Through a confluence of events not worth getting into right now, I find myself sleeping in my parents’ bed tonight. As I peel back the covers I look up above the head board and catch a glimpse of the Last Rites Crucifix.
It’s a beautiful vintage heavy walnut with a brass Jesus hanging in agony, as is the custom. Like a box of Cracker Jacks, our Savior is hiding a prize inside! But this is a prize you don’t want to open anytime soon.
When you grab the base of His feet and slide him up the cross, a small compartment reveals itself with a pair of candles, a small vial of holy water, and a yellowed instruction sheet that guides the reader through the sacrament of Last Rites.
Ghastly is the word that comes to mind as I inspect this -- it’s like the Grim Reaper’s utility belt. I can’t imagine a circumstance where I’d get to use this.
God forbid I wake up one day and my wife is cold to the touch beside me. I’m sure I’ll be wrestling with shock and nausea over having slept with a dead body all night.
Necrophilia ain’t my bag and I’m certain I’ll be busy in the shower with the steam on trying to get the dead cooties off of me while I await an ambulance. I’m not going anywhere near my wife’s cold, dead forehead to make the sign of the cross with holy water, and it is now that I thank the Lord once again that she is Jewish and doesn’t believe in the cross to begin with.
For the benefit of my wife or anyone else who wanders into my bedroom and finds me cold and/or unconscious, it is my last will that you call 911 immediately and use those paddles to shock my fat, pasty white arse back to life.
Of course, modesty prevents me from sleeping in the nude, so you won’t have to worry about covering me up in any way. Now is not the time to be running around the house looking for a Bic lighter and fumbling with the candles to perform a ceremony best done by a priest!
By the looks of things, it looks like many people agree with me. I went on eBay to find out how much these things are worth, and there were pages and pages of entries for crosses never used.
I wonder aloud what my parents have to worry about? They never miss Mass, are the most decent people I know and I think the church of my youth would crumble were it not for my mother’s keen organization skills in her Rosary Society work.
I assume it is a foregone conclusion that they will be greeted with open arms in heaven and if they are not, heaven is not a place I want to be. Who am I kidding? If they don’t get in, there’s no shot for me!
Come to think of it, I’ve seen this type of cross hanging in the houses of my aunts and uncles as well. I guess this goes back to an ancient Irish custom of time being your own worst enemy when you are born or when you die.
When my kids were born my parents insisted on an immediate Baptism, lest they be taken from this earth prematurely and left with the stain of Original Sin on their souls. A worried look and furrowed eyebrow was what you got when you announced that the February baby would be christened when the weather breaks.
As for Last Rites, this cross seems to indicate that there is a rush to get things done at the end of your life as well. I always thought St. Peter would greet you with the book of your life at the pearly gates when you met your end, which makes me think that I have all the time in the world to receive Last Rites.
I am so riddled with sin that St. Peter’s gonna have plenty of material to go through before making a final judgment on where I will spend eternity!
(Mike Farragher has just released a book of humorous essays called "This Is Your Brain on Shamrocks". For more information, log onto www.thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com.)