Communion in Hospitals and Institutions


Last week I spoke about the important ministry of taking communion to people in their own homes. There are other members of our parish communities who are unable to be present at worship because they are confined to hospitals or to institutions such as nursing homes.
A number of special ministers of communion are involved in taking communion to people in these situations. Whilst what was said about taking communion to the sick in their own homes also applies in these circumstances, there are other factors to be considered by those involved in this ministry.
Where it is not possible to celebrate the full rite of Communion in Ordinary Circumstances which was outlined last week, the rite for Communion in a Hospital or Institution may be used. If it is convenient, however, the minister may add elements from the rite for ordinary circumstances, for example a scripture reading.
The rite begins with the recitation of the Eucharistic antiphon in the hospital chapel or in the first room visited; then the minister gives communion to the sick in their individual rooms. There the minister begins with one of the liturgical greetings given in the rite, places the blessed sacrament on the table, leads the sick in the Lord’s Prayer and gives communion in the usual way. The concluding prayer may be said in the hospital chapel or the last room visited. No blessing is given.
Particularly in institutions such as nursing homes, ministers should consider making appropriate adaptations and arrangements so that the rite is not diminished to the absolute minimum. For example, the residents or patients may be gathered together in one place. Other ministers can be involved in reading the scriptures, leading singing, distributing communion, etc. to make it a truly sacred and joyous occasion.
Ministers visiting hospitals need to be familiar with hospital routines and the particular practices of the hospital’s chaplaincy service and be especially sensitive to the special situation of hospital patients. They need to use their powers of observation in order to be aware of each person’s particular circumstances. It is important to take note of signs on the patient’s door or over the bed, to enquire of the patient or nursing staff if the patient is tolerating food, to look for indications of pain or tiredness, and to assess the situation if visitors are present.
Priests and other ministers entrusted with the spiritual care of the sick are required to do all they can to ensure that those who are in danger of death receive the body and blood of Christ as viaticum. The celebration of the Eucharist as viaticum, food for the passage through death to eternal life, is the sacrament proper to the dying Christian. The sacrament of the anointing of the sick is intended to be celebrated at the beginning of a serious illness. Viaticum, celebrated when death is close, is the completion and crown of the Christian life on this earth and a foretaste of the banquet of the heavenly kingdom.
Many people worry about priests not being available to administer ‘the last rites’ to the dying. The ‘last rite’ is in fact Viaticum which can be ministered by lay ministers as well as the ordained.


Elizabeth Harrington