Extreme Unction and the Absolution of Sin

Is it possible for a protestant…or even a non-christian to receive last rites in a case of a terrible accident…for instance, lets say a Catholic Priest is walking down the side walk and watches a car accident take place and one of the occupants (a non-Catholic) is ejected from the vehicle and mortally wounded and the Priest comes to their aid…is it possible for that Priest to give them Extreme Unction and Absolve them of all of their sins prior to their departure from this life?

If he is reasonably certain that they are Catholic, he can confer Last Rites, Otherwise he will pray for them. Last Rites only forgives sins if a person is unable to confess their sins in the Sacrament of Confession (unable to speak, unconscious, etc.), prior to being Anointed.

I’m no expert on this but I don’t see why not. I don’t think it is specified anywhere that the person receiving last rites or confession must be Catholic.
Those joining the Church who are already baptized go to confession before receiving first Eucharist, which means they aren’t Catholic yet - but they’re going to be.
The real question is why would a Protestant or a non-Christian want last rites?

Yes Mel, you’re right (at least from my perspective) i would not need a sacrament to be forgiven, [edited]

That depends.

Is the person conscious or not? It makes a huge difference. Does the priest actually have knowlege that the person is non-catholic?

If the person is not Catholic, and the priest knows this, then the priest should not do either of those sacraments, unless the person expresses a desire to become Catholic at that moment (and yes, the priest should ask). One might ask, why not? The answer is if the person still rejects the Catholic faith, then absolution would not be possible. A priest cannot reconcile someone to the Church who does not desire to be reconciled in the first place. In imminent danger of death, the barest minimum would suffice to receive someone into the Church. Baptism if necessary, goes without saying. In the case of a baptised non-Catholic, a simple nod of the head to the query “do you want to become Catholic” would be enough to receive the person into the Church, and then the priest could certainly absolve and anoint.

However, if the person is unconscious, and death is imminent, a priest would (indeed should) pronounce the short-form of the absolution–no matter what else. Whether or not that has any efficacy will depend upon the state of the patient’s conscience. One who wants to be absolved will be absolved. One who has no desire for absolution (yet cannot express that lack of desire) of course won’t be absolved. The priest would say the prayer anyway, in hope that the person desires forgiveness and absolution by being reconciled to the Church.

Extreme Unction would also depend upon whether or not the priest actually has the Oil of the Sick (OI) on his person. Most do not. I carry an emergency stock in the glove-compartment, as do many priests, but whether or not that is accessible at the moment wasn’t in the scenario (maybe that priest took a taxi).

First of all, the poster was suggesting that the person who was dying was either unconscious or unable to speak so the Priest would not know if that person were a Catholic or not.

So, the issue as to whether a protestant would want the Last Rites is irrelevant.

I would think that the Priest would give the Last Rites to the dying person whether or not he knew what the religion of that person was. It would be best to err on the side of right. :signofcross:


To elaborate on what I said in the earlier post, and address your questions:

  1. Yes, canon law, (based on Divine Law remember) does say that only Catholics (or Orthodox, but that’s a different forum) can receive confession and anointing. But at the same time, if there is danger of death, or immiment danger of death, the law makes provision for some exceptions.

  2. In the case of a person who desires to be forgiven & absolved and reconciled to the Church, it’s a matter of that person’s desire. Sometimes people in a situation like that truly desire to be reconciled, but they are unable to express this in words. This might be because they aren’t able to speak, or because they are unaware of what reconcilliation means. Someone who truly desires to be reconciled to Christ and the Church, would also desire to be Catholic–even without consciously knowing it. That’s why a priest would say the words of absolution, in the hope that the person wants it, and leave the matter of deciding to what extent the person wants it in the hands of God. Of course, this would apply only in the most extreme circumstances, when death is imminent. It’s important (indeed outright necessary) that people have the opportunity to come to the conclusion on their own to be a part of the Church. If the person will be dead in a matter of moments, the luxury of time just isn’t there. However if the person will have the opportunity to express either a desire for reconcilliation, or a rejection of it, then the priest should wait until that opportunity presents itself.

Just for clarity here folks.

“Last Rites” means:

–The Sacrament of Confession
–The Apostolic Pardon
–The Sacrament of Holy Communion, as Viaticum (if time and circumstances permit)
–The Sacrament of Unction (aka Anointing). If circumstances are extreme, it’s called “extreme Unction.”

There is a difference between “the Last Rites” and the individual Sacraments which make-up the Last Rites. Also, some people use “Last Rites” and “extreme Unction” interchangeably, but they’re different as you can see from above.

Baptism is the gateway to the other sacraments.

IMHO That is the only rite that would be needed by the dying non-Christian. (And if the conditions are such – eg the person had expressed the desire and plan to become baptized – He would be considered “Baptized by desire”, and would not even require the passing priest)


I was a bit sloppy in my answer after reading Fr.'s answer. It should read:
If he is reasonably certain that they are Catholic, or indicate they wish to become Catholic, he can confer Last Rites, Otherwise he will pray for them. Anointing of the Sick only forgives sins if a person is unable to confess their sins in the Sacrament of Confession (unable to speak, unconscious, etc.), prior to being Anointed

Hey Fr…to clarify and I apologize my original question did not…the person is not conscious and therefore unable to a) request last rites; and b) tell the priest whether or not they are Catholic…therefore, for all the Priest knows when he comes across the dying person, it could be a Baptist or a Jew…and he doesn’t have time to try to find out. What does He do in that type of situation, and if he were to absolve the person of their sins, would it be valid for a Non-Catholic…or even a non-Christian?

I surmise you mean “imminent danger of death”? That means that the person is not expected to live beyond a few moments. If it’s expected that the person will live long enough to regain consciousness (even though the trauma might ultimately be fatal), what I’m about to say would not apply.

A priest in that situation would (or at least certainly should) pronounce the formula of absolution. Whether or not that has any effect would depend upon the interior attitude of the person. A Catholic who desires to be reconciled would be. But likewise, a non-Catholic Christian who has an interior desire to be forgiven and reconciled to the Church would also. So it would be a valid absolution. As I said in an earlier post, someone might have a true desire to be reconciled to the Church but isn’t aware of what that means. Only God can make that determination, so the priest would say the absolution in hope that this would be the case.

A non-baptised person can never be absolved because baptism is a necessary pre-requisite to any other Sacrament. Again, one can’t be “reconciled” if he wasn’t part of the Church in the first place. This is not at all to say that God would not forgive (essential point). I’m talking absolution here, not forgiveness.

Having no knowlege of the person, (Catholic, non-Catholic, non-Christian) in an extreme situation like that, a priest should pronounce the absolution–whether or not that has any effect would be solely in the hands of God. So there’s no misunderstanding, in other circumstances, priests don’t just say the absolution “just in case.” Imminent danger of death is different from any other situation.

Does this mean that you can commit adultery without risk or worry of loss of grace?:confused:

So I’ll play devil’s advocate with you because I am a convert to Catholicism. What if you become a mass murderer? Because you accepted Christ’s sacrifice once and for all, are you still going to heaven despite living a life of and dieing in severe sin?
I am fearful of death only if in a state of mortal sin which is defined by those wiser than me and held by 2000 years of tradition. Mortal sin requires full knowledge and consent so I would know what I was getting into if ever I commit such sin. Besides fear of death is a sign of the desire to reconcile with God - I fear hell only because it means eternity away from God - I’m required to go one step further than you to reconcile but as I said I would know what I was getting into.

I was never sure I was saved when I was Protestant. I truly believed Jesus could and would forgive me but I fell out of friendship with Him often - just one sin and you go to hell whether you know it is sin or not. I knew Jesus would always welcome me back but I was never 100% sure my heart was just right. As a Catholic I can audibly hear Jesus’ welcome, forgiveness, and peace through the mouth of the priest. My heart must still be in the right place but I experience a peace after confession that I simply never found in my years of being ‘saved’.

If as Catholics we are wrong and salvation can come once and for all instead of multiple times, what have we wasted except a little time. If as a Protestant you are wrong and salvation does not come once and for all, what are the consequences?

It is possible to know if a person is Catholic or not even if unconscious.
I know not all do but I wear a four way medal which on the back says ‘I am a Catholic please call a priest’.
Some Lutherans wear a similar necklace that says ‘I am Lutheran’. There are many varieties.
Or if the person wears a know pagan or satanic symbol it can be fairly assumed they are not Catholic.
But as Fr David said the priest should still say the prayer in case the person desires reconciliation.

Mel, you are right. Many Catholics do wear something to identify themselves as Catholic.

I wear a Holy Face Cross and St. Benedict medal on the same chain around my neck but I also carry in my wallet a card that says I am a Catholic.

Your four-way medal is very popular also and does clearly point to your being Catholic.


Thanks for your reply to my post Mel. Catholics do seem to have a missconception of the Evangelical way of salvation. I guess it is completly different view than RC. You see, for us it is not a sin question, but a Son question. No one goes to hell because of sins. They go there because they reject Jesus and they reject His sacrifice. Jesus has already paid for the sins of the whole world (1Jn. 2:2). Many protestants have not been taught this fact and that is one reason they drift off into other faith traditions which are less biblical.
Hope this helps to clear up a missunderstanding.

Gee, I’ve always understood that anything I do that is contrary to Jesus, i.e. that rejects Jesus, is a sin.

Can you better explain the semantics of your post? Thanks.

It is through our sin that we reject the Son.

I fear hell only because it means separation from God.
(1 Jn. 2:2) I was taught this as a protestant and as a Catholic.
I won’t address the ‘less biblical’ here because this isn’t the thread for it. But we can find the thread or start it if you like.

Just answer this - if you live a life of extreme sin (murder, rape, torture, etc) after receiving Christ’s gift do you still go to heaven? You wouldn’t have any fear at all about whether you need God’s forgiveness in the last moments of your life?

This thread has gotten me close to an answer for a similar question:

I have been working at a hospital and the other day the priest was with a Baptist patient. She has advanced stage cancer as well as some dementia so she’s in an out of it as far as her memory and reasoning. The priest gave her Anointing of the Sick (though she seemed like she was oblivious to what was going on). Since the priest would have known she’s Baptist should he have given the sacrament?

I am of the opinion that the priest desires for the patient to receive the graces of the sacrament considering she’s near death it should be fine and it would be valid. Wouldn’t we want to do what we can for our dying brother or sister even though they may not be Catholic?

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