On his death bed, he was under attack by the devil to such an extent that fear took over and he was able to get out of bed and run down the hall shouting, “They [viz., the devils] are trying to get me to commit mortal sin!” The attending nurse recited a psalm to him as she helped him back to bed. One hour later, his esophageal cancer pierced his aorta and he began coughing up blood. Being frightened, he leaped out of bed and ran to the door of his room, where he collapsed and died.

 

Because our loved ones especially need our help during their final struggle, we should be generous, remaining at their side and helping them to the very end.

 

 

Dying persons are often aware even when they are non-responsive and apparently unconscious

 

Because a dying person needs our help in his final spiritual battle, we should persevere helping until we are as certain as we can be, that he is dead and no longer needs our help.

 

We cannot know with certainty when this separation of soul and body (death) occurs, so we should “err” on the side of remaining longer to assist the person in dying a holy death. A person might be non-responsive to stimuli and apparently not breathing, yet fully aware and undergoing a final spiritual battle for his soul.

 

We should not stop helping a dying person even if he is non-responsive and is apparently unconscious. There are reports of persons being well aware but unable to manifest consciousness or react to stimuli. For example, in 2014, a woman suffered a stroke and slipped into a coma, becoming non-responsive. While in a coma, she was “painfully aware” of all around her. She could not move, see, or speak. She could hear and think but could not respond. She panicked but her panic did not manifest itself exteriorly. This woman later recovered and told her story.[1]

 

Even when dying persons are in a coma or in a “sleep” from which they cannot be awoken, they often can hear us, are conscious and are able to pray. The sense of hearing is the last sense to cease functioning.

 

Recently, we assisted an uncompromising Traditional Catholic during her fifteen-hour final death struggle. About six o’clock in the morning, she slipped into a non-responsive state, no longer reacting to any stimuli. She was breathing but seemed to be in a “sleep” from which she could not be awoken.

 

About six hours into her ordeal, as we were at her bedside, one of us asked her to squeeze his finger if she could hear him. She immediately gave his finger a quick and firm squeeze before again becoming entirely unresponsive to all stimuli for the remaining nine hours in which she showed signs of life.

 

 

How to assist the dying

 

Death is a frightening and lonely occasion. Death is a time of sorrow – so make sure you assist the dying person with as much moral support as you can, being ever-present and attentive, in order to encourage him in his death struggles.

 

Do your best to give the dying person strength, encouragement and human moral support. Remember that love “divides” sorrows[2] – including the sorrows of death. Human contact with a dying person is very important. Hold his hand. Reduce (divide) his sorrows of death, as much as you can. Give him frequent little caresses or movements/touches, so he knows you are still there. (Without movement, we easily lose awareness that something/someone is touching us.)

 

Let him know he is dying and that you came to help him prepare to die well. The dying person shouldn’t be given false hope that he will live. He should not be denied the truth of his situation any more than those around him should lie to themselves. It is not a loving act to ignore reality out of fear of alarming him. To do so might imperil his immortal soul.

 

The dying person needs to face his mortality, to repent of his sins, to pray, to receive Extreme Unction (if an uncompromising priest is available), to be encouraged to trust totally in Jesus and His forgiveness and love, etc. The dying person must spiritually prepare himself for judgment. To help him do this is the single greatest act of love you can show him.

 

We should not take salvation for granted, e.g., we should not tell him, “soon you will be in heaven”. This imperils the dying person’s salvation because it encourages him to merely “wait for heaven” rather than spend this precious time preparing to die as well as possible.

 

It is very valuable but taxing work, to assist a dying person hour-by-hour. It is not necessary that we get him to respond to us frequently or at all. The important thing is that he knows we are there, not that he gives us proof that he is paying attention to us.

 

Throughout the dying person’s time on his deathbed, it is good to offer him short ejaculations that encourage a focus on Christ, our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, who is the patron of the dying and of a happy death. We should frequently ask for the prayers of the Saints, especially the dying person’s patron saints.

 

Even if the dying person is non-responsive, pray out loud (or whisper in his ear) and encourage him to pray inside himself, along with you. Also, frequently, lovingly, and calmly repeat prayerful ejaculations for him, such as:

 

  Into Thy hands, Oh Lord, I commend my spirit.

  Heart of Jesus, once in agony, have pity on Thy dying servant (handmaid).

  Eternal Father, I accept with a joyful and resigned heart the death it will please Thee to send me, with all its pains and sufferings.

  O Lord Jesus Christ, receive my spirit.

  My Jesus, mercy!

  Be merciful to me, Oh Lord, a sinner!

  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

  Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in Thee!

  Holy Mother Mary, pray for me.

  Holy Mary, Mother of grace, Mother of mercy, do thou defend me from the enemy, and receive my soul.

  St. Joseph, obtain for me grace and mercy!

 

 

Interspersed with these ejaculations, give little expressions of moral support such as:

 

  We [your names] are here with you.

 

  We love you.

 

  We are praying for you.

 

  Offer up your sufferings; this is very pleasing to Our Dear Lord.

 

  Place all of your trust in the Sacred Heart of our dear Lord, and in our dear Mother Mary.

 

  Our Lord is merciful! Offer up your sufferings to Him!

 

As you are helping with these prayerful ejaculations and words of moral support, it is not necessary that you be continually speaking. Use your best judgment mixing words and silence, so that the dying person keeps a spiritual focus and knows that he is not alone.

 

Even if the dying person appears non-responsive, pray either out loud or in his ear. Continue until you are sure he is dead. If the dying person is able to pray with you (either audibly or interiorly), coax him to do so.

 

 

What to avoid

 

We are not assisting the dying person principally in order to soothe him or make him comfortable. Our main job is to help him die well and save his soul. Therefore, don’t impede his effectively waging his spiritual warfare. For example, don’t:

 

  Distract the dying person from his spiritual struggles.

 

  Minimize his situation or “sugarcoat” the fact that he is dying.

 

  Hold out false hope that he will recover or distract him with thoughts of a false recovery.

 

  Play or sing secular songs.

 

  Talk to the dying person about secular things unconnected with his dying, e.g., events in the news, happenings in the family, etc.

 

  Excessively puff him up with praise or give him assurances that he has already finished his final job (preparing well for death).

 

 

Make use of sacramentals when assisting the dying

 

The sacramentals of the Church are very powerful at a person’s deathbed. When helping the dying, use these:

 

§  A St. Benedict medal

 

§  Holy water

 

§  Bring your rosary (and maybe one for the dying person).

 

§  Bring a blessed candle, a candlestick, and matches. Light the blessed candle unless oxygen use in the room prevents that.

 

§  Bring a crucifix for the dying person to hold. If necessary, hold the crucifix with him so that it does not leave his hand. Have the dying person kiss it often, if possible.

 

§  Confirm that the dying person is wearing a brown scapular. Bring one in case he is not wearing one. Often non-Catholic caregivers take a patient’s scapular off (for whatever reason). So, a dying person who “always wears a scapular” might not have one on while he is dying.

 

§  Bring holy water and use it to sprinkle the dying person, make Signs of the Cross on his forehead, senses, hands, and, perhaps, his feet.

 

 

Prayers to use in assisting the dying

 

·         Sing Traditional Catholic hymns, e.g., Oh Sacred Head Surrounded.

 

·         Recite the Traditional Catholic Prayers for the Dying (see below).

 

·         Frequently, invoke the help of St. Joseph, the patron of a holy death.

 

·         Recite acts of Contrition, Faith, Hope, and Charity.

 

·         Recite the Memorare (“Remember, Oh Most Gracious Virgin Mary …”).

 

·         Recite Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Bes.

 

·         Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary with him.

 

 

Traditional Catholic Prayers for the Dying when death becomes close

 

As death approaches more closely, the sick person’s soul should be commended to God. Here is a good traditional formula through which to do this:

 

Go forth, O Catholic 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, in the name of the holy and glorious Mary, Virgin and Mother of God; in the name of the angels, archangels, thrones and dominions, cherubim and seraphim; in the name of the patriarchs and prophets, of the holy apostles and evangelists, of the holy martyrs, confessors, monks and hermits, of the holy virgins, and of all the saints of God; may your place be this day in peace, and your abode in Holy Sion. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

O merciful and gracious God, O God, according to the multitude of Thy mercies Thou blotteth out the sins of such as repent, and graciously remit the guilt of their past offenses, mercifully regard this Thy servant (handmaid) N.____ and grant him (her) a full discharge from all his (her) sins, who with a contrite heart most earnestly begs it of Thee. Renew, O merciful Father, whatever has been vitiated in him (her) by human frailty, or by the frauds and deceits of the enemy: and associate him (her) as a member of redemption to the unity of the body of the Church. Have compassion, Lord, on his (her) sighs, have compassion on his (her) tears; and admit him (her), who has no hope but in Thy mercy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.


I commend you, dear Brother (Sister), to the almighty God, and consign you to the care of Him, whose creature you are, that, when you shall have paid the debt of all mankind by death, you may return to thy Maker, Who formed you from the dust of the earth. When, therefore, your soul shall depart from your body, may the resplendent multitude of the angels meet you: may the court of the apostles receive you: may the triumphant army of glorious martyrs come out to welcome you: may the splendid company of confessors clad in their white robes encompass you: may the choir of joyful virgins receive you: and may you meet with a blessed repose in the bosom of the patriarchs. May St. Joseph, the sweetest Patron of the dying, comfort you with a great hope. May Mary, the holy Mother of God, lovingly cast upon you her eyes of mercy. May Jesus Christ appear to you with a mild and joyful countenance, and appoint you a place among those who are to stand before Him forever. May you be a stranger to all that is punished with darkness, chastised with flames, and condemned to torments. May the most wicked enemy, with all his evil spirits, be forced to give way: may he tremble at your approach in the company of angels, and with confusion fly away into the vast chaos of eternal night. Let God arise and His enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Him fly before His Face, let them vanish like smoke; and as wax that melts before the fire, so let sinners perish in the sight of God; but may the just rejoice and be happy in His presence.

May then all the legions of Hell be confounded and put to shame; and may none of the ministers of Satan dare to stop you in your way. May Christ deliver you from torments, Who was crucified for you. May He deliver you from eternal death, Who vouchsafed to die for you. May Jesus Christ the Son of the living God place you in the ever-verdant lawns of His Paradise; and may He, the true Shepherd, acknowledge you for one of His flock. May He absolve you from all your sins, and place you at His right hand in the midst of His elect. May you see your Redeemer face to face, and standing always in His presence, behold with happy eyes the clearest Truth. And may you be placed among the company of the blessed and enjoy the sweetness of the contemplation of your God for ever. Amen.

Receive, Lord, Thy servant (handmaid) into the place of salvation, which he (she) hopes to obtain through Thy mercy. R. Amen.

 

Deliver, Lord, the soul of Thy servant (handmaid) from all danger of Hell; and from all pain and tribulation. R. Amen

 

Deliver, Lord, the soul of Thy servant (handmaid) as Thou didst deliver Enoch and Elias from the common death of the world. R. Amen.

 

Deliver, Lord, the soul of Thy servant (handmaid), as Thou didst deliver Abraham from the midst of the Chaldeans. R. Amen.

 

Deliver, Lord, the soul of Thy servant (handmaid), as Thou didst deliver Job from all his afflictions. R. Amen.

 

Deliver, Lord, the soul of Thy servant (handmaid), as Thou didst deliver Isaac from being sacrificed by his father. R. Amen.

 

Deliver, Lord, the soul of Thy servant (handmaid), as Thou didst deliver Lot from being destroyed in the flames of Sodom. R. Amen.

 

Deliver, Lord, the soul of Thy servant (handmaid), as Thou didst deliver Moses from the hands of the Pharaoh, King of Egypt. R. Amen.

 

Deliver, Lord, the soul of Thy servant, as Thou didst deliver the three children from the fiery furnace, and from the hands of an unmerciful king. R. Amen.

 

Deliver, Lord, the soul of Thy servant (handmaid), as Thou didst deliver Susanna from her false accusers. R. Amen.

 

Deliver, Lord, the soul of Thy servant (handmaid), as Thou didst deliver David from the hands of Saul and Goliath. R. Amen.

 

Deliver, Lord, the soul of Thy servant (handmaid), as Thou didst deliver Peter and Paul out of prison. R. Amen.

 

And as Thou didst deliver that blessed virgin and martyr, Saint Thecla, from three most cruel torments, so be pleased to deliver the soul of this Thy servant, and bring it to the participation of Thy Heavenly joys. R. Amen.

 

We commend to Thee, Lord, the soul of Thy servant (handmaid) N.____, and we pray Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, that as in mercy to him (her) Thou becamest man, so now Thou would be pleased to admit him (her) to the bosom of Thy patriarchs. Remember, Lord, he (she) is Thy creature, not made by strange gods, but by Thee, the only living and true God; for there is no other but Thee, and none can equal Thy work. Let his (her) soul rejoice in Thy presence, and remember not his (her) former iniquities and excesses, which he (she) has fallen into, through the violence of passion and the corruption of his (her) nature. For although he (she) has sinned, yet he (she) has always firmly believed in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; he (she) has had a zeal for Thy honor, and faithfully adored Thee as his (her) God, and Creator of all things. Remember not, Lord, we pray Thee, the sins of his (her) youth, and his (her) ignorances; but according to Thy great mercy, be mindful of him (her) in Thy Heavenly glory. Let the heavens be opened to him (her), and the angels rejoice with him (her). Let the archangel St. Michael, whom Thou didst appoint the chief of the heavenly host, conduct him (her). Let the holy angels come out to meet him (her), and carry him (her) to the city of heavenly Jerusalem. Let blessed Peter the apostle, to whom God gave the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, receive him (her). Let St. Paul the apostle, who was a vessel of election, assist him (her). Let St. John the beloved disciple, to whom the secrets of Heaven were revealed, intercede for him (her). Let all the holy apostles, who received from Jesus Christ the power of binding and loosing, pray for him (her). Let all the saints and elect of God, who in this world have suffered torments in the name of Christ, intercede for him (her); that being freed from the prison of his (her) body, he (she) may be admitted into the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with Thee and the Holy Ghost, lives and reigns, world without end. Amen.

 

 

Prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary

 

May Mary the most merciful Virgin Mother of God, kindest comforter of them that mourn, commend to her Son the soul of this His servant (handmaid), that through her maternal intercession, he (she) may overcome the dread of death and, with her as guide, joyfully reach his (her) longed-for home in the heavenly fatherland. R. Amen.

 

 

Prayer to St. Joseph

 

To thee I have recourse, St. Joseph, Patron of the dying; and to thee, at whose blessed death watchfully assisted Jesus and Mary, by both these dearest pledges I earnestly recommend the soul of this servant (handmaid) in the sufferings of his (her) last agony, that he (she) may by your protection be delivered from the snares of the devil and from eternal death, and may merit to attain everlasting joy. Through the same Christ our Lord. R. Amen.

 

 

Prayers following Death

 

After the person has apparently died, the following prayers can be said:

 

Come to his assistance, all you Saints of God: meet him, all you Angels of God: receiving his soul, offering it in the sight of the Most High. May Christ receive you, who hath called you, and may the Angels conduct you to Abraham’s bosom. Receiving his (her) soul and offering it in the sight of the Most High.

 

Eternal rest give to him (her), Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon him (her).

 

Kyrie eléison.

 

Christe eléison.

 

Kyrie eléison.

 

[Our Father (silently)]

 

V. …and lead us not into temptation.

R. But deliver us from evil.

V. Eternal rest give to him (her), Lord.

R. And let perpetual light shine upon him (her).

V. From the gates of Hell.

R. Deliver his (her) soul, Lord.

V. May he (she) rest in peace.

R. Amen.

V. O Lord, hear my prayer.

R. And let my cry come to Thee.

V. The Lord be with you.

R. And with thy spirit.

 

Let us pray. To Thee, Lord, we commend the soul of your servant (handmaid) N.____, that being dead to this world he (she) may live to Thee: and whatever sins he (she)( has committed in this life through human frailty, do Thou in Thy most merciful goodness forgive. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.

 

Grant, O God, that while we lament the departure of this Thy servant (handmaid), we may always remember that we are most certainly to follow him (her). And give us grace to prepare for that last hour by a good life, that we may not be surprised by a sudden and unprovided death, but be ever watching, that, when Thou callest, we may, with the Bridegroom, enter into eternal glory: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

Conclusion of the article

 

Death is the most important moment of life. Life is the preparation for this moment. Be generous helping the dying person die well.



[1] May 2, 2016 article ‘I was still in there’: A 32-year-old learns what it’s like to be trapped inside her own body, by Lindsey Bever, found here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/05/02/i-was-still-in-there-a-32-year-old-learns-what-its-like-to-be-trapped-inside-her-own-body/

 

[2] “Friendships multiply joys and divide griefs”, written by author and historian, Thomas Fuller and found here: https://www.azquotes.com/quote/353382