Communion to the Sick Part II


Last week’s column looked at the ministry of taking communion to the sick and housebound. This week I will look at some of the practical issues involved in preforming this important role of care.
The way in which the communion minister carries the pyx and where it is placed should respect the dignity of the sacrament. On their way to visit the sick, ministers should avoid long or unnecessary distractions. Other members of the community may go with the minister.
On arrival at the home, the minister greets the family and the sick person in a friendly manner and places the pyx on a table or at the bedside. If at all possible, a table covered with a lined cloth upon which the blessed sacrament will be placed and a lighted candle should be made ready for the celebration of the rite by the person being visited, by those who are with the sick or by the communion minister. Where it is customary, a vessel of holy water and a cross or crucifix might also be added to the worship space. It is important to make the occasion special and joyful.
The sick person may be concerned about the Eucharistic fast. According to present church law, those who are advanced in age or who suffer from any infirmity, as well as those who take care of them, can receive communion even if they have taken something during the previous hour.
The ritual used for communion to the sick is “The Rite of Communion in Ordinary Circumstances” (1982). It follows a familiar pattern: Introductory Rites (greeting, sprinkling with holy water, penitential rite), Liturgy of the Word (reading, response and general intercessions), Liturgy of Holy Communion (Lord’s Prayer, communion, silent prayer, prayer after communion) and Concluding Rite (blessing).
The sick person and others may help to plan the celebration by choosing the prayers and the reading from the options provided. The reading might be taken from those in the rite or one of the Sunday readings might be used.
Familiarity with this official rite should never mean slavish adherence to it. Variations need to be made according to sick person’s environment and physical or psychological condition. The minister should take into account the particular circumstances, needs and desires of the sick and of other members of the faithful and should willingly use the various options that the rite provides.
For example, the rite should be shortened if the person being visited tires easily. If the sick person is unable to take solids, it is permissible – indeed desirable – to offer them communion under the form of wine alone. Special sealed containers are available for the purpose of transporting the consecrated wine without danger of spillage. Common sense and a real concern for the person are the best guides as to what is appropriate.
Family members present may be invited to participate in the rite and to receive communion. If any consecrated bread remains after communion, it may be consumed or returned to the tabernacle. If some of the precious blood remains, it should be consumed by the minister, who also needs to ensure that the vessel is properly purified.
Bringing a parish bulletin to the sick or housebound parishioner is a good way of keeping them in touch with the community’s activities.

Elizabeth Harrington