when does the soul leave the body?
when you die, is this a trick question?
The Church has taught (unofficially, I believe) that the soul “lingers” around the body for a certain time after death. Thus, a priest is permitted to perform Unction on a recently deceased body, with the assumption that the soul is still present to receive the Grace of the Sacrament. I don’t know the time limits on this (for some reason, fifteen minutes sticks in my mind), and I’m not sure if this is still the regular practice.
[quote=DavidFilmer]The Church has taught (unofficially, I believe) that the soul “lingers” around the body for a certain time after death. Thus, a priest is permitted to perform Unction on a recently deceased body, with the assumption that the soul is still present to receive the Grace of the Sacrament. I don’t know the time limits on this (for some reason, fifteen minutes sticks in my mind), and I’m not sure if this is still the regular practice.
The Church teaches that the soul is separated from the body at the moment of death. From the CCC:
366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not “produced” by the parents - and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.
1005 To rise with Christ, we must die with Christ: we must “be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” In that “departure” which is death the soul is separated from the body. It will be reunited with the body on the day of resurrection of the dead.
If there is any allowance for celebrating Sacraments after a person has died, it would have to be conditional and based on uncertainty, that perhaps the person isn’t really dead yet. I think if a priest is sure a person is dead, even a moment after some trauma, then he would be sure that that person is beyond the ability of the Sacraments to help.
[quote=aridite]If there is any allowance for celebrating Sacraments after a person has died, it would have to be conditional and based on uncertainty, that perhaps the person isn’t really dead yet…
I think you are correct. The Catholic Encyclopedia says:
It is interesting to note that recent investigations have made it plain that it is no longer possible to determine even within a considerable margin the precise moment of death. Father Ferreres, S. J., in his work, gathers as the conclusion of his researches that the only absolutely certain sign of death is decomposition. The practical value of this statement is that absolution and extreme unction may be given conditionally for some time after the person would have hitherto been reputed to be dead.
I asked an expert about this (namely my brother, Father Eric). He replied thus:
Canon 1005 states (regarding the Anointing of the Sick, which is the principal sacrament used in Last Rites): “This sacrament is to be administered in a case of doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead.”
In other words, if the priest is uncertain as to whether or not a person is dead, he is still supposed to do the anointing. Apparently the Church leaves it up for the individual priest to decide whether or not there is room for doubt, on a case by case basis.
The official rule with sacraments is that they are for the living, but no one (neither medical science nor theologians) knows exactly when death occurs. For example, people used to feel for a pulse, but that is no longer a guaranteed method. Furthermore, there are cases in which brain dead people have revived. There is also a very ancient belief that the life force “hovers” around a body for awhile, even after death seems obvious. I know of a priest who anointed a man shortly after he was decapitated.
Interpretations of Canon 1005 have given priests different “rules of thumb”, none of which I think are officially taught (or rejected) by the Church. The two most popular rules are:
- Anoint a body if it is still warm.
- Anoint a body if you arrive within three hours of the pronouncement of death (assuming there was no notable delay between the estimated time of death and the official pronouncement).
So whereas the Church says to anoint if uncertain about death, the Church does not provide any further guidelines or limitations on this matter (or at least, none that I’ve come across). Some may argue whether or not the above mentioned priest should have anointed a decapitated man, but no one could say that he was in violation of Canon Law. After all, he was the minister of the sacrament and he was uncertain as to whether or not life had fully left the body (based on the ancient belief of life hovering around the body), so he was following the direction of Canon 1005 which instructs priests to anoint if there is uncertainty of death.
When your six feet under and your relatives are all out spending their insurance money from your life insurance policy.