An observation regarding end of life

I had a patient today that was Catholic. I only knew because I asked the family if they wanted me to call a chaplain. I suggest these things because nine times out of ten families never think of it themselves. That’s when they said their loved one was Catholic- so I offered to call a priest for them. It took forever to get a priest there- which is its own story. However- when they learned it might take a while they didn’t care one way or the other. The priest finally came- so there’s that.

Anyway, this was just the newest version of the same story playing out yet again. A dying family member is a practicing Catholic and their loved ones aren’t and/or don’t actively attempt to get a priest there for their dying loved ones, and don’t care if their dying loved ones’ religious wishes are carried out. Perhaps (very likely) their loved ones never made what they wanted known before hand. However, I’m beginning to lose count of how often I’ve been the one to suggest things like contacting the religious officiant of their choice.

Long story short, if you want a priest there when you pass, then you’d better tell your entire family that’s what you want when you’re well (and tell them more than once). Not every nurse is like me. Most don’t care to suggest calling a chaplain for you and your loved ones. Most figure if you want one you’ll ask for one. Plan ahead.


Bless you for looking after the spiritual needs of your patients.


Excellent advice! Thank you.

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Does it help to bear a bracelet or a wallet card that reads “I am Catholic. If I am incapacitated, call a priest! 555-1212.”


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It depends on the kind of procedures a dying patient has had before getting to that stage. With operations or going to an MRI they can’t wear anything like that, and we all avoid patient’s wallets like the plague. More often than you know, we get patients that show up in only their pajamas without phones, wallets, or anything. It’s best for a patient to outright tell the nurse who is admitting him/her of his/her preference to see a priest (assuming they are in their right mind on admission)- and nurses are supposed to ask anyway as asking a patient’s religious, spiritual, and cultural needs/requests are part of the admission process (99% of the patients I’ve ever admitted have stated they have no such needs- by the way). Most electronic medical records will automatically flag chaplain services so patients can be visited by a priest and receive communion. Also, patients can request to see a priest at any time themselves.

It’s a bit sad to watch people who are not rousable have their distraught family members not think of or care about their spiritual needs/wants at the end.

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Getting it tattooed on one’s body would be more helpful.


We had a heck of a time getting a priest for my mom to give the last rites. With the priest shortage in our area, it was over 18 hours before one could come. They couldn’t even find a Chaplin, luckily she held on until they got there, and actually lasted another 4 days after that.


thanks you for asking patients and thanks for your post. You are a blessing.

I live in a country where we don’t speak a lot of religion, and I don’t think nurses will ask all the patients if they want a chaplain because of (laicité) secularism or because they don’t care. But at the same time, thanks to secularism, we have chapaincy and chaplains, in the hospitals. It is even possible that public hospitals pay them with public money. Why? Because hospitalized patients cannot go to religious services themselves, so the State should guarantee their access to their cult.

If the chaplain is a priest, it is easy to see one, if you make the initiative. But it is increasingly lay people who fulfill the role of chaplain, so it may increasingly harder to find one.

here, it seems not to be reflex to call a priest, even if the ill or dying family member is a practicing Catholic. because the family don’t feel concerned by religion, or because it will break a taboo: imminent death, and it’s “demoralizing”.
It’s not new. I have seen that in history, people try avoid to call a priest for the last rites, because it will mean the person will die.

I had a struggle. One of not yet in-law had Alzheimer desease and ask to go to mass. It was possible because there were mass in his retirement’s house. He was answer yes, yes, but nothing was done because of his desease. I was answer that’s because we cannot bring someone to mass with this illness, because he will take the communion independently of his state. And that’s mass change a lot since V2, so it will be a shockAnd anyway, he will have forget his ask.

When it was clear that he was dying, again, no priest because It is breaking a taboo. It means that we consider he will die, so it’s “demoralizing”. And because a ill person cannot confess, so no priest should come.

What spiritual care can be offered to people who has demantia, and are believers, or specially ask for?
@OddBird, I know that you are a protestant pastor, but do you have any answers?

I was a hospice volenteer - how do you know a priest did not visit if hes a practicing catholic he would of received communion and confession if he’s not a practicing Catholic that explains it - a priest I am friends with goes every Saturday to palliative care for communion and confession.
A lot of people i visited had already made their peace there were all sorts of religious people going in and out.Every time i went there was someone of Christian faith visiting people.

I also did end of life where you sit with the person until they pass and there was never a priest.It was already taken care of.

Most people don’t jump on the hospice train before they die. The majority stay a full code to the bitter end, even when it is a horrible decision. Sometimes people are in the hospital with hopes of going to rehab and take a turn for the worse and they decline quickly. For those that are a DNR most of them are neither hospice nor palliative. I’m not kidding when I wrote that 99% of the people I admit flat out state they have no spiritual or cultural needs or requests (probably because they don’t think those things will be necessary for their hospital stay). When people decline fast they are struggling with staying alive and it is up to their families to request any spiritual needs. We consider it lucky if people (usually their families) agree to go palliative mere hours before they pass in an acute care setting.

I still think it matters whether a person is a practicing Catholic and their family - some people are Catholic but haven’t seen the inside of a church in 20-30 years. When I spent time with some people they would identify as Catholic but when I asked about a priest they had no plans to see a priest. If nobody - them and their family are not practicing the faith they don’t know what to do. It They don’t know where to go or who to call or what to do.

I’m not sure I have any helpful answers. It’s really an ongoing struggle in most nursing homes in my region to convince both the staff and the families that spiritual needs are important, especially towards the end of life.

Just last week, in one of the nursing homes I’m a chaplain for, I saw an Alzheimer patient (who normally attends) being whisked away from the room, against their will, just before the service began. When I inquired why, I was told that their family had asked they stopped coming, because “worship made them agitated” (whatever that’s supposed to mean). In such cases, my best bet is to get in touch directly with the family.

I guess, if I were family and I wanted a dear one to be brought to Mass, I would both inform the staff and try to get hold of the priest, or the lay pastoral agent, or, if there are some, of a Catholic voluntary helper/visitor who usually helps out for Mass, and explain the situation.

I normally get to check the list of who’s brought in for worship, and in nursing homes where I have a good relationship with the staff, I can ask for a specific person to be brought in if I know in advance they’d like to come. If the staff doesn’t cooperate (which sometimes happens for very good reasons), then I know I’ve got to reserve communion and go to that person’s room after the service, which is still better than nothing.

Just to clarify, I don’t mean it to sound as if staff were generally hostile to the chaplains and/or the spiritual needs of patients. They aren’t. They just aren’t trained to be concerned about the spiritual side of care unless they’re Christians themselves, are often tired and overworked (and underpaid), and have more pressing things to attend to. Which is precisely why there are chaplains :wink:

ETA re last rites: I’m not sure. I live in a similar context to yours regarding secularism, but even there, most nursing homes ask their chaplains if they’d agree to be called even in the middle of the night if they’re needed by the side of a deathbed (it happened to me only once in three years). Most often the families don’t think of it. If the nursing home staff doesn’t see the necessity of calling a priest, I think asking the staff for the lay pastoral agent’s phone number, and calling them directly if needed, is the surest way to go. All the pastoral agents I work with have a list of priests they can phone for sacraments in an emergency.

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thanks you @OddBird.

That’s a good idea to ask the lay pastoral agent! (Yet, I am not sure they are likely to answer outside their work or volunteer hour and in the middle of the night!)

That’s why, as the OP said, it’s important to plan these things in advance. When a loved one moves into a nursing home, warn the staff they’re Catholic and will want to go to Mass. Get acquainted with the chaplain. If they’re a lay pastoral agent, ask them in advance for the names of priests they trust and would call in the middle of the night without hesitation.

Don’t be afraid to disturb the chaplain. We’re there for family members too. Sometimes I end up accompanying both an elderly person and their family, and in that case I’m generally the one asked to come over for a blessing when the time grows near, and then to preside over the funeral.

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When my Mom died a couple of years ago, my sister and I made sure a priest came in to give her rights that night before she was taken away (her death was very sudden).

When that same sister died this April, also very suddenly, I couldn’t get a priest until her funeral, but I made it happen. I was the only one out of the rest of my brothers and sisters to think about it.

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What is important is to talk to your family and caregivers WAY before you are too frail to do so.

"I am a practicing Catholic, when I am near death it is my most important wish to have a Catholic Priest administer the Sacraments.

I am a member of St Thus and Such parish, their phone number is ZZZ-ZZZ-ZZZZ and after hours they have an emergency number (call your parish to find out what is done for Sacramental Emergencies).

When I die, I do not care what dress you put me in or what color of flowers, what I do care about is a Catholic Mass. My requests for the Mass are on file at St Thus and Such parish. Know that there is no charge for a funeral Mass. I have already made provisions to pay an organist, etc."

Also write this down and give it to all of your family. caregivers.


It was still common for french practicing Catholics, at least for thoses born until the early 1900’s, to hold with their wallet a card of Catholic identity. The priest was asked explicitly. It could be accompagnied with pious images. We have found one in my great grandfather things. I don’t think any of our 6 grands parents, all Catholics and born in the 1920’s, held one.
One eg, found on sales on ebay:

I am sure it’s a lost, and a necessary custom that should established again.

Thanks you @OddBird. I have only one indirect family member who will be interessed. I will talk to her and her heir (not now, as it is a taboo, but when and if the time comes of hospital or nursing home). After, thanks to the breaking of the faith’s transmission, I except it would not be a question for decades, until our time come.

In theory, yes, but not too much in reality. Unless a family really can’t afford it, they will have to pay.
This advise may brings resentment on the family toward the Church, when they will be asked to pay.
Do you want the parishes die?
That may be different in your diocese, but in our, if a family cannot pay for a ceremony, the casuel is still charged and the parish will have to pay it to the diocese. Wealthy urban parishes will get well, poorer parishes will have more people who will not pay, and already fewer means.

With the Covid crisis, and the current forbidding of religious services, the financial situation is now known as a complete disastrous for the diocese of our country. And we don’t even speak of parishes.

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I’ve spoken and told them over &over if I’m dying forget the doctor call a Priest. But when the time comes who knows what will happen. I just pray I can receive the Apostolic Pardon before I go.

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I’m 90% sure it violates Canon Law to charge for any mass, including a funeral Mass.

People have to pay for the undertaker/funeral director/mortician services, for embalming or cremation, for a casket or urn, for a grave plot and for a tombstone, those costs happen. The mass itself cannot have a charge as every Catholic is entitled to the funeral Mass.

There may be a charge for organist, choir, etc however these are not required for a mass.

The casuel, even if cannot be imposed if people are indigent is an offering that makes the parish and the diocese run. What would impose to deprive these catholic structures from maybe 10% of their “income”? To know the statistics, we have to ask ours structures their financial bugget.

All theses funeral expenses are already very expensive. The casuel will only add a very small number. Were we lived, the final price for all will be payed to the funeral agent who will after reverse the casuel to the parish. It’s not something we pay directly to the parish. We can see the detailed bill.

Unfortunely it’s untrue. Catholic are entiteld, a religious ceremony, but not a mass. The ceremony in itself is not a sacrament. However the dead person will be remember in the next parochial sunday mass before the communion. It’s automatic where I lived.

The standard ceremony we have is conducted by a lay funeral agent, who is a retired volunteer parishioner who is mandated by the bishop to perform funeral ceremony. I don’t have the number, but I guess than maybe 90% or more of people have a lay agent.

The only people who have a priest, so a chance of mass are the local personalities, the famalies who ask explicitly for a priest, and when there is no possibility to have a lay agent, or whe the priest ask for making a ceremony.

Anyway, in all the funerals I have attended, the preparation was only done with volunteer lay parishioner only. That’s mean that if a priest is not present for the funeral, the family does not seen one, and it’s often the only contact they have with the Church if they are not practicing the faith.

As a priest in our area said, if want, he could never performed one funeral, as we lived in a enough christian heart to have enough volunteer parishioners. He only do some, because he wants too.

Some diocese have probably have more priests than our rural one, where priests are lacking a lot. So they probably have more funeral masses.

For one of my grandmother, other diocese, we have a priest because the parish did not have lay parishioner. It was a very poor area, so they lacked “human” ressources. But we did not have a mass, as my family is not practicing.

So even if we have a priest, it does not mean we will have a mass. If nobody will take the communion it will be annoying to have a mass.

So no, funeral mass was a catholic custom, but not requiered any longer.

Other sad loss, the priest or the lay parochial team do no longer accompagnied the family until the grave. The funeral team will do it, but if the family want to said a prayer, the parish will give a paper and the funeral director will let a family member give a religious goodbye.

Maybe it’s the standard to have a funeral mass in America? And the priest who come to the graveyard? and I agree it’s better. I prefer it.

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