Rites and Prayers at the Last

I noticed this bit from the AP:

A Catholic priest administered last rites over the body of Justice Antonin Scalia after he died on a West Texas ranch.

Elizabeth O’Hara is a spokeswoman for the El Paso Catholic Diocese. She says Rev. Mike Alcuino was summoned from 30 miles away in Presidio to perform the traditional rites on Saturday afternoon.

The Church doesn’t perform rites “on” a dead person. There are Prayers for the Dead, which may be led by anyone.

Just because Justice Scalia’s friends summoned a priest to do something they didn’t understand, doesn’t mean he actually did as requested or expected. Fr Alcuino probably just said the Prayers for the Dead and nobody, including the media, was any the wiser for it.

And if “traditional” (meaning pre-conciliar) prayers were offered, then the liturgical fussbudgets among us are none the wiser for it either. If it was of some comfort to the family or followers of Justice Scalia to know that a priest came and did something spiritual, or even religious, then one purpose is fulfilled: comforting the mourners.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Rites and Prayers at the Last

  1. FrMichael says:

    You would be surprised how many calls for anointing a dead body are made. My most recent instance was yesterday afternoon. The deceased was Methodist to boot, but the widow didn’t tell me until after I anointed. Fr. Z has a good post currently running about the time frame after declared death and refusing to anoint. I personally go with rigor mortis. “The Last Rites” now being a colloquial expression without any definite meaning, when I tell families that I conducted the “Last Rites” it means everything from Anointing with Apostolic Blessing, Commendation of the Dying and Viaticum on one end to Prayers for the Dead in a morgue at the other end. Rare is the family who asks a follow-up question about what I actually did, although some are now starting to ask, “Did you use the oil?” Or more often, I hear someone speaking in a foreign language to a relative on a cell phone that the priest (me) did, or did not, use oil. I know Spanish well enough to understand what is being said in other Romance languages too!

    He does go down a rabbit hole though with “conditional” anointing. That was suppressed some time ago. Either do it with the form or don’t! No reservations allowed for this sacrament.

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