Antonin Scalia & the “Last Rites”

In case you are as frustrated as I am with the glib reporting of “last rites” being administered to Antonin Scalia many hours after his death, or you have your friends asking you about this, here is a quick map from Paul Turner’s website, of the complications surrounding the “last rites”:


  1. Some useful clarification here, but I would query the suggestion that Viaticum, rather than the Anointing of the Sick, is the primary ritual focus for someone who is “in extremis”. I anointed a 97 year old lady two weeks ago, as well as giving her Viaticum, reciting the litany and prayers for the dying and discussing the funeral arrangements with her son. Not only is she stil alive, but she will be coming out of hospital just as soon as arrangements can be made for her care at home. I am not of course suggesting that the Lord cannot heal unless the anointing takes place. God is not limited by the sacraments. Nor am I suggesting that it was necessarily the anointing, still less me (!) that effected the change. But given that divine providence ordains cause as well as effect, and given that the sacraments are the covenanted means of grace, it would be folly to omit the anointing in such an instance, unless the patient had been anointed recently.

  2. This is very helpful. Reprinting these scenarios week-by-week in a parish bulletin would help many I’m sure. Just one question, though. Do you have a reference for: “he may anoint conditionally by saying first, ‘If you are alive, we pray. . . .'” We were taught that conditional administration of any sacrament is just a mental reservation on the part of the minister, not an additional formula to pronounce. Is that wrong?

    1. @Adam Booth, C.S.C.:
      We were taught that conditional administration of any sacrament is just a mental reservation on the part of the minister, not an additional formula to pronounce.

      I was under the impression that in a conditional baptism you were to say “If you are not already baptized, I baptize you…”

      “Mental reservation” just sounds so Jesuit.

  3. The original printings of Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum made reference to “conditional” anointing in the introduction at no. 15, at no. 263, and at a footnote to no. 269. After the 1983 Code of Canon Law was promulgated, there was a document published, Emendations in Liturgical Books … which listed changes to be introduced. Three of the changes in the Sacrament of the Anointing were to eliminate the word “conditional” at no. 15 and no. 263, and omit the last sentence at no. 263 and the footnote at 269.

  4. As a hospital chaplain, I am always recommending that patients receive Eucharist daily. (And we have WONDERFUL VOLUNTEERS from surrounding parishes who make sure that opportunity is available 7 days a week, praise God!) I anoint them when requested, but stress that Eucharist is the primary sacrament. In extremis cases — the person may not be able to receive Communion, so we use anointing of the sick as a “substitute.” The structure of the rite puts receiving the Eucharist after anointing, which to me indicates that whenever possible, Eucharist as Viaticum is indeed “the last rite.”

  5. I am somewhat confused about all this. If he was found dead, then he can not receive any sacrament. Yes, there is a provision for praying for one who has passed but I was taught, and rightly so, that one can not anoint a dead body. If I am wrong, please let me know.
    As I understand it, the Justice was found non-responsive and I have not read anything about when the priest did arrive if Scalia was in fact dead or not. Can’t imagine doing the “last rites” for someone who was dead.

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