Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 63

detail of a devotional print of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, c.1880, artist unknown; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Means to Avoid Purgatory – The Sacraments – Receiving them Promptly – Medicinal Effect of Extreme Unction – Saint Alphonus Liguori

We have indicated, as a fourth means of satisfying in this world, the use of the Sacraments, and especially a holy and Christian reception of the last Sacraments on the approach of death.

The Divine Master admonishes us in the Gospel to prepare ourselves well for death, in order that it may be precious in His eyes and the worthy crowning of a Christian life. His love for us makes Him desire ardently that we should leave this world entirely purified, divested of all debt towards Divine Justice; and that on appearing before God, we should be found worthy to be admitted among the elect, without need of passing through Purgatory. It is for this end that He ordinarily sends us the pains of sickness before death, and that He has instituted the Sacraments, to aid us in sanctifying our sufferings, and the more perfectly to dispose us to appear before His face.

The Sacraments which we receive in time of sickness are three: Confession, which we may receive as soon as we wish; Holy Viaticum and Extreme Unction, which we may receive as soon as there is danger of death. This circumstance of the danger of death must be taken in the broad sense of the word.

It is not necessary that there should be an imminent danger of dying, and that all hope of recovery be lost; it is not even necessary that the danger of death be certain; it suffices that it be probable, and prudently presumed, even when there is no other infirmity than old age.

The effects of the Sacraments, well received, correspond to all the needs, all the lawful desires of the sick. These divine remedies purify the soul from her sins, and increase her treasure of sanctifying grace; they fortify the sick person, and enable him to bear his sufferings with patience, to triumph over the assaults of the demon at the last moment, and to make a generous sacrifice of his life to God. Moreover, besides the effects which they produce upon the soul, the Sacraments exert a salutary influence upon the body. Extreme Unction especially comforts the sick person and alleviates his sufferings; it even restores him to health, if God judges it expedient for his salvation.

The Sacraments are, then, for the faithful, an immense assistance, an inestimable benefit. It is not, therefore, surprising that the enemy of souls makes it his first object to deprive them of so great a good. Not being able to rob the Church of her Sacraments, he endeavors to keep them from the sick, either by making them entirely neglect to receive them, or that they receive them so late as to lose all their benefit. Alas! how many souls allow themselves to be taken in this snare! How many souls for not promptly receiving the Sacraments fall into Hell, or into the deepest abyss of Purgatory!

To avoid this misfortune, the first care of a Christian, in case of sickness, must be to think of the Sacraments, and to receive them as promptly as possible. We say, that he should receive them promptly, whilst he is still in possession of the use of his faculties, and we dwell upon this circumstance for the following reasons.

1) In receiving the Sacraments promptly, the patient, having yet sufficient strength to prepare himself properly, derives all the fruit of them.

2) He needs to be provided as soon as possible with the Divine assistance, in order to support his sufferings, to overcome temptation, and to sanctify the precious time of sickness.

3) It is only by receiving the holy oils in time, that we can experience the effects of a bodily cure.

For we must here remark an important point: the sacramental remedy of the holy unction produces its effect upon the sick person in the same manner as medical remedies. It resembles an exquisite medicine that assists nature, in which there is still supposed to be a certain vigor; so that Extreme Unction cannot exercise a medicinal virtue when nature has become too feeble, and life is almost extinguished. Thus a great number of sick persons die because they put off receiving the Sacraments until they are at the last extremity; whilst it is not unusual to see those entirely recover who hasten to receive them.

Saint Alphonsus speaks of a sick man who delayed to receive Extreme Unction until it was almost too late, for he died shortly afterwards. Now, God made known by way of revelation, says the holy doctor, that if he had received that Sacrament earlier, he would have been restored to health. However, the most precious effect of the last Sacraments is that which they produce upon the soul; they purify it from the remains of sin, and take away, or at least diminish, its debt of temporal punishment; they strengthen it to bear suffering in a holy manner; they fill it with confidence in God, and assist it to accept death from His hands in union with that of Jesus Christ.

MLA Citation