By Susan Tassone:
During the Covid lockdown my family experienced two Covid deaths and three unexpected deaths. All in a row. We had 6 Aunts and 2 uncles and as a result lots of cousins. Sadly, only one aunt remained, Aunt Babe. (Angeline was her real name.) We treasured her. She knew our nicknames, she sounded like our mothers. We were always “children” in her eyes even though some of us were Medicare kids!
Aunt Babe decided to move to rural Iowa where one of the cousins worked in a retirement facility. She didn’t want to burden her sons. My cousin gladly welcomed her. She cared for her with great love.
Within two months Aunt Babe contracted Covid. She was dying. They contacted me uncertain how to reach a priest. I was hundreds of miles away. You might experience that there is always “someone” in the family who carries the torch of faith. Someone a relative goes to for prayers and intercession. You be that someone if a relative is in need!
There were two small country churches in the area. Anxiously, checking the internet I contacted St. Patrick’s church to get a priest to administer the last sacraments. The pastor answered. A holy priest. His hands were tied. He needed to contact the Bishop’s office. It was his office that assigned trained “Covid priests” to give the last rites. He couldn’t guarantee a priest would be available. Thirty minutes later he contacted me. A priest was available. This priest drove three hours to get to my dying Aunt. He gave her the last rites with the Apostolic Pardon.
She died that night with the grace of all graces, the final blessing of God to die in the state of grace with the reception of the last sacraments, wearing her treasured scapular. This is a HAPPY DEATH – not to die in the state of Illinois, or California or Virginia, but in the STATE OF GRACE.
What is the Apostolic Pardon?
In my book, Prayers, Promises and Devotions for the Holy Souls, I have a special section specifically for the sick, suffering and dying. Msgr. Patrick J. Gaalaas wrote this important section on the Apostolic Pardon.
The Church provides powerful help to persons who are dying. Most importantly, she obliges her children to seek the grace of the Sacraments of Penance, Holy Communion (Viaticum), and the Anointing of the Sick. She obliges her priests to ensure that the faithful in their care are not deprived of an opportunity to receive them.
In addition to these, there is a little-known, but important, plenary indulgence that is granted to the dying. Administered by a priest, it is called the “Apostolic Pardon,” or “Apostolic Blessing.”
In an old edition of the timeless instruction manual Father Smith Instructs Jackson (published by Our Sunday Visitor), Jackson asks, “Has the Church any other help for the dying [in addition to the sacraments]?” Father Smith responds, “Yes. The Church empowers the priest to impart a plenary indulgence by what she calls a ‘last blessing.’”
The Handbook of Indulgences puts it more forcefully: “Priests who minister the sacraments to the Christian faithful who are in a life-and-death situation should not neglect to impart to them the apostolic blessing, with its attached indulgence.”
The Apostolic Blessing has two forms in the ritual for the Anointing of the Sick. Both are short and easy to memorize:
Form A: “Through the holy mysteries of our redemption, may almighty God release you from all punishments in this life and in the life to come. May he open to you the gates of paradise and welcome you to everlasting joy.”
Form B: “By the authority which the Apostolic See has given me, I grant you a full pardon and the remission of all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
What if There is No Priest Present?
The question, of course, arises: “What if there is no priest present when a person is dying?” The Handbook of Indulgences reassuringly stipulates that “if a priest cannot be present, holy mother Church lovingly grants such persons, who are rightly disposed, a plenary indulgence to be obtained in in articulo mortis, at the approach of death, provided they regularly prayed in some way during their lifetime.” Note the two conditions: The dying person must be “rightly disposed” and have “regularly prayed.”
Being rightly disposed means to be in the state of grace and without attachment even to venial sin. This is required in the gaining of any plenary indulgence. Just what does it mean to have “prayed regularly in some way during their lifetime”?
The Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, promulgated by Pope Paul VI, in 1967, notes: if one of the faithful in danger of death is unable to have a priest administer the sacraments and impart the Apostolic Blessing, “the Church, like a devoted mother, graciously grants such a person who is properly disposed a plenary indulgence to be gained at the hour of death.”
The one condition is the practice of praying for this all during life. Use of a crucifix or cross is recommended for the gaining of this indulgence.”
The one condition necessary in such a situation, then, is that the dying person should have desired this indulgence — and prayed for it! No doubt, this can be accomplished in many ways, (i.e., Nine First Friday Devotions, Five First Saturday devotions).
It’s important to know about the Apostolic Pardon so you can request it for yourself and others, or a loved one. Leaflet Missal Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, offers the Apostolic Pardon Prayer Card available to purchase. (1- 800-328-9582)
I carry a few with me. A friend who died passed these cards out at her wake!
I didn’t stop there for my dear Aunt. I arranged Gregorian Masses for her soul! I highly recommend the Pious Union of St. Joseph in Grass Lake, Michigan (www.pusj.org). They are reliable and efficient. They will mail a beautiful card to the recipient.
Gregorian Masses are a series of Holy Masses celebrated on thirty consecutive days for one deceased soul. A departed monk appeared to St. Gregory and declared that he had been delivered from purgatory upon the completion of thirty Masses. (However, the church does not officially confirm this but points to the efficacy of the Masses!) Sacred Congregation of Indulgences has declared the tradition to be “a pious and reasonable belief of the faithful.” Put them in your wills!
How Does One Prepare for Eternal Life?
Was my aunt prepared to die? Was she in the state of grace? I would hope so. Are you prepared? Over a million souls died of Covid. How many died unprepared?
We must be prepared at all times. We need to pray on a regular basis so we are prepared for eternal life. It begins with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
We should not wait until the last hour to seek reconciliation with God and our neighbor.
The best way to prepare our soul for eternal life is a constant attitude of forgiveness in our heart and actions. We are called to exercise patience in adversity, assistance to those who are afflicted, love of neighbor and a sincere devotion to Our Lord and His mother — all in the spirit of unceasing prayer, and humility which draws down grace upon us.
Pray for the Dying
One reason prayers for the dying has faded is because society does not think about death. The saints and Christians prayed for special grace and strength at the hour of death. There are many different prayers that can invoke blessings for the sick and dying and to offer for our own souls now and at the hour of our death. Prayers, Promises and Devotions for the Holy Souls is a great resource for the sick suffering and dying. It’s also a source of catechetical teaching to young member of the church who should become familiar with the prayers and devotions.
Johnnette Benkovic Williams, host of EWTN’s Women of Grace, used this book at the bedside of her dying husband. Father Syliva, her former co-host said this book was “gold” for the dying. EWTN chaplain, Father Joseph Mary, at the daily Mass during his homily talked about this treasured book he uses on sick calls.
Pray for the sick, suffering and dying. They become the holy souls! Mercy on them will bring us also the crowning mercy of a holy death. Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “As we enter heaven, we will see them, so many of them, coming towards us and thanking us. We will ask who they are and they will say: ‘A poor soul you prayed for in purgatory.’”