Saturday, February 22, 2014

Charlie Sheen and the Last Rites

Disney's 1993 version of The Three Musketeers is a family favorite. It's not exactly Citizen Kane, but where else can you find Robin, Jack Bauer, and Charlie Sheen matching wits with Pennywise?

One bit in the movie always bugged me, though. After having dispatched their enemies, Aramis is seen praying over the bodies of the slain and making the Sign of the Cross over them. D'Artagnan asks Athos, "What is he doing?" and Athos responds, "Last Rites. Aramis takes death very seriously." Not that I expect theological accuracy from a Disney movie, but there are several problems with this, and it might be a useful segue to a discussion on just what are the "Last Rites" and what they're about.

The so-called "Last Rites" are the three sacraments that are administered to those who are in danger of death (whether actually dying or in a serious medical situation). The three sacraments are Penance, Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist, given to cleanse the soul of sin and its effects, to prepare the recipient in case his life should end, or, if it be God's will, to heal his body and restore his life. Penance forgives sin; Anointing heals from the effect of sin and potentially restores health; and the Eucharist brings communion with God.

One common point of confusion is the tendency to conflate the Anointing of the Sick with "the Last Rites." You can receive Anointing apart from these other sacraments, and just because you're receiving Anointing does not mean you're going to die, or that the priest thinks you're going to die. Though there is some dispute over when exactly Anointing may be given (not wanting to give it either too frequently or too seldom), the Church's practice makes clear that those who are suffering from serious chronic medical conditions and those who are about to undergo a potentially risky procedure may receive the sacrament as a a means of comfort in their time of physical and spiritual trial.

So, after all that, we can see several problems in this scene from The Three Musketeers.

First problem: Aramis is not a priest, as far as I can tell. (It seems that he had had some training of that sort at one point, and I think in some of the later stories Aramis does become a cleric, but at this point, I don't believe he is.) Though any person could bring the Eucharist to someone, only a priest can dispense the sacraments of Penance and Anointing.

Second problem: Even if Aramis were a priest/soldier, he didn't appear to have brought the Oil of the Sick with him in his saddlebags, and thus he couldn't be administering the Anointing of the Sick. And since he doesn't appear to be giving the Eucharist to the dead soldier, or hearing his confession (both of which would be rather difficult for a dead man), then what he's doing can't be called "the Last Rites."

Third problem (perhaps the biggest problem of all): the enemy soldiers appear to be already dead. The sacraments are for the living, to put them into contact with God's grace that their wills may be strengthened to choose to love God. Once you're dead, your life's choice is made, and the sacraments are no longer of avail.

Or think of it this way: A living person is a union of soul and body; when that person dies, the soul is separated from the body (such that we don't even call it a body anymore, but a corpse [and yes, I know "corpse" comes from the Latin corpus meaning "body" but don't quibble with me]). So if a sacrament comes into contact with the dead body, it can have no effect on the person, because, with the soul being separated from it, then in a sense, that body is no longer that person's--nobody's home. (Yes, the soul does maintain a certain relationship to the body after death, but that's a conversation for another time.)

Point being: whatever Aramis is doing, it ain't the Last Rites. But Charlie Sheen praying is a good in itself.

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