Are the “Last Rites” a catholic tradition and/or is that needed before death?
The answer for this is coming from the stand point of someone who is not real knowledgeable on the reasons for specific practices of another religion. What I mean is my understanding of why certain religions practice last rites is not exactly solid from their stand point and I don’t want to misrepresent someone as to why they feel they should do something. The place I can answer this from is scripturally, and I do believe I can do so with good understanding.
Basically, and again from my understanding, last rites are a type of prayer offered for a person who is about to die. It may or may not include giving communion to a person who is dying. In my limited research according to a certain minister, “The Catholic tradition of giving the Eucharist to the dying ensures that instead of dying alone they die with Christ who promises them eternal life.”
The question here is, is this a necessary thing? This question can open a can of worms from the standpoint of personal beliefs. What I have found is that people often so hold their personal beliefs and traditions that you cannot convince them otherwise. My job is to instruct people in righteousness. What that means is, in everything I do I point people back to the Word of God. John 17:17 is a powerful statement made by Jesus, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” Though I am not opposed to having traditions, even in the church, my tolerance with that ends when it violates the Word of God. Our beliefs can and should be only built on God’s Word. Now if someone has things they like to do as tradition that don’t violate His word, I’m ok with that.
As far as the communion aspect of last rites we have to look at what is communion for? Now because of time and space and to stay on topic, I’m not fully going into what communion is about but I will give a brief overview. Should someone desire to know more about that, we can write a Faith Fix on it. Communion is for the living, not the dying. It does a dying person no good. Communion is about the Body of Christ, which is His church. It is remembering what Christ did, in its fullness, so that we keep ourselves in the proper mindset. It is spiritual, but the act of communion does not bring us any closer to Jesus. Once a person is born again, Jesus is on the inside of them. He does not leave. Jesus died for all who would choose to believe and His blood is the covering and cleansing of our sin so that we can always have access to the Father. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, BUT CHRIST LIVES IN ME; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
Now, from the prayer aspect of this, the Bible tells us simply in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing.” I have prayed with people many times on their death bed. It is a hugely honorable thing I can assure you, to sit with someone who is passing and encourage them and pray with them. However, if they know Jesus already all this does is make that transition smoother for themselves. It helps bring them peace. A minister I know once said, “We teach people how to live, but not how to die.” I believe there is a lot of truth to this. Believers are too often afraid of death and this just shouldn’t be the case. If they are afraid, they don’t really understand what this is all about.
There is no instruction that I know of in scripture that tells us to pray a specific thing or perform a specific rite over the dying. You don’t see Jesus or the apostles do it and there is no instruction to the churches (Paul’s letters) that tell us to. If it were important, God would have made sure to emphasize it, and He certainly did not. Again, I have no issues with someone praying with someone who is dying, in fact I’d encourage it. I just can’t point to scripture that tells us to. Because of this I can say that it is not specifically necessary.
I will close with this, in the case of people who don’t know Jesus, if we have opportunity we should try to speak with them when they are dying and try to get them to pray and receive what Jesus did for them. Our prayers cannot put someone in Heaven in the sense that we can cover for them. Romans 10:9 is the best way to lead someone in prayer, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Each person must make the decision to make Jesus their Lord, and this can be done even with their last breath. Being with people in death is good because it’s relational and God is relational. We should surround people with our faith, whether they are living or dying.