By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jul 24, 2012)
Recently I received two questions on the same subject. Both questions concerned the relationship between the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy and the Sacrament of Anointing.
One of our readers, a man named Mr. Rose, noted that our Lord promised to St. Faustina that whoever will recite the Chaplet will receive great mercy at the hour of death (see Diary of St. Faustina, 687). So Mr. Rose simply asked: "Is this devotion more powerful than the Anointing of the Sick?"
At about the same time, I received the following question from a deacon who serves as a hospital chaplain:
The Church teaches us that we have seven sacraments. However, trying to get a priest to come to the hospital for the Anointing of the Sick is getting to be almost impossible. According to Sr. Faustina, if the Chaplet is said for the dying person their sins are forgiven. At least that is what I understand. Why doesn't the Church make this better known?
Well, the short answer is that nothing is the equivalent of the sacraments — not even a devout prayer that has been specially recommended by Jesus Christ to the faithful and to which He has attached special promises. Not the Chaplet. Not the Rosary. Not even the Our Father!
Why? Because prayer opens our hearts to the grace of God by means of the virtue of trust in the heart of the one praying and the one who is the object of our prayer. The more a soul trusts, the more graces that person can obtain for himself and for others, and the more a soul trusts, the more graces a soul can receive from the merciful Jesus by means of the prayers said by others.
Thus, if Jesus recommends certain prayers, and makes promises of special graces by the devout and sincere use of those prayers, it is understood by the Church that their efficacy in communicating divine grace to the soul is not "automatic," so to speak, but in most cases directly related to the degree of trust in those praying, and those who are the object of prayer.
The sacraments, however, are different. They transmit God's grace to the soul ex opere operato (which means, literally, "by the very fact of the action's being performed"). The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains in entries 1127-1128:
[The sacraments] are efficacious because in them Christ Himself is at work. ... It follows that "the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God." From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister.
In other words, even if the priest administering the sacrament has lost his trust in God (say, he is a priest in spiritual crisis and carrying on his ministry for the moment just to pick up his paychecks) and even if the person receiving the sacrament has no trust in God at all, still, the sacrament confers divine grace on the soul: not by "magic," of course, but simply by the promise of God. The sacraments are God's covenanted means of grace: outward signs given to us by God as sure and certain means by which we may receive the grace they signify.
To be sure, the sacraments will do us little good without at least the beginnings of trust in the soul and without our willingness to cooperate with the grace we receive. As the Catechism states, "the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them" (1128). Nevertheless, God's willingness to give us His sacramental grace is based on His faithfulness to His promises, not on our dispositions. That is why even a soul living in a state of mortal sin who receives Holy Communion receives in the Blessed Sacrament the gift of the true Body and Blood of Jesus, just as all the other communicants do — although such a person thereby commits a sin of sacrilege, to his own condemnation (see I Cor 11:27).
When we read our Lord's promises in the Diary of St. Faustina about the Chaplet for the dying, therefore, we need to remember this distinction between divine grace available to us by means of devout prayer, and divine grace poured out through the sacraments. Each promise that Jesus makes with regard to the Chaplet of the dying assumes the presence of trust in the souls of the one's doing the praying, if not also in the soul of the one who is the object of their prayer:
At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for the dying person, the indulgence is the same.
When this chaplet is said by the bedside of a dying person, God's anger is placated, an unfathomable mercy envelopes the soul, and the very depths of My tender mercy are moved for the sake of the sorrowful passion of My Son (Diary, 811; cf. 687 and 1541).
Neither the Sacrament of Anointing of the dying nor the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy prayed for the dying can guarantee the salvation of a soul, of course. That's because salvation depends upon the person's own willingness to receive and welcome the graces mercifully offered by God. What the sacrament guarantees is that all the graces needed for the final journey home will be poured out by God on the soul. The Chaplet can obtain these graces, too, but only if the Chaplet is prayed with great trust in Divine Mercy. In any case, the salvation of the soul depends not only on the outpouring of divine grace, but also upon the person's own willingness to embrace it. As St. Faustina explained, even the effectiveness of God's final outreach to the dying depends in part upon their "self-chosen" dispositions:
Then the mercy of God begins to exert itself, and without any co-operation from the soul, God grants it final grace. If this too is spurned, God will leave the soul in this self-chosen disposition for all eternity. This grace emerges from the merciful Heart of Jesus and gives the soul a special light by means of which the soul begins to understand God's efforts, but conversion depends on its own will. The soul knows that this, for her, is final grace and, should it show even a flicker of good will, the mercy of God will accomplish the rest (Diary, 1486).