Advice on Visiting the Sick
Q. Is it a great act of charity to visit the sick?
A. It is doubtless a great act of charity to the sick, and highly beneficial to those who practise it. Our blessed Savior assures us, that what we do in this way to any of our Christian brethren, He esteems as done to Himself. I was sick, and ye visited me (Matthew 25:36). And to encourage us in the practice of it, He declares in the same chapter that the sentence of eternal happiness will be pronounced on those who do to Him this charitable service in the persons of His brethren; and that the neglect of it will be one cause of the eternal reprobation of the wicked. To assist the sick, to relieve their necessities, by ministering to them for the love of God as unto Jesus Christ, is an act most agreeable in the sight of God, and one which He will abundantly repay. But the most exalted charity to the sick is to assist them in the concerns of their souls, and to help them to prepare for a happy death. This may be done in various ways: by encouraging them to suffer patiently, by exhorting them to perfect resignation to the will of God, by suggesting to them good thoughts, and pious acts of virtue particularly such as are most necessary for their state, and by comforting them in their affliction. All are not capable of doing this, but there are other acts of charity to the sick which any one may perform — such as, reading to them some pious book proper for their state, particularly the passion of our Savior in the Gospel, and praying with them.
Q. Is it a work of mercy to assist dying persons?
A. Most undoubtedly. It is one of the most charitable offices we can do to our fellow-creatures in this world; for to die well is of everlasting importance; our all is then at stake: our eternal life is to be decided, eternal misery or happiness depends upon it, consequently, to assist our neighbour to die well is the greatest favour we can do him. A dying person is exposed to many dangers from mental and bodily weakness, and from the temptations of the devil when the soul is between time and eternity, and therefore to assist one to die well is a most charitable act, for He that is a friend loveth at all times, and a brother is proved in distress (Proverbs 17:17). The Scriptures exhort to this great charity, saying, Comfort him (that is dying) in the departing of his spirit (Ecclesiasticus 37:24).
Q. In what does this assistance consist?
A. When the sick person receives the holy Viaticum and Extreme Unction, if he is capable of saying the prayers before and after these sacraments, he ought certainly to do so, but it too often happens that these sacraments are deferred till he is unable to collect his thoughts, and in such cases the assistance to be given consists,
First, In reading beside the sick person the prayers before and after receiving Viaticum and Extreme Unction. But as these prayers are said for the sick, they must be read slowly, and with short pauses, that they may fix attention and affection upon what is read. Should weakness not allow attention of the sick to the whole at once, let it be divided into different portions, and said at intervals, as one is able to accompany them.
Second, In suggesting to the sick persons, from time to time, short acts of the virtues proper for them, in order to awaken their attention to what most concerns them. This ought to be done slowly, and in a plain and consoling tone of voice, in order to excite holy affections in the dying soul, one or more acts being recited.
Third, When they fall into their agony, and are no longer capable of receiving this assistance, what now ought to be done is, to frequently sprinkle them with blessed water especially when in great suffering. Indeed this ought to be observed during the whole course of the sickness. Frequently to repeat in the ear, in an audible and distinct voice, the holy names of Jesus and Mary. To say the prayers for the recommendation of a departing soul, in which all present should join.
When any one is in danger of death the first duty is to tell them so. It is a cruelty and a crime not to let them know their danger, whatever the doctor may sometimes say to the contrary.
If the danger is not immediate, get them first to settle their affairs, to arrange their family matters, to pay their debts, and to be reconciled to their enemies, if they have any.
Send for a priest as soon as possible.
Read or say prayers with the sick person, especially Acts of Contrition.
School-children ought to be taught to do these things. When taught, they can often do them better than grown-up people. Sometimes friends and neighbours can do them better than near relations.
When the priest is coming to give the last Sacraments, prepare for him as directed on the following page.
When the sick person is actually dying, and the priest is not present, someone should read the Prayers for a Departing Soul.
How to Help a Dying Non-Catholic
When a non-Catholic is dying, any Catholic, man, woman or child, may help them to save their souls, should they manifest a desire for spiritual help.
Tell them about the passion and death of Christ,
How their sins helped to crucify Christ,
How God is worthy to be loved and served for His goodness and mercy.
In other words, suggest to them all the motives of Perfect Contrition.
Make for them acts of Faith in Christ, and in the truths of Faith, as far as they know them, acts of Hope for the proper motives, and acts of Perfect Contrition.
Other Recommendations About the Sick
Be always patient, kind, and generous with the sick.
Let nurses tend them with careful modesty.
Let none but good people come near the dying.
Let there be in their hearing no foolish or worldly talk.
Let a Crucifix or pious picture hang before them.
Take care not to catch their disease.
Take care not to breathe their breath.
Keep the sick room always neat and perfectly clean.
Keep it warm, with a fire if need be, but open the window sometimes to let in fresh air.
As to food and medicine, do exactly as the doctor orders.
The Administration of the Blessed Eucharist and Extreme Unction to the Sick and Dying
First, The sick-room ought to be clean and well ventilated, the bed provided with clean covering and the patient washed and dressed as becomes the dignity of the holy sacraments.
Second, A table ought to be placed in the sick-room near the bed in such a way that it may be seen by the patient. Let the table be covered with immaculate linen and upon it placed a crucifix between two wax candles, and a vessel of holy water with a palm branch or any convenient sprig.
Third, Let the candles be lit before the entrance of the priest into the dwelling of the sick person.
Fourth, The family should be present as far as possible during the administration of the sacraments and offer their prayers for the sick person.
Fifth, Let there be placed on the table a glass or a cup of pure water and a piece of clean linen, the latter to be under the chin of the sick person immediately before receiving holy communion.
Sixth, As soon as the priest arrives in the sick-room with the blessed sacrament, all kneel down in reverence, and let them continue in this position until the close of the sacred act, unless the sick person has not yet received the Sacrament of Penance. In this event all will leave the sick-room after the priest has blessed the patient with holy water, and return to their kneeling position after the confession.
Seventh, If time and the condition of the sick person will permit it, the preparatory prayers for Holy Communion may be recited by one of the attendants before the arrival of the priest.
Special Instructions for Extreme Unction
Let there be on the table a plate with a little salt, and another plate with some white cotton.
Besides washing the hands and face of the sick it is advisable to wash also the feet, or at least wipe them with a moistened towel, after removing the stockings.
After the anointing of the hands, let the counterpane at the foot of the bed be turned up, in order that the priest may be conveniently able to anoint the upper part of the feet.
Remark: If the above can not be exactly observed in the event of sudden sickness, let them be followed as far as is practicable.