What is the "Last Rite"?

St Juliana Falconieri lived in Florence, Italy, in the early Renaissance. When she was 14, her mother began arranging a marriage for her. As soon as she found out, she objected, explaining that she wanted to consecrate her life to Christ. At first her mother resisted, but Juliana's vocation was undeniable, and eventually she took the habit as a Third Order Servite. Later, she helped start a new Order of Servite nuns, dedicated to prayer and serving the sick.

Throughout the long, hard years of foundation, she received Holy Communion three times a week - much more often than was normal for those times. But in her later years, chronic sickness made her unable to consume anything solid. Even while on her deathbed, frequent fits of vomiting made it impossible for her to receive Communion. But when she knew her last hour had come, she was inflamed with a desire to receive Holy Communion one last time.

So she asked the priest to lay a corporal (the white cloth put on top of the altar for the liturgy of the Eucharist) on her chest and place the consecrated host on top of it. No sooner had the Eucharist been laid over her heart than it disappeared, being miraculously consumed directly into her body.

She died soon after, and as they were preparing the body for burial, they found the sign of the cross that had been on the host emblazoned on her skin. Ever since, the Servites have kept an image of a shining host on the left front side of their habits.

Many people think that the “Last Rite” is the anointing to prepare for death, but actually the “Last Rite” is the Eucharist – food from heaven for the journey back to heaven.

In today's First Reading, Moses reminded the Israelites of how God took care of them during their forty-year pilgrimage through the desert to the Promised Land. God fed them every day with manna from heaven - a miraculous food that kept them going. Just so, God feeds us with this bread of eternal life, so that we will grow stronger and stronger in our Christian faith, until we are strong enough to cross over into the eternal Promised Land of Heaven.

Michael Anilao