Catholic Candle Note: The following article is a ready reference for end of life issues. We recommend you keep it handy.
The following is a short summary of final arrangements to be made before and after death in our current circumstances where there is no uncompromising priest available (at least in most places in the world).
This article (with links) is divided into eight sections. It condenses into four pages, material which has been gleaned from 63 pages of more detailed information. Except for Section 4, where there is a source footnote, other sections have links for information from earlier Catholic Candle articles.
Section 1: Medical information to be given prior to death
If I should have an incurable and irreversible injury, disease, or illness judged to be a terminal condition by my attending physician who has personally examined me and who considers that even with maximum medical treatment, I have less than three months probable, foreseeable life expectancy, I direct that I not be kept alive artificially through major surgery, chemotherapy, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. However, in no case do I wish to be deprived of food, fluids, oxygen, and common medications such as any antibiotics.
Section 2: Our duty to use ordinary care to preserve life even as a person is dying
We are free to choose (or not choose) to make extraordinary efforts to preserve our life. However, there is a minimum, ordinary effort we must make, in order to avoid the sin against the Fifth Commandment, of failing to protect our life. As St. Thomas teaches:
God commands man to sustain his body. Otherwise he would be his own killer…By this commandment man is bound to nourish his body and do those other things without which his body cannot live.
Father John Slater, in his Moral Theology, describes this minimum effort to preserve our life:
We are obliged to take ordinary means to preserve our lives, for to do otherwise would be virtually to commit suicide. There is no obligation to take extraordinary, unusual, or very painful or expensive means to preserve our lives. And so, one in feeble health, who will probably die if he spends the winter in England, is not bound to expatriate himself and go and live in a milder climate. Nor am I bound to undergo a painful and costly operation in order to save my life; I may if I like choose rather to die, unless my life is of great importance for the common good, for then the public good must be considered first. Except in such a case as this, a superior could not oblige a subject to undergo a very painful operation or to submit to the amputation of a leg; obedience to human authority does not seem to extend to such matters as these.
Section 3: How to assist a person in dying a holy death
Dying persons are often aware even when they are non-responsive and apparently unconscious. Because a dying person needs our help in his final spiritual battle, we should persevere helping until we are as certain as we can be, that he is dead and no longer needs our help.
We cannot know with certainty when this separation of soul and body (death) occurs, so we should “err” on the side of remaining longer to assist the person in dying a holy death. A person might be non-responsive to stimuli and apparently not breathing, yet fully aware and undergoing a final spiritual battle for his soul.
Do your best to give the dying person strength, encouragement, and human moral support. Remember that love “divides” sorrows, including the sorrows of death. Human contact with a dying person is very important. Hold his hand. Reduce (divide) his sorrows of death, as much as you can. Give him frequent strokes/touches so he knows we are still there. (Without movement, we easily lose awareness that something/someone is touching us.)
Section 4: Perfect Act of Contrition without a priest
The prospect of dying without (an uncompromising priest for) confession would be horrifying were it not for the knowledge that a merciful God has provided for this with a perfect Act of Contrition. This prayer, said sincerely and with God’s help, is literally a God-send. United with a pledge to go to (an uncompromising priest for) confession when available, this heartfelt prayer restores the dying person to grace at once.
Section 5: The Catholic Church permits a dying person to confess to a compromising or bad priest
In the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Canon #882 states, “In danger of death, any priest, even one not otherwise approved for hearing confessions, may validly and licitly absolve any penitent from whatever sins”.
The Council of Trent is the origin of this permission (viz., quoted immediately above) for a dying person to confess to a compromising or bad priest.
Section 6: A traditional Catholic funeral and burial when there is no uncompromising priest available
Part A: We must avoid a compromise wake, funeral, and burial. But God lovingly placed us in this time of Great Apostasy, for His greater glory and for our good. He does not want us to have a Requiem Mass for our funeral when no uncompromising priest is available to offer one. Such a compromise funeral (viz., with a compromising priest) is a sin.
Part B: How do we conduct a wake, funeral, and burial of our loved one without a priest? After our loved one’s death, we plan the schedule and invite/announce the schedule in a manner similar to the customary way for any funeral and burial. Everyone is welcome! Praying together is an occasion to benefit from our Lord’s promise: “Where there are two or three gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Section 7: Our duty not to “donate” our vital bodily organs or accept one donated
“Harvesting” a person’s vital organs is premeditated murder. Your organ donor card might be your death warrant. Catholics should be careful to opt out of organ “donation” in those countries such as England, where permission to “donate” organs is assumed unless a person opts out.
Section 8: Guidance concerning a Medical Power of Attorney
Granting a “power of attorney” simply means giving a person the legal authority to act for you in certain matters. In other words, granting a “power of attorney” merely makes that person your agent. It does not refer to the person being a licensed attorney for the practice of law. A Power of Attorney for Healthcare (also known as a Medical Power of Attorney) is a document through which you grant to your agent the legal authority to make medical decisions for you, when you cannot do so yourself.
As you know, God will not allow you to be tempted to sin beyond your ability to resist, and He also will not allow you to lose your soul without the Sacraments, beyond your ability to secure a happy death. God will give you the necessary grace for that happy death.
St. Francis de Sales says that to wish to do the will of God is of unspeakable merit. He states that if a Christian learns of his impending death and accepts it because it is God’s will, he may go straight to heaven.
Pope St. Pius X seems to have had this doctrine in mind when he granted a plenary indulgence at the hour of death when this prayer is said:
O my God, from this moment forward I accept with a joyful and resigned heart the death Thou will be pleased to send me, with all its pains, sufferings, and anguish.
Is it not wonderful that you love God and accept His will completely, and all that happens is for the best? God knows what you need. He will not abandon you in this time of crisis in the Catholic Church.
 Words of St. Thomas Aquinas, quoted from his Commentary on II Thessalonians, 3:10, ch.3, lecture 2.
 A Manual of Moral Theology, Rev. Thomas Slater, SJ., Vol I., Fifth and Revised Edition, Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., London, ©1925, Part 5, The Fifth Commandment, Ch.1, On Suicide.
 Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908, Vol. 4, article on Contrition, page 339.
 From the book How to Be Happy, How to Be Holy, by Father Paul O’Sullivan, O.P.