The Diocese of Speyer, Germany, has created a brief ritual for those accompanying the dying and present at the moment of death. Different from the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, this blessing ritual (Sterbesegen) may be used by anybody, lay or ordained. For more information, click here.
The blessing ritual can be prayed by family, friends, parishioners, or chaplains who accompany the dying. It can easily be used in ecumenical contexts also, for example in hospitals or hospice care settings. Requests for such a new ritual came from hospital chaplains in the diocese of Speyer, who had expressed the need to mark, in a prayerful way, the moment of the dying of a person in their care. The idea was not entirely new. The German diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart had produced a similar Sterbesegen five years ago.
The ritual is simple. It begins with the sign of the cross, and an introductory sentence, then prayerful silence. The Kyrie may be prayed, with particular invocations suited to the moment of death. A prayer follows. The reading of Scripture then precedes the actual blessing itself, given to the dying person. This blessing – a text is provided – should be accompanied by suitable signs, such as holy water, and – if appropriate — the sign of the cross on the forehead of the dying person by all who are present. The Our Father and a concluding blessing round up this short ritual. A Marian prayer or hymn may be added.
The ritual is authorized for use in the Diocese of Speyer. A small visually-appealing printed version is available.
For me, these are important steps in the direction of reclaiming the ritual importance of the moment of dying. Even if one does not go as far as wishing for a priest to intone Elgar’s dramatic version of the “Proficiscere” based on John Henry Newman’s Dream of Gerontius – “Go Forth upon Thy Journey, Christian Soul” – speaking blessing and assurance of God’s presence to a person at the moment of their death surely is important. And since many of us will lack the capacity to speak wisely and deeply into that moment, a ritual like the Sterbesegen of the Diocese of Speyer is a welcome resource.
I wonder: are there diocesan, approved resources like that in the English-speaking world?