Communion to the Sick


In most parishes, some of the Extraordinary Ministers of Communion are involved in the ministry of taking communion to those members of the parish who are unable to be present at the celebration of the Eucharist.

Lay ministers are authorised to take Holy Communion to those who are not able to attend Mass: the ill, the elderly, the housebound, and those in hospitals or nursing homes.

The 1973 instruction Immensae Caritatis referred to the need for special ministers to take communion frequently to the sick and aged when the ordinary ministers are unable, ‘so that the faithful may not be deprived of this sacramental help and consolation’.

The introduction to Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum states that the sick and the aged need to be offered ‘every opportunity to receive the Eucharist frequently, and even daily during the Easter season’. (# 72)

Communion ministers make it possible to bring communion to the sick more frequently than would otherwise be the case. They also free the priest for his other responsibilities to the sick: visiting them and celebrating reconciliation and the anointing of the sick with them.

In bringing communion to the sick, the minister of communion represents Christ and manifests faith and charity on behalf of the whole community. For the sick, the reception of communion is not only a privilege but also a sign of the support and concern of their fellow members of the Body of Christ.

Though special ministers may bring communion to the sick at any time, the sign value is enhanced when it is carried directly from Mass to the sick person. In this way, the communion is clearly related to the community table. This symbol of unity between the community and its sick members has its deepest significance on the Lord’s Day, the special day of the Eucharistic assembly.

The book One Bread. One Cup: The Complete Handbook for Special Ministers of Communion published by The Liturgical Commission includes a Rite of ‘Sending Out’ Communion Ministers to the sick. At the conclusion of the Prayer after Communion, the celebrant calls the communion ministers to the altar and addresses them in these or similar words:

Dear friends in Christ,
you are now to carry the body of our Lord
from this Eucharistic assembly
to our brothers and sisters who are unable to be here with us.
Give them our greetings and our love,
read today’s scripture with them,
pray with them and minister to them
this most precious sacrament.

The priest then hands the pyxes containing the consecrated bread to the Communion Ministers. After the Final Blessing and Dismissal, they may process out with the celebrant and proceed to their destinations.

Alternatively, the ministers may remain until the end of Mass, interact with other members of the community, and then take the prepared pyxes from the tabernacle to the sick. Apart from a Mass, special ministers may go to the tabernacle, place the required number of hosts into a pyx and leave the church.

Next week I will look the practicalities of taking communion to the sick in their homes or in hospital.

Elizabeth Harrington