Last Rites

12 Jul

Spoiler Alert:  Don’t read this if you don’t want to know the ending of Madame Bovary!



The purpose of the Catholic sacrament of Extreme Unction, or Last Rites, has always confused me.  When it is administered by a priest before death, it supposedly confers forgiveness of sins.   But, where does this leave the dying person or their grieving loved ones?   Is there hope for heaven, or will this just ensure greater mercy in purgatory?   I feel as though I should know the answer to these questions.  Any Catholic readers or scholars out there?   Please enlighten me.

I love the language that Flaubert uses when describing Emma’s Last Rites:

Then he recited the Misereatur and the Indulgentiam, dipped his right thumb in the oil, and began to give extreme unction.  First upon the eyes, that had so coveted all worldly pomp; then upon the nostrils, that had been greedy of the warm breeze and amorous odours; then upon the mouth, that had uttered lies, that had curled with pride and cried out in lewdness; then upon the hands that had delighted in sensual touches, and finally upon the soles of the feet, so swift of yore, when she was running to satisfy her desires, and that would now walk no more…(then told) her that she must now blend her sufferings with those of Jesus Christ and abandon herself to the divine mercy.

Oh, and another question for the Catholic folk out there – would the priest have given her this sacrament if he would have known that she was committing suicide?   Is there hope for her despite her self-inflicted death?  I think I agree that at death we all “abandon ourselves to the divine mercy” of our Father, but I am so thankful for the hope I have because of what Jesus accomplished for me through His sufferings and death.

I think I’d rather leave with the Funeral Psalm they chose for Emma.  Here is Psalm 130 (v. 1-4, 7,8):

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!   O Lord, hear my voice!   Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!   If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?   But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared…O Israel, hope in the Lord!   For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.  And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.


Posted by on July 12, 2012 in Madame Bovary


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4 responses to “Last Rites

  1. Ruth Lopez (

    July 13, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    I can only speak as an ex-Catholic. I understand Last Rites as you suggest: basically, the priest is asking God to have mercy on the dying person’s soul, and that should cover any unforgiven sins. Unfortunately, from my personal experience, Catholics do not have Assurance because they hope in their works as good Catholics. Purgatory can be a scary expectation. Too bad for Emma’s priest that he did not understand that Christ did it once and for all; she could do nothing to add to His suffering.

    As for the suicide: when I was a Catholic, that was unacceptable by the Church; however, I honestly believe it would depend on the priest.

    Sorry to ramble – but this is such a hot topic with me. I shall totally enjoy Madame Bovary!!

  2. Jeannette

    July 14, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Not a ramble, Ruth. I really appreciated your comments. I am super glad for Assurance – sounds like you have that hope too. 🙂


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