Apostolate to Assist the Dying

by Right Rev. Msgr. Raphael J. Markham, S.T.D.
Hartwell, Ohio
Imprimatur: † Patrick Cardinal Hayes, Archbishop of New York
May 7, 1938

Webmaster’s Note:  This Apostolate is geared toward assisting non-Catholics and even heretics to gain salvation during their last hours on earth.  This is accomplished by having them say and mean what is necessary for salvation.

A Happy Death
Happy Death

Is it true that nothing can be done for this dying man, because he is not a Catholic and does not wish to become one? Many seem to be of this opinion, but it does not sound like the voice of our Heavenly Father, whose mercy is above all His works. It sounds more like the voice of him who is called by St. John “a liar and the father thereof,” who is prowling about the world for the destruction of souls, seeking whom he may devour. In furthering his designs, he no doubt thinks this just as good a way as any other, and perhaps better-to spread the error among priests, sisters, nurses, and all those called upon to care for the dying, that nothing can be done for the poor man, in the way of helping him to prepare for a happy death, because he is not a Catholic and has no intention of becoming one, even though he is in good faith.

The truth about this most important matter is that much can be done for the material heretic at the hour of death. This it was that furnished the inspiration for the "Apostolate to Assist the Dying”, still in its infancy, but with bright prospects for the future. The work of the Apostolate is as old as Christianity, and in some ways as old as the human race itself. Only the method is new.

The Apostolate makes an attempt to reach the material heretic in his last moments by placing in his hands, in any way possible, a little ornamented card which has no appearance of Catholicity, but which contains all the acts necessary and sufficient for his salvation. You ask him to say the little prayer-entirely appropriate for Protestants—as fervently and as earnestly as he can, at the same time yourself imploring God to grant him the grace to mean what he says.

How strange it is that so much is done for the dying Catholic, and so little, and sometimes nothing at all, for the non-Catholic about to enter eternity! Both souls are of equal value in God's sight, in the sense that Christ shed His Precious Blood on the Cross for the salvation of all. There are many priests who do not consider themselves in any way responsible for anyone except the Catholics in their territory or in the hospitals or institutions of which they are chaplains. Our Divine Lord did not teach any such doctrine either by word or example, nor did St. Paul. Where would we be to-day if all the priests of the past had confided their labors to Catholics only? We might be falling down in adoration before false gods, as our forefathers did, instead of kneeling in humble worship before the one, true God, present in our tabernacles.

We are told by the Fathers of the Church that the most sublime of all works is to act as a minister of God, dispensing the mysteries of Christ, for the salvation of souls. Is it possible that they wish us to understand “Catholic souls” only, or even principally?

A most appalling truth is contained in Ecclesiastes (11:3), “If the tree fall to the south, or to the north, in what place soever it shall fall, there shall it be," and when it is just about to fall, of what vital importance is it that it receive the proper guidance. So it is with the soul. It is about to go into eternity, an eternity of happiness or one of never-ending pain; and just as it falls, so shall it stay! It is still the time of God's mercy; but this time will soon be over, the book will soon be closed, God's mercy will cease and His justice will then reign supreme. The eternal destiny of that soul depends on its last moment of life — “O momentum, unde pendet aeternitas!” It is the sincere hope and earnest conviction of the Apostolate to Assist the Dying that by the simple means of the ornamented and attractive card, with its fervent acts of faith, hope, love and contrition, hundreds of thousands of non-Catholics in their last hours will acknowledge the supreme dominion of God and the Divinity of Christ, beg pardon for their sins and implore the Divine Mercy. The Apostolate to Assist the Dying is placed under the protection of St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death, for Protestants as well as Catholics.

The little card (Acts) was intended at first for private use only. The idea was just one of the points explained every year in the Pastoral Theology course for the ordination class. One of the cards accidentally, and no doubt providentially, fell into the hands of the Most Reverend Archbishop of Cincinnati. Seeing its many possibilities, and the great necessity for some activity of this nature, His Excellency directed that a letter be prepared explaining the idea fully, and that it be sent, with a sample card, to all the Catholic hospitals of the United States, to all the priests of the archdiocese, and to all the members of Mount Saint Mary Alumni Association. The result was beyond all expectation. Some, of course, seeing the letter, thought it just another of the many means to make money at the expense of religion in these times of depression. They were mistaken, we are glad to say, for the Apostolate to Assist the Dying is not tainted with anything like financial profit; it is quite the opposite.

About 40,000 of these cards have been sent from Cincinnati in every direction, on their mission of mercy, besides the many thousands printed and distributed in other places. We are deeply indebted to the many religious communities in Cincinnati, and especially to the Sisters of Mercy, Mount Saint Agnes Novitiate, Dubuque, Iowa, for the touch of hand-painting on each card, making it so much more attractive. No doubt many a holy soul breathed a fervent prayer, as she finished painting a card, that it would find its way to some poor person, perhaps in some city hospital thousands of miles distant, and be the occasion of restoring to his soul, or adorning it for the first time with the beautiful garb of sanctifying grace. God has answered these prayers. From the reports received, in the one year of its existence the Apostolate has been the occasion, to our certain knowledge, of many non-Catholics dying with hearts filled with hatred for what they thought was the Church, but saying most earnestly and fervently the little Catholic prayer suitable for non-Catholics.”

A number of conversions have been made through the cards, though this is entirely outside of their purpose. Word was received some time ago from Springfield, Ohio, of a whole family of seven or eight coming into the Church through a card given by the Dominican Sisters of the Sick Poor to one of its members, who was seriously sick.

The harvest indeed is great. Those belonging to the class that the Apostolate wishes to reach are found in large numbers not only in Catholic and Protestant hospitals, but likewise in other institutions, especially the charitable ones, and also in those private homes where either the father or the mother is not a Catholic. From a study recently made by a committee of the Catholic Hospital Association of the United States and Canada, more than half of all the patients treated in our Catholic hospitals during the year 1930 were non-Catholics. Converts numbered less than one-half of one per cent. This clearly shows the possibilities of the work of the Apostolate in our Catholic hospitals, and its still greater possibilities in non-Catholic hospitals.

Some might disapprove of the method employed and say that it savors of a compromise, but it is evident that this is not true, when we call to mind that we are dealing with a material heretic, one who is not a Catholic and is in good faith about it, one who has no intention of becoming a Catholic, and to whom it would be useless to speak about the matter. Some were scandalized because our Lord ate and talked with public sinners; some there were who frowned upon the methods used by St. Paul in gaining souls—he became all things to all men that he might save all. Why should we bother about the means, so long as they are legitimate and attain the end, especially when it is one of such supreme importance? The objection should be regarded as just another of the many indirect means used by Satan to further his kingdom on earth. It is the well-founded hope of the Apostolate to Assist the Dying that many souls may be gained for God. Even one soul saved through its efforts would make the work well worthwhile.

You might use the card as a sample or suggestion in making your own. The present season of depression will be no reason for not having on hand a sufficient number of cards to supply all those in whom you are interested and whose eternal salvation may be at stake.

The following is a copy of the letter referred to above, which was sent out some months ago to all the Catholic hospitals of the United States and to some of the priests of this locality.

Webmaster’s Note:  Remember this was produced in 1938.

Reverend Dear Father,

At the suggestion of the Most Reverend Archbishop of Cincinnati I am sending you the enclosed card in the hope of interesting you in a new way to reach the material heretic at the time of death. We all understand that the ordinary means of salvation, according to the will of Christ, is the Catholic Church, and that all who believe her to be the true Church are under solemn obligations to enter her fold. But we must remember that the vast majority of Americans have never come in contact with the Catholic Church or her ministers, and never will, and that they are in good faith about it. While there are many who are practically pagans, the non-Catholic for the most part is a well-meaning person. He wants to be saved, especially when he sees death staring him in the face. He hates what he thinks to be the Church, but he wants what the Church alone can give him. The Church that he hates, of course, does not exist. Often he is not even baptized, and never will be. Many know nothing about Baptism; others do not believe in it; others still have neglected it; not a few have been baptized invalidly. Their only salvation lies in making an act of perfect love of God or perfect contrition, either of which is the baptism of desire, and the only baptism of desire; a mere desire for baptism does not justify.

The serious question is—and it is a vital one-how to reach this large class of people at this most critical time. If anything even suggesting Catholicity be placed in their hands, it is rejected on principle, and in many cases considered a positive insult. That the significance and necessity of true repentance for sin are not properly emphasized in the various forms of the Protestant religion constitutes another very serious difficulty. This false idea of justification leads many into the belief that repentance, in the Catholic sense, is not at all necessary.

The card (Acts to be Read & Believed by the Dying) enclosed has been prepared in the hope of solving the question, at least to some extent. There is no mention made of Catholicity, nor does it even suggest it; there is nothing at all that could possibly offend. We are dealing, as we have said, with a person who has no intention of becoming a Catholic, but who is in good faith. It would be far better, of course, if he would become a Catholic, but our supposition is that there is no use talking to him about it. Even the "Imprimatur", which has been properly secured, is omitted by permission of ecclesiastical authority. The card has been made attractive, so that it will not be thrown away. The decorations are classical; the flower is the acanthus, used extensively in Greek ornamentation, and the coloring in red is done by hand. The Acts printed on the card are exactly those which a priest called to assist spiritually a material heretic in the hour of death would implore his patient to make. According to all theologians, any material heretic, whether or not he be baptized, who earnestly makes these Acts, will infallibly be saved.

Anyone can do this work. You can send the card by mail; a little child can deliver it; you can visit your sick friend and leave it. There is no trouble in getting it to him and positively no danger of offence. You may suggest that he say the “little prayer earnestly several times, and in many cases this will be done. He may not make the Acts the first time he reads the card, as he is prompted principally by curiosity, but he will perhaps say, as he finishes reading them: These are my sentiments exactly.” The next time he will really make the Acts. The plan is simply this: Get the card into the hands of the one in whom you are interested, in any way you choose, with the suggestion that he say frequently this prayer, entirely suitable for non-Catholics; then you yourself pray earnestly to God that he may be given the light and grace to mean what he says.

The only motive is to help to save souls in their hour of greatest need. Consequently, any one is perfectly free to reproduce the attached card if he wishes.

Very sincerely,

Acts to be Read & Believed by the Dying
New Jerusalem

“My God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  (Luke 18:13)  Take me into heaven…

I BELIEVE in one God. I believe that God rewards the good, and punishes the wicked.

I BELIEVE that in God there are three Divine Persons — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. I believe that God the Son became Man, without ceasing to be God. I believe that He is my Lord and my Saviour, the Redeemer of the human race, that He died on the Cross for the salvation of all men, and that He died also for me.

I BELIEVE everything else that God has taught and revealed.

O MY GOD, Who art all-good and all-merciful, I sincerely hope to be saved, and I want to
do all that is necessary for my salvation according to Thy holy will.

I HAVE committed serious sins in my life, but now I turn from them, and hate them. I am
sorry, truly sorry for all of them, because I have offended Thee, my God, Who art all-good, all-
perfect, all-holy, all-merciful and kind, and Who died on the Cross for me. I love Thee, O my
God, with all my heart. I ask Thy pardon, and promise Thee, by the help of Thy grace, never
again to commit serious sin.