Can a dying Catholic receive the Apostolic Pardon if there is no priest present?

Father Z replies to a reader’s question:


Can a Catholic receive the Apostolic Pardon if he/she dies without a priest present. I read somewhere that, even in the absence of a priest, the Catholic Church grants a plenary indulgence to all Catholics at the moment of death if they are disposed to receive it.

This is a very good question.  Thank you for asking.

We know about, or ought to know about, the Apostolic Pardon, or Blessing, before death.  This is a remission of temporal punishment due to sin for one who is properly disposed (in the state of grace).  Thus it is to be imparted by the priest primarily after sacramental absolution and anointing.   The Apostolic Pardon can be given once during the crisis.  If the person recovers, the Pardon could be given once again if there is a relapse.

HOWEVER… what if a priest is not available?

That happens, as we have seen to our great sadness in this time of COVID-1984 Theatre.

Just as an aside, if the whole COVID thing has in fact been overblown to keep people in the state of fear, and therefore people died (for whatever reason) without the sacraments because priests were forbidden access… imagine for a moment the implications for the judgment of those who were responsible for whipping up the terror and causing the restrictive policies.  I digress.

The Church provides for those who are dying when there is no priest.  A person who is in articulo mortis, near death, can obtain a plenary indulgence provided that they had a habit of prayer in their lifetime.  The use of a crucifix to look at is very helpful to obtain this indulgence.

If this seems a little vague, that’s okay.  There is flexibility here in that, often, at the point of death, people are unable to speak, and so they cannot perform the work of a vocal prayer.  However, if they had the habit of prayer, especially certain prayers – think of the daily Rosary, praying the Angelus or Regina Caeli as a regular daily practice, praying the canonical hours – that stands in the place of the prayers that the dying person certainly would have offered he if could have.

So, it is habitual prayer that substitutes.

This one of the reasons why I have, on this blog and in preaching, tried to get the point across that we should “practice” dying, through mortifications and prayer.

If we want to be good at playing the piano, we have to practice.  If we want to be good at just about anything we have to apply ourselves so that we get good at it and it becomes easier to do.   Virtues, for example, are habits that we must develop through repetition and effort.  If something is hard to perform, we don’t have the virtue.

In a similar way, if we want to make a good death, we should “practice” those aspects of dying that we can control: daily penances, reflections on death while healthy and active, prayers to God for a good death by whatever means He wills, prayer for the dying and the dead, etc.

Think about this, and the fact that one say you are going to die.

Does this issue of the plenary indulgence at the point of death make you consider establishing regular habits of prayer?

Remember, the priest might not get there in time.

Moreover, because the priest might not be right there when it is time…


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