'Last Rites' Not Always Sign of Death

A look at the anointing of the sick, one of Roman Catholicism's seven sacraments:

The anointing of the sick is often misunderstood as signaling that a patient is about to die. That's because of its popular nickname — "last rites." (search)

The ritual is performed to confer divine strength, peace, courage and forgiveness of sins, not only on a Catholic near death but also to a parishioner facing a grave illness or a serious operation. A Catholic can receive the sacrament more than once.

During the sacrament, the priest lays hands on the patient and prays "may the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up." He then anoints the forehead and hands with blessed oil.

The anointing may be preceded by the sacrament of reconciliation — commonly called "penance" — but the anointing of the sick alone offers forgiveness of sins if the patient isn't able to undergo a full confession. It may be followed by the sacrament of the Eucharist (search), or Holy Communion (search).