Did They Have A Good Death?

Thanks be to God, he died with the Sacraments...

You often hear on the radio of a certain chap having died in the year so and so, or other references to his departure from this vale of tears. I can never avoid wondering whether the chap in question managed Purgatory, or not. Of some people we know they were solidly Catholic, and can be more than reasonably optimistic for them; particularly when we know that they saw their death coming, and it is improbable that they met it unprepared. For many others – and I mean here the baptised Catholics but the become agnostics, or atheists, or very tepid believers, or very public sinners – we might know that they died with the Sacraments, if this is a matter of public record (Beethoven and Schubert certainly come to mind). But for many others, particularly if they died recently, it is more difficult to know whether they died with the Sacraments, showing that a merciful God did not (very probably) deny them the grace of final repentance. The fact is, that nowadays receiving the Sacrament does not even seem much worthy of public records, whilst in the past it was something of the greatest importance.

We know that the Sun King died with the Sacraments, and Oscar Wilde too. But what about many others, some of them perhaps heroes of yours since early childhood? What about all those less than exemplary Catholics, but still clearly believers, who gave so much beauty to humanity? If they were Catholics, however bad ones, they had access to the Last Rites. Many of them saw their death coming, and would therefore have the possibility to ask for a priest. Did they? Did they die at peace with the Lord? Perhaps they did. Perhaps not.

It would be very good if there were a site collecting original sources concerning the departure of Catholic personalities in the realm of literature, music, or philosophy. Particularly in the case of recent deaths, as the old ones – see the above: W.A. Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven – are more easily recorded, even in the case of unexpected cases. Not a few would be surprised to know that, for example, Voltaire is reported to have died with the Sacraments (oh, the irony!) as it certainly was the case for another Catholic public sinner, Chopin.

You will say to me that there is no total security in that, either, and I would agree with you. But as the degree of security must be quite high for most people – you may think, if you are extremely cynical, that Voltaire might have wanted to mock the Church to the end; but you would not think this of, say, Chopin – it would be good to have sources focusing on the circumstances of the death of the thousands of notable Catholics – particularly those of questionable orthodoxy – all in the same place. For some bitter disappointment – one can read disturbing things about Elgar, for example; albeit Catholic propaganda might have its ugly beak in that – one could have many more joys and consolations.

If anyone knows of such a source, I would be grateful for a link. With a strong preference for sites reporting credible and verified sources rather than just saying what people seem to think.

And as you are there, please consider, in your charity, saying a prayer or three for Schubert and Beethoven; who, whatever their shortcomings, gave us such wonderful music, and wonderful sacred music to boot; and whose purgatory will, I am afraid, not be among the shortest.



Posted on November 30, 2015, in Catholicism, Conservative Catholicism, Traditional Catholicism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Don’t you think Beethoven had some purgatory with deafness?

    • I do not subscribe to this idea that people count their disgraces and decide that it will account against their purgatory. It is not for them, of for us, to say. Whilst it may be true that God allows to shorten suffering in purgatory because of great disgraces in this life, I have the impression this becomes too often and too soon auto-exemption from the pain of purgatory. It’s a vale of tears. It’s supposed to be difficult.

      Most people seem not to realise that the Jew who died in the extermination camp may well be in hell even if he died in the extermination camp, gassed after a long suffering. We can always hope for God’s mercy; but in itself, Nazi persecution is no source of martyrdom for the unbelievers.


  2. Was it St. Therese of the Infant Jesus said that God does not will that we should suffer Purgatory and that we should pray for the Grace to be taken to Heaven without needing any time in Purgatory

    • God does not want us to suffer Purgatory, because God wants us to be living saints. But the fact is, most of us are not living saints and will, therefore, have to go through Purgatory. If we are spared hell, that is.
      Much as I would dearly wish to go directly to heaven, to my sensibility it smacks of arrogance for me – who am not a living saint, at all – to ask for such an astonishingly unmerited grace. I will gladly settle for purgatory, because I know I deserve to get there – if, that I, I deserve to escape hell -. in a sense, I even have a desire to expiate for my sins in the next life as I do not have the strength to get rid of them in this one. We have a natural desire to pay our dues to those we love, even if those we love may not allow us to do so.
      I think this is the reason why traditionally people asked to be protected from an unprovided death, which includes the destiny of most: purgatory.
      Having said that, if you think you can make it, more power to you.

  3. I think about someone I knew very well who was living in sin but also flitted around understanding the Trinity (for example). He did come to Mass with me because I was a guest at his house and he took me there…but, he cheefully trotted up and took Holy Communion at that same Mass.
    He is dead now. He was killed in a motoring accident and he never repented of his sin.
    Some that I know had a Mass said for him. I refused to do that and I cannot pray for the repose of his soul. Am I being uncharitable?

    • Yes.
      Very much so.
      The Church still has Masses said even for Heresiarchs.
      The fact is this: that there is a possibility – even if a tiny one – that the chap repented from his sins (without informing you) before his death, perhaps on that fateful day on the motorcycle.
      It is not for you to decide who is in hell. You can rationally observe that he is very probably in hell, but without taking it on you to pronounce the judgment. On the contrary, you can be sure that the Holy Ghost and his guardian angel made an effort to his very end. If he was a reprobate, he was a reprobate and is now in hell, but we just don’t know.
      Pray for the atheists. Pray for the heretics. Pray for ISIS terrorists (and bomb their ass stupid, but that’s another matter). Every soul has infinite value to God, and God has commanded us to pray for our enemies.
      Pray, in particular, for the repose of that particular soul. If he is in hell, your prayers will not get lost anyway. But you, you pray for him nevertheless.
      Below the “Fatima Prayer” in Latin and English.
      Domine Iesu, dimitte nobis debita nostra, libera nos ab igne inferiori, perduc in caelum omnes animas, praesertim eas, quae misericordiae tuae maxime indigent. Amen.
      O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy. Amen.

  4. sixlittlerabbits

    Aubrey Beardsley converted to Catholicism and died with the sacraments. Yes, Mundabor, this is an issue that needs to be explored and documented.

  5. I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that Voltaire requested the sacraments, but when the priest came to offer viaticum the priest was not allowed to see Voltaire, as his friends did not believe Voltaire wanted or wanted to prevent him from receiving. He was thus not able to receive the sacraments. I believe that I heard it in a talk by Fr. Chad Ripperger on why we can’t rely on the belief that we’ll be able to repent at the end- our “chance” to repent may have come already. However, I have been looking online for any, even weak, confirmation of this, but have come up with zip.

    I pray, constantly, that I will not have an unprovided for death. I pray, just as much, that my family, friends, acquaintances, and enemies, will have the grace of a happy death. I’ve even added you to my prayers occasionally. I believe it was Our Lady of Good Success who warned that in this time many would die without receiving viaticum. The thought horrifies me. So many souls lost, so many.

    I believe this is the first time I’ve commented on your blog, but please know that I have been reading it for awhile now, and I find it edifying. Thank you for the work you put into the blog.

    • Many thanks, Steven.
      I have read differently about Voltaire, but again it is more difficult to say without clear evidence. For example, in the case of Schubert we have his father’s official announcement, and in the case of Beethoven we have the witness of the army of people who were going in and out of the place in his last days. In other cases it might be more complicated.

  6. On Divine Mercy Sunday there is available to all the faithful a Plenary Indulgence ( subject to the usual conditions of Confession , Holy Communion etc. ) which is applicable at the point of death .
    Fraternal best wishes to you & yours – keep up the good work .
    Pax et bonum .

    • Ah, the old “it’s so easy to get out of purgatory” thingy. Never warmed to it. Stinks of V II to the skies.
      Not a follower of the Divine Mercy thingy, either.

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