Pastoral Counseling and Last Rites
Pastoral Thanatology calls for a strong understanding of the rituals and spiritual aspects that surround death. One particular care falls under the sacramental nature of the Blessing of the Sick. While primarily a Catholic sacrament known as Last Rites or Extreme Unction, all Christian circles can appreciate the necessity of pastoral guidance and the presence of the Holy Spirit that encompasses it. The necessity of grace that gives clarity, forgiveness, certainty, and peace to the dyingperson is administered by the priest or minister via the power of the Holy Spirit. This is materialized in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
Again, while Protestant circles, do not agree in this sacramental nature of the anointing, it can be agreed, they do believe in the grace that is poured upon the dying person to accept Christ and prepare the person for his entrance into heaven. This should suffice in a general agreement that prayer, blessing, and other symbolisms are beneficial to the person-if not on a spiritual level, at least at a psychological level. The remainder of this article, however, will focus on the sacramental nature and grace of this Catholic sacrament to better describe its principles. In this regard, Catholic and non-Catholic pastoral counselors can both benefit, if not in practice, but at least in comprehension of the sacramental theology.
The sacraments of the Catholic Church span the life of those in the Mystical Body of Christ. Each sacrament has a particular sacramental grace that performs a particular function. Baptismal grace is a sanctifying grace that removes the stain of Original sin, makes one a child of God and an heir to heaven; it gives life. Confirmation’s sacramental grace strengthens the growing soul and gives it the particular graces to become a solider of Christ. The Eucharist as a sacrament feeds the soul. Reconciliation heals the soul. Matrimony and Holy Orders particularly deal with life choices and supply the soul with the necessary graces to serve God as a married person or an ordained minister. The sacramental nature of the Anointing of the Sick also serves the life span of the person, namely in danger of death or at the ultimate moment of death.
As a sacrament, Anointing of the Sick, feeds the soul a variety of graces pertaining to the function of the sacrament. First, it is a healing sacrament. It can heal physically, but generally and most of the time, it heals spiritually. With this particular function, it can carry a sanctifying element for the soul. It can restore the divine life in the soul lost via grave sin. The anointing of the oil, blessing, and prayers can also serve as a strengthening. The sacramentals or holy objects or rituals utilized are mere manifestations of the spiritual renewal going on beyond human sight. The soul is not only healed but strengthened by the Holy Spirit with the virtue of faith and hope; faith in Christ and hope in Christ that his promises will be fulfilled. Hence this sacramental grace produces a calming effect on the soul, allowing the soul to free itself from anxiety and doubt. This sacramental grace also produces a calmness that protects the soul and claims it as one of God’s children, warding off the howls of the evil one.
As a pastoral counselor, one will come across the miraculous manifestations of this sacrament. You will experience the peace, the love, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room. You will sense the peace that replaces the anxiety, the certainty that replaces the doubt and the courage that replaces the fear. For these reasons, one should not so easily dismiss the sacramental benefits of the Anointing at all levels; spiritual, physical, emotional and psychological. If not Catholic, pastoral counselors should utilize some of the techniques and prayers from this ritual and utilize it. These rituals will enhance the presence of the Holy Spirit and aid you in preparing the person for death or healing them completely. If you are interested in Pastoral Thanatology, please review the program.
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C