Poem | Sacraments in the Field

A layman can baptize when in extremis
or give the last rites. Here’s how I perform them.
I can’t confess you, consecrate a wafer,
but I can say hello, goodbye in Latin,
and frankly, my boss is the Holy Spirit.
Ego te baptismo I tell the infants,
Apage, Satanas, I tell the parents,
Requiescat in pace, I tell the dying.
Lacking extreme unguent, I use saliva,
crossing a forehead when the priest is tardy.
Of course with kids, there’s lots of time for mayhem
now that the church has done away with limbo,
but with a dying friend, another matter.
Enfold him in your arms, and whisper Latin.

Published in the July 12, 2013 issue: 
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Timothy Murphy, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, died on June 30 at his home in Fargo, North Dakota. His books include Very Far North (2002), Mortal Stakes and Faint Thunder (2011), and Devotions (2017). Requiescat in pace.

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