THE LAST RITES

according to the Book of Common Prayer

Most of this material comes from the Holy Communion and the Visitation of the Sick, with a few additions from earlier or later Prayer Books.  There is much more here than I ever need.  Too much and people get befuddled, but though the prayers are long and demanding, they carry great power in their sonorous and ancient phrases.  I find it better to have as much as possible to hand, from which to choose, rather than too little, which then needs ad lib expanding.

    For many, even the most faithful members of the Church of England, the Last Rites carry such an aura of mystery that they are too often avoided;  or remembered too late, “It would have been nice.  I wish we had;  but we didn’t want to bother you…”  Perhaps these texts might make it easier to know what to expect, and why they matter.

    The simple ceremonies, usually at the bedside of the dying person, with close family or friends gathered round, offer a sort of formalized history of the person’s spiritual life, a recapitulation of their complicated, muddled pilgrimage of redemption.  Not obvious?  I explain what we are doing and why, before I begin each section, and (?) it seems to make sense and carry meaning, even for those who are not church-goers.

    Of course, there is much modification according to circumstances, and in my experience it is relatively uncommon for the dying person to be sufficiently conscious to receive communion, hence the rubric, which I sometimes explain and sometimes not.

    There is something here about the dignity of a human life as it draws to the close, of the great calling we all share to live as a child of God.  With all the current debates over the new atheism and assisted suicide, there is a great deal to be said for increasing the understanding and practice of the Last Rites.

@  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen  

Peace be to this house, and to all who dwell herein.

ALMIGHTY GOD, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid:  cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name;  through Christ our Lord.   Amen.

O FATHER of mercies, and God of all comfort, our only help in time of need, we fly unto thee for succour in behalf of this thy servant, here lying under thy hand in great weakness of body. We know, O Lord, that there is no word impossible with thee; and that, if thou wilt, thou canst even yet raise him up, and grant him a longer continuance amongst us.  Yet, forasmuch as in all appearance the time of his dissolution draweth near, so fit and prepare him, we beseech thee, against the hour of death, that after his departure hence in peace, and in thy favour, his soul may be received into thine everlasting kingdom, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thine only Son, our Lord and Saviour.  Amen.

 

BAPTISMAL CONFESSION OF FAITH

DOST thou believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?

Answer   All this I steadfastly believe.

    And in Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son our Lord? And that he was conceived by the Holy Ghost; born of the Virgin Mary; that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; that he went down into hell, and also did rise again the third day; that he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; and from thence shall come again at the end of the world, to judge the quick and the dead?

Answer   All this I steadfastly believe.

    And dost thou believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints; the Remission of sins; the Resurrection of the flesh; and everlasting life after death?

Answer   All this I steadfastly believe.

 

CONFESSION

Then shall the Minister examine whether he repent him truly of his sins, and be in charity with all the world; exhorting him to forgive, from the bottom of his heart all persons that have offended him; and if he have offended any other to ask them forgiveness.  And then the Priest shall say the Collect following:

O MOST merciful God, who, according to the multitude of thy mercies, dost so put away the sins of those who truly repent, that thou rememberest them no more:  open thine eye of mercy upon this thy servant, who most earnestly desireth pardon and forgiveness.  Renew in him (most loving Father) whatsoever hath been decayed by the fraud and malice of the devil, or by his own carnal will and frailness;  preserve and continue him in the unity of the Church;  consider his contrition, accept his tears, assuage his pain, as shall seem to thee most expedient for him.  And forasmuch as he putteth his full trust only in thy mercy, impute not unto him his former sins, but strengthen him with thy blessed Spirit;  and, when thou art pleased to take him hence, take him unto thy favour, through the merits of thy most dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

After which, the Priest shall absolve him (if he humbly and heartily desire it) thus:

OUR Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences:  and by his authority committed to me, @ I absolve thee from all thy sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

ANOINTING

If the person desire to be anointed, then shall the minister anoint him upon the forehead or breast only, making the sign of the cross, saying thus [from the 1549 Prayer Book]:

As with this visible oil thy body outwardly is anointed:  so our heavenly Father, almighty God, grant of his infinite goodness, that thy soul inwardly may be anointed with the Holy Ghost, who is the spirit of all strength, comfort, relief and gladness.

Who also vouchsafe mercifully to grant unto thee spiritual strength, by his holy spirit, to withstand and overcome all temptations and assaults of thine adversary, that in no wise he prevail against thee, but that thou mayest have perfect victory and triumph against the devil, sin and death, through Christ our Lord;  who by his death hath overcomed the Prince of death, and with the Father and the Holy Ghost evermore liveth and reigneth God, world without end.  Amen.

THE WORD

The Holy Gospel (from the Communion of the Sick)   St John 5.24

JESUS said, ‘Verily I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation;  but is passed from death unto life.’

COMMUNION

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.  We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table, but thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy:  grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.   Amen.

Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread;  and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us;  and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.   Amen.

[BEHOLD, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world;  blessed are they that are called to his supper. 

Lord, I am not worthy to receive thee, and only say the word and my soul shall be healed.]

[Not in the Prayer Book, it is true, but by much use it has become familiar to many of our home communicants, complete with the gesture, so that it may evoke a response, when others have failed.]

THE BODY of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.

But if a man, by reason of extremity of sickness or by any other just impediment cannot receive the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, the Curate shall instruct him that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and steadfastly believe that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the Cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks therefore; he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul’s health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.

COMMENDATION

O SAVIOUR of the world, who by thy cross and precious blood hast redeemed us:  save us and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.

[If occasion shall serve, holding a crucifix before his eyes, the Minister shall say:]

THE Almighty Lord, who is a most strong tower to all them that put their trust in him, to whom all things in heaven, in earth and under the earth, do bow and obey, be now and evermore thy defence;  and make thee know and feel, that there is none other Name under heaven given to man, in whom, and through whom, thou mayest receive health and salvation, but only the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A commendatory prayer at the point of departure

O ALMIGHTY God, with whom do live the spirits of the just made perfect, after they are delivered from their earthly prisons:  We humbly commend the soul of this thy servant, our dear brother, into thy hands, as into the hands of a faithful Creator, and most merciful Saviour; most humbly beseeching thee that it may be precious in thy sight. 

      Wash it, we pray thee, in the blood of that immaculate Lamb, that was slain to take away the sins of the world; that whatsoever defilements it may have contracted in the midst of this passing world, through the lusts of the flesh or the wiles of Satan, being purged and done away, it may be presented pure and without spot before thee. 

      And teach us who survive, in this and other like daily spectacles of mortality, to see how frail and uncertain our own condition is;  and so to number our days, that we may seriously apply our hearts to that holy and heavenly wisdom, whilst we live here, which may in the end bring us to life everlasting;  through the merits of Jesus Christ, thine only Son our Lord.   Amen.

And/or this commendation, if still closer to death.  [Note the more modern language, reflecting its more modern use in the Church of England.  I always modify the prayers, linguistically back or forwards, according to the person I am ministering to.]

GO upon thy journey from this world, O Christian soul, in the name of God the Father, who created you;  in the name of the God the Son, who died for you;  in the name of God the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies you. 

     May the Lord Jesus Christ come to greet you, with angels and archangels, prophets and patriarchs, apostles and martyrs, and all the saints in heaven;  and may your portion this day be in peace, and your dwelling in the heavenly Jerusalem.

THE BLESSING

UNTO God’s gracious mercy and protection we commit thee.  The Lord bless thee, and keep thee.  The Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee.  The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.  And the blessing @ of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, rest upon thee, now and for ever.  Amen.