What happens if a person does not receive the last rites?

When my father passed away two months ago, we inadvertently assumed that the hospice nurse (a nun) gave him the last rites, but that was not the case. What does this mean? Can we ask our parish priest to do something even though my dad has already been buried? My mother is simply beside herself about this, as my dad was devout, spiritual, and would have wanted the last rites.

The last rites consist of confession, anointing of the sick, and a final Communion (often called viaticum; Latin, “for the journey”). While a nun who is also an extraordinary minister of holy Communion can give a patient Communion, she cannot offer confession or anointing of the sick, as those are priestly duties. The last rites assist in preparing a Catholic for death.

While the last rites are indeed a great blessing for Catholics, and should be provided for a terminally ill person if he is able to receive them, they are not absolutely necessary. You and your mother apparently believed that you had provided for your father’s spiritual needs, and so are not in any way at fault for being innocently mistaken. As you report that your father was a devout Catholic, we may hope that God provided your father with the graces he needed to be prepared for meeting God.

Rest assured that there are still things that you and your mother may do for the repose of your father’s soul: You may have Masses offered for him, offer private prayers such as the rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet, and remember to pray for him on dates important to him and to your mother (his birthday, your birthday, wedding anniversary, anniversary of death, etc.). All of these loving actions can help hasten your father’s entrance into heavenly glory. God bless.

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