Commendation of the Dying
COMMENDATION OF THE DYING
The Rite for the Commendation of the Dying has been revised within the post-conciliar liturgical reform of the rites of the sick, the dying, and burial. The emergence of this reformed rite as it appears in the 1983 Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viacticum is the result of the adaptations made to the 1972 Ordo commendationis morientium, found in the Latin editio typica of Ordo Unctionis infirmorum eorumque pastoralis curae, which itself was a revision of the Ordo commendationis animae, found in the Title V, chapter vi of the 1614 Rituale Romanum. Early ritual evidence of commending the dying person to God appears in Ordo Romanus XLIX (c. 800), in which the dying person is communicated, and then has "the passions of the Lord" read "until the soul departs from the body," followed by, at the moment of expiration, the responsory Subvenite, Ps 114 In exitu, and the antiphon Chorus angelorum. As Frankish practices came to dominate Roman ones, the reading of the passions of the Lord were replaced by other liturgical texts, such as the litany prose prayer Proficiscere/Libera, whose source can be traced to the fourth-century Orationes pseudocyprianae, which, in their original context, were exorcisms that asked protection against the powers of hell for catechumens. While the continued practice of reading the passions of the Lord to the dying person is evidenced largely through monastic rituals and the twelfth-century Roman Pontifical, the pervasiveness of the Frankish pattern of rites for the dying can be seen in the absence of the reading of the passions in the thirteenth-century Pontifical of the Roman Curia, as well as in the Franciscan Ritual of the Last Sacraments (1260), which drew from and was very influential in disseminating this thirteenth-century curial rite. Despite this influence, however, two important predecessors to the 1614 RR, the Liber Sacerdotalis of Alberto Castellani (1523) and Giulio Santori's Rituale Sacramentorum Romanum (1602), both include the readings of the passions of the Lord in their rites for the dying. While the 1614 RR incorporates the litany of the saints and the six commendation prayers from the Franciscan ritual, it also includes a subunit composed of Jn 17:1–26 (Jesus' farewell discourse), the passion of John, the passion prayer, and Pss 118 and 119, as well as three devotional prayers, whose origins can be traced to the fourteenth-century Ars moriendi.
Consisting of multiple short texts and biblical readings, the litany of saints, four commendation prayers, a devotional prayer, and prayers at expiration, the post-conciliar reform of the commendation of the dying involves a changed ritual context, for it is once again associated, not with the Sacramentum extremae unctionis, but with viaticum, seeking to sustain this union with Christ until it is brought to fulfillment after death. Further, the reformed commendation rite involves a changed ritual and changed texts that reflect changing attitudes to death and the afterlife. No longer as concerned about the need for forgiveness of sins and deliverance from the pains and punishments of hell, the reformed rite invites the dying person to share in the paschal mystery, completing what was begun in baptism, and to share in the hope of eternal communion with God and of the resurrection of the body. In order to accomplish this goal, the prayers and readings attempt to assist the dying person to overcome the anxiety and fear of death in the power of Christ, who in dying destroyed death, encouraging the dying person to imitate Christ in his suffering and death and to accept his or her own fear and anxiety about death in the hope of heavenly life and of resurrection. Offered by the Church to strengthen and comfort a dying Christian in passage from this life, this rite helps the dying person to "embrace death in mysterious union with the crucified and risen Lord, who awaits them in the fullness of life" (PCS, no.163). Even in the absence of a priest or deacon, other members of the community should be prepared to carry out this ministry, for their presence shows more clearly that this Christian dies in the communion of the Church (OUI, no 142; PCS no. 213).
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[j. m. donohue]