One of the most special moments in priestly life is administering “Last Rites” to a dying person. “Last Rites” is the celebration of Viaticum (the final reception of Holy Communion), Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick. Viaticum is the “food for the journey” home to the Father, when no sacraments will be necessary any longer. Reconciliation, of course, brings final penitence and peace to the sinner. Anointing brings Christ’s compassionate healing in the final days of life.
It is an incredible experience to be God’s instrument for these sacraments! The priest is invited into the most intimate of family situations. He offers something no one else can offer: the Presence of Jesus Christ. And there is no more delaying that encounter for the dying. It is time for them to meet God. It is time for the Judgement. What a gift it is for the dying to compassionately encounter Christ in His sacraments before that journey! On a human level, the love of the family at the sickbed of a dying person is very moving indeed. You see the real humanity of people, with no affectations or false faces.
It is a blessing for the priest to stand at this bridge between two worlds. A life of great blessings and beautiful experiences is coming to an end. But the greener fields and the higher slopes of eternal life (God willing) are ahead of the dying person. Christ is that bridge over the waters of death. I am blessed to be the bridge-keeper. It is in the celebration of the sacraments that the faithful priest finds his truest joy. And there are few, if any celebrations of those sacraments that rivals the “Last Rites”