I haven’t posted any answered FAQs in awhile, and have an unaddressed one that I think is worth sharing.
Q. I know of a Catholic family that recently lost a lapsed Episcopalian family member and did not call for an Episcopal priest to do last rites so far as I know. This has caused some friction with another family member who felt that they intentionally denied their loved one last rites because they were more concerned about keeping their relative’s spirits up and seemed to think a pastoral visit would needlessly depress them. Even though the deceased Episcopalian was not devout, did their relatives have the right to refuse to call a priest, if that is in fact what they did?
A. In short – no, the only person that would have had the right to refuse the sacrament of healing (which is what the service commonly known as last rites is) was the deceased themselves. Even if they were lapsed, they would still have access to the sacraments as a baptized member. There are a lot of misconceptions about “last rites” as performed in the TEC, namely that it is drawn-out, requires a last confession, has to be done only when death is imminent, or can be done after death – none of which are true.
It’s entirely possible that the family, because of the difference in denominations, did not see the sacrament of healing, as performed in the Episcopal Church, as being as valid as or similar to their own. I’ve provided some general info below that anyone can use as a helpful reference that hopefully answers questions.
The healing service only takes a few minutes, and any family members present are welcome to join in the prayers. Although the church member MAY make a confession, it is not required and, indeed, in our church, the general confession is sufficient. The sick or dying person receives the laying on of hands and anointing with oil, and may receive communion if they are able to, as can baptized family members or friends present who want to. Should a priest arrive after death, a different set of prayers for the person’s soul and comfort of the family is performed. Rather than dragging a person down and depressing them, it can serve to give a person hope and somewhat of a sense of refreshment. If this family did deny their loved one this sacrament, they all missed out on a true gift and blessing from God.