"Last rites are not necessary"?

Hi. I’m not a catholic and would like to address a friend’s statement about last rights. Please help me:

"For Catholics, they believe that if you had a car crash, and you’re in a point of dying, unless a priest can rush to you and get to you before you die, because then you can confess to him before you leave. Before you die, “God please forgive my sins.” If you can’t confess to a priest, there may be some sins that day that have not been confessed to a priest, so therefore you are not forgiven, so “Get me a priest as quickly as possible.”


“Cyril, Last Rites are unnecessary.” (This is coming from my friend who is sola scriptura).

How do I even begin to respond to what he said. Are last rites necessary in the Catholic religion?

No such thing as “Last Rites.” That is a colloquial term for the Sacrament of Anointing.

ANOINTING OF THE SICK. Sacrament of the New Law, instituted by Christ to give the sick spiritual aid and strength and to perfect spiritual health, including, if need be, the remission of sins. Conditionally it also restores bodily health to Christians who are seriously ill. It consists essentially in the anointing by a priest of the forehead and the hands, while pronouncing the words “Through this holy anointing and His most loving mercy, may the Lord assist you by the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that, freed from your sins, He may save you and in His goodness raise you up.” In case of necessity, a single anointing of the forehead or of another suitable part of the body suffices. Olive oil, blessed by a bishop, is normally used for the anointing, but any vegetable oil may be substituted in case of emergency.

The institution of anointing by Christ is an article of the Catholic faith, defined by the Council of Trent (Denzinger 1716). The Church further teaches that this sacrament is implied in Gospel reference to Christ sending out the disciples, who “anointed many sick people with oil and cured them” (Mark 6:13); moreover that the sacrament was promulgated by the Apostle James when he wrote, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him up and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:14-15).

Your friend has confused it with the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Matthew 16:19, Mathew 18:18, 2 Corinthians 5). Ask your friend to read James 5:14-15. Ask him/her why that is in the bible and to ponder its plainly spelled-out meaning. Anointing is of the sick - just as James states. Your friend seems to show little to no understanding of the scriptures or of the Sacraments, most likely because his/her community flatly rejects them. Rejecting the plain meaning of scripture so as not to appear too “Catholic.” Let’s ponder that for a moment, shall we, imagining ourselves face-to-face with the Lord at judgment.

As a practical matter, I have had cancer three times since 2008, when my prognosis was “poor.” It relapsed in 2009 and again in 2015, when it was three related cancers. Stage IV at least twice. 90-100 tumors total in my lymphatic system, as well as bone marrow and small intestine. Inoperable, non-irradiable, considered incurable. I have received the Sacrament of Anointing on several occasions during that time frame. For the past year, I have been free of cancer. Even if I was unconscious and died, my sins would have been forgiven by the Sacrament. I will admit that I am somewhat biased in this regard, but it does seem that God’s grace flows through the Sacrament, no?

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No, the Last Rites (Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick) are not “necessary”. Many good people die without receiving that sacrament first.
If a Catholic is dying and has serious sin/s that he has not confessed and there is no possibility of getting a priest - then he can make an act of perfect contrition (true sorrow for having offended God by such a serious sin) and God will forgive his sin. However, should he recover and not die, then he would need to go to Confession and confess that sin/s to the priest in order for it to be forgiven…

It’s my understanding that the so-called Last Rites include the Sacraments of Confession, the Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist.

James wrote about the Sacraments of the Anointing of the Sick and Confession, saying:
Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:14-16)
Jesus spoke about the Sacrament of the Eucharist, saying:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:53-54)

Although the Sacraments are not absolutely necessary since God, who gives grace through them, can also give grace apart from them, they are *ordinarily necessary *because Jesus Christ gave the Sacraments as gifts to his Church to assist us in our weakness and as a protection against presumption. Whenever we repent of our sins with a contrition motivated by love of God (so-called perfect contrition) (Luke 7:47; 1 Peter 4:8), God will certainly forgive our sins and justify us. However, if our contrition is motivated for a lesser reason (so-called imperfect contrition), there is no guarantee God will forgive us. So, if the Sacraments are available to us, we ought to make use of them because their effects are certain, even when our contrition is imperfect. Better to receive the Sacraments even though we may have perfect contrition and so be saved than to presume our contrition is perfect when it is not and neglect the Sacraments and end up damned.

For a Christian not to avail himself of God’s gift of those Sacraments and the other Sacraments, including the fruit of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, namely, God’s gift of “pastors and teachers” (bishops), given so that we might not be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles” (Ephesians 4:11,14), makes even less sense than for a Christian not to avail himself of the inspired writings of the New Testament, which admittedly “the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)

That you my friends. I just want to express my gratitude for your responses.

Po18guy, you’re right when you said “Your friend seems to show little to no understanding of the scriptures or of the Sacraments, most likely because his/her community flatly rejects them.”

Correct. I failed to include Reconciliation, if possible, as well as the “Viaticum” - which essentially means “food for the journey” for those for whom death is reasonably expected.

Here is a short article explaining the expression “Last Rites”.

I am old enough to be one of those people mentioned in the article who thought the expression referred only to the Sacrament of Extreme Unction as we used to call it (now called the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick) altho I did know that the other 2 sacraments were also administered when possible.

I think it’s been pretty well covered. The Sacraments, confession included, are the normative means in which grace is conferred. This includes the forgiveness of sins. God is not prohibited from acting in extraordinary ways at His discretion, though.

Let me take a couple of simplified scenarios. A man commits a mortal sin. Immediately after doing so, he is repentant, and looks up nearest confession times. He hops in his car to go, but halfway there is in a terrible wreck and dies immediately. I think it’s safe to put our trust in God in these circumstances that the man’s soul is okay, and we should not be overly legalistic.

Another example, a man commits a number of mortal sins and is unrepentant. One day he has a fatal accident. As he lays dying, he realizes the error of his ways, repents, and turns back to God, seeking His mercy. I think it’s fair to trust in God that in such situations the man is still forgiven.

The sacraments are there for our benefit and should not be disdained or called unncessary (that in itself can be a rejection of God’s teachings and authority), but we should be wary about being too legalistic about them.

He would be forgiven if he made an act of perfect contrition. The act of deciding to go or actually being on the way to Confession is itself not an act of perfect contrition.

The Catechism of St. Pope Pius X :

Q. What are the effects of Extreme Unction?

A. The sacrament of Extreme Unction produces the following effects: (1) It increases sanctifying grace; (2) It remits venial sins, and also** mortal sins **which the sick person, if contrite, is unable to confess; (3) It takes away weakness and sloth which remain even After pardon has been obtained; (4) It gives strength to bear illness patiently, to withstand temptation and to die holily; (5) It aids in restoring us to health of body if it is for the good of the soul.

The Baltimore Catechism :

Q. 970. Will Extreme Unction take away** mortal sin **if the dying person is no longer able to confess?

A. Extreme Unction will take away mortal sin if the dying person is no longer able to confess, provided he has the sorrow for his sins that would be necessary for the worthy reception of the Sacrament of Penance.

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