The Art of Dying Well

If you are a Catholic approaching death, or you are caring for a loved one who is a Catholic, there are a number of rituals that can assist you to prepare spiritually for the final journey to the Lord. There are also prayers specifically for the dying in the Catholic tradition, which may bring you and your family and friends comfort and strength.

Spiritual support

If you are very sick or dying, you may have feelings of helplessness, confusion, anger, resentment, regret or fear. For the Christian, the love of Jesus Christ can give meaning to your sense of suffering, and provide you with hope and spiritual support even if you are feeling very weak or helpless.

The Sacred Scriptures describes the Lord Jesus reaching out to the sick with compassion and tenderness: holding them, comforting them, being present to them and offering them forgiveness, strength and healing.

No one is forgotten by our God. For Catholics, the support of the Church is given in a particular way through the priest and the sacraments of the Church. Sacraments are special rituals that can help us as Catholics to find new meaning in our suffering. As we learn to accept sickness and pain with a deeper trust, and offer to it to God as a prayer for the sake of others.

The Sacrament of Penance

Many Catholics know the Sacrament of Penance as ‘Confession’, since it involves the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest, or as the ‘Sacrament of Reconciliation’. The Sacrament of Penance is the best way that a Catholic can make peace with God and receive his forgiveness and inner healing. It also helps us to come to terms with past hurts and to heal our relationships with others.
If you are near to death, the priest can also offer an Apostolic Pardon.

Anointing of the sick

This sacrament is offered to Catholics who are dying, and to those who are seriously ill, facing a serious operation or death. The priest prays over you and anoints your forehead and hands with holy oil. It brings a special gift of the Holy Spirit that gives spiritual strength, helping you to bear the trials of sickness with more confidence and trust.

The sacrament of the Sick unites the person with Jesus Christ in his suffering and helps them to pray with and for the whole Church. It also brings forgiveness and prepares the person for their final journey towards God. In some cases, if it is God’s will, it can bring health and all kinds of healing.

Holy Communion and Viaticum


Catholics believe that at Mass bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. This gift is known as Holy Communion or the Blessed Sacrament. If you are unable to get to Mass, a priest, deacon or extraordinary minister can bring Communion to the home.

But when we are dying, the spiritual food of Holy Communion takes on a special significance – it becomes “food for the journey” (Viaticum in Latin), a seed of eternal life and a foretaste and promise of the Resurrection. Prayers for the dying and for the dead even after all the sacraments have been celebrated, there are still important prayers that can be said to support those who are dying and their families.

Even after death, if possible, do call the priest to pray with the family at home or in hospital.

Contacting your parish

If you are Catholic and you are sick or dying, or if you are supporting a Catholic who is very ill, it’s important to contact your local parish at an early stage so he can visit
you at home. Don’t be shy or embarrassed or worry if you have been distant from the Church. The parish and the priest will want to support you. And don’t leave it until the last minute, because the priest may not always be available in an emergency.

If you’re not Catholic but would appreciate the support of the Church, or if you would like to know more about how the sacraments can help you, please contact your local Catholic parish anyway.

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