Pray for the Dying and They Will Pray for Your Intentions

“Today they need your prayers,” said Venerable Mary Potter. “Tomorrow will be too late.”

Father Joseph T. O'Callahan tends to an injured crewman aboard the USS Franklin (CV-13), after the ship was set afire by a Japanese air attack on March 19, 1945 — the Feast of St. Joseph.
Father Joseph T. O'Callahan tends to an injured crewman aboard the USS Franklin (CV-13), after the ship was set afire by a Japanese air attack on March 19, 1945 — the Feast of St. Joseph. (photo: Register Files / U.S. Navy / Naval Historical Center / Wikimedia Commons)

What could be more urgent than a person near death in the state of mortal sin? Nothing. They are moments away from making an eternal decision: God or no God. Heaven or Hell. Forever.

We cannot imagine not choosing God at that juncture. Yet, Father Stefan Starzynski, author of Miracles: Healing for a Broken World and the full-time chaplain at Inova Fairfax Hospital, a 1000-bed facility in Woodburn, Virginia, has witnessed it. “People often die like they lived,” he explained.

When he shows up in a patient’s room to offer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, with Confession, Holy Communion and an apostolic blessing, half of the patients respond: “No thanks, Father.” (Of the three sacraments, he says, Confession is the most important. “People lukewarm or away from the Church don’t want to go to God without going to Confession.”)

“Don’t assume the grace of conversion will be given at the last moment,” Father Starzynski said. Some people on their deathbed ask for the sacraments. Some just need a little prompting or change their mind later when it is clear that death is imminent. And sadly, some go into eternity rejecting God, according to him.

When his spiritual offer is waved away — sometimes in place of watching TV — Father Starzynski sits alone and prays the Divine Mercy Chaplet for that person. If they are not conscious, he will place a brown scapular on them, claim them for Christ and call on Our Lady’s protection, bless them and pray for them. 

“Every day I am at the bed of people who are dying. Yesterday, there were four,” Father Starzynski said. “In some cases, you snatch them away from hell.” Life is short, he noted. “God, who promised you eternity, did not promise you tomorrow, so we cannot assume there will be time later to get right with God.”

 

Saving Souls

“There is none [work] greater, none more salutary for the saving of souls and people in heaven,” Venerable Sister Mary Potter (1847-1913) wrote in her book, Devotion for the Dying: Mary's Call to her Loving Children.

Mary Potter was the youngest of five children from England. Her father abandoned the family, leaving for Australia, when she was 2 years old. When she was 24, Potter developed a devotion to the dying, recalling a time of an extended illness years earlier when she did not have it in her to pray. It became her personal vocation. Later, she received permission to begin the order, the Little Company of Mary. It spread to other continents, including to the United states. 

Potter felt God calling her to honor the heart of his Mother Mary pleading for her children, especially those in the greatest need — the dying. She also was given a deep appreciation for the value of the Precious Blood of Jesus. “What will not God do for souls for whom that sorrowful Mother’s heart pleaded and pleads by the infinitely precious blood?” she wrote. 

The final element in her program, which she received while in adoration, is the Holy Spirit. Potter understood that sinners can be converted only when the Holy Spirit touches their hearts and moves them to desire a renewal of supernatural grace.

 

Our Children Will Benefit

While praying for our own children, Potter had asked us not to forget the wish of the Blessed Mother’s maternal heart to pray for the children of others. All mothers experience grief, she said, especially when their own children behave badly. She called on them to use the power of that suffering; particularly that caused by their sin which Jesus and Mary also grieve. Although she was addressing mothers, we know that fathers and grandparents share in this kind of suffering also and can offer it up to God for conversions. She urged:

“Let that mother resolve, for the time that Satan has possession of her children, to strive the more earnestly by prayer to defeat his snares at the deathbed of others of those of whom he has nearly achieved eternal possession. Ah! If she obtains the salvation of a dying sinner, how that soul ransomed will plead for her! Will not that mother defeat the snares of Satan? Mothers, devote yourself to the dying, and you cannot doubt that God in his justice will reward you.”

Potter recommended offering sacrifices and putting sinners into the heart of Our Blessed Mother, praying to her and praying prayers of the Precious Blood of Jesus and to the Holy Spirit. Potter did not have the Chaplet of Divine Mercy yet as St. Faustina received it from Jesus after her death.

In the Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska we read that Jesus impressed upon St. Faustina to pray for the dying:

“My daughter, encourage souls to say the Chaplet which I have given to you. It pleases me to grant everything they ask of me by saying the Chaplet. … Write that when they say this Chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between my Father and the dying person, not as the just judge but as the merciful savior.”

Here are some quotes from Venerable Mary Potter:

  • “The heart of Mary, the Precious Blood, and the Holy Spirit — with these shall we conquer! With these do I present myself in prayer to God.”
  • “Today they need your prayers. Tomorrow will be too late.”
  • “Consider that you have got time, that you live in God’s time of mercy, that you can save souls every hour, every minute of your life.”
  • “This is a work for us; none of us can excuse ourselves from it; none can say he cannot do it.”
  • “We shall touch their souls with the Precious Blood, we shall work miracles, yes indeed, the miracle of grace. God so loves the conversion of the sinful soul, to transform the prey of the devil into a beautiful soul.”
Horace Vernet, “The Angel of Death,” 1851

Don’t Wait to Cram for Your ‘Final Exam’

“Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately — or immediate and everlasting damnation.” (CCC 1022)

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, and the Mississippi River are seen from East St. Louis, Illinois, on June 27. Following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision on June 24, abortion is now banned in Missouri. The nearest clinics to St. Louis are across the river in Illinois, including a Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights that was opened in 2019 in anticipation of the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Welcome to Post-Roe America

Every year on the anniversary of Dobbs, Catholics will be able to deepen their understanding of God’s role in the conception of every child, his care for the child’s growth, his knowing each by name, and the future for which he has given each child life.