Deathbed Sacraments And Other Honors

Paul Inwood at PrayTell asks how we understand ministry. He cites a possible problem with an ordination of a man on his deathbed. This doesn’t strike me as a hill I’d want to get injured on, let alone die. Bishops make choices, and we move from there.

Some sacraments are traditionally celebrated at the time of death. Traditionally, five. Baptism and confirmation for catechumens. The Eucharist then, and also for Catholics in the form of viaticum. Anointing and penance, certainly.

A person is ordained to the clergy in any variety of Christianity for service. Obviously, a person near to dying will have limited contact with others, but for loved ones and medical and care staff. The opportunity for a “mainstream” of pastoral care will be limited to non-existent. So it becomes more of an honor, or a completion of a process already begun years before, or the sacramental verification of a life already lived in service. It not that ordination is the spigot that turns on the tap of ministry and service. I’ve known a few sad clergy who do not really serve people by any objective analysis of their lives. And there are certainly lay people who have vibrant, effective, and fruitful ministries in the Church.

I’m reminded of the occasional prerogative of popes to name elderly theologians and other church figures to the College of Cardinals, though they might be past the age of eligibility for voting for a pope. I guess I’m okay with that.

I sort of see where Mr Inwood is going with his questions, but I confess I’m not really bothered by deathbed ordinations. It can be an honor for the person or the family and friends and colleagues. It can allow for certain prayers to be offered during the funeral rites. As long as we don’t have any pseudo-pelagianism breaking out over some silly comment like a priest is more likely to get into heaven.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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