Communion to the Sick
Often Communion to the sick is taken directly from the Sunday Mass or Liturgy of the community: this surely is a good practice. It places emphasis on the absent sick person still being remembered by the community, and the person being in communion not only with Jesus Christ but also with the Body of Christ which is the community.
When Communion is taken from the Sunday gathering, often the minister takes along a copy of the notice sheet and a copy of the Sunday readings, if they are available. Either before or after the Communion ritual, the Communion Minister might also share with the sick person any news from the community.
The complete Communion rite itself includes an introductory greeting, a prayer, a moment of recollection to dispose oneself to accept God’s forgiveness and mercy, a scripture reading, a brief exchange of reflections on the reading, perhaps a time of intercessory prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, Lamb of God, This is the Lamb of God etc, reception of Communion, concluding prayer and a word of blessing.
Rarely, in practice, would all these elements of the rite be included. The barest minimum would be the Lord’s prayer and Communion (or in a hospital or nursing home where there might a communion round of 12 people, prayer at a central location and a simple distribution of Communion to the sick).
In some situations, after informal greetings have been exchanged and a prayerful atmosphere develops, perhaps helped by the lighting of a candle, after a brief prayer the Communion Minister might simply say: “One of our readings today mentioned … and in our reflections we spoke about … or, Father in his homily made this point.” In another situation, it might be appropriate to read the gospel and/or the other readings, before the Our Father leading to the Communion.
Various booklets are available that could be used for Communion with the Sick. According to my enquiries, none of these is outstandingly good. The most helpful booklet I have seen is entitled: “Praying with the Sick” by Sandra DeGidio, OSM, (Twenty-Third Publications, Mystic, USA. US$6.95) Because it is expensive, in Australia A$16.95 for a book of 50 pages (20 of these scripture passages) one can hardly recommend that individual Ministers of Communion get this booklet. Perhaps a parish could, however, and use ideas from it in small handouts to the Communion Ministers to help them in their ministry.
In that booklet, as well as the rite itself, there are various prayers for people suffering from different illnesses and conditions. The prayers are well phrased. There are 21 such prayers. These are the titles of some of them: For someone who is anxious or afraid; On the occasion of a sudden illness or accident; For someone going into surgery; For someone recovering from surgery; For someone with cancer; For someone with heart disease; For a stroke victim, For someone who is dying. As well as prayers varying conditions of illness there is also a list of scripture readings that are relevant for the same situations.
The official ritual for Pastoral Care of the Sick is a basic resource. As well as giving the official texts and procedure for Communion of the Sick, Anointing, Celebration of Viaticum, Commendation of the Dying and Prayers for the Dead, the book has excellent introductions to chapters and a lot of good pastoral advice for ministering to the sick in many different situations.
This book is entitled “Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum” It is issued by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. It is a book of 350 pages. It should still be moderately priced (I bought mine 20 years ago) and would be available from most Catholic bookshops. Those wishing to deepen their study of ministry to sick might be able to borrow this book from the parish’s liturgy resources.
In a small community it is easier for the community to know the regular participants in the community’s Sunday Liturgy who are absent because of illness. The illness might be drawn out or brief, serious or passing. The person might be recovering from major surgery or kept at home with an extended bout of the flu. In all these cases the community leaders, prompted by members of the community who know the situation of the sick person, should consider organising the taking of Communion to that sick person (or at least visiting that sick person) every Sunday at the conclusion of the community’s Sunday Liturgy. Arrangements with the sick person at home need to be made beforehand. A phone call to confirm the time of the visit would certainly not be out of place.
If your community has Sunday lay led Liturgy without Communion, it would be inappropriate to take Communion to a sick person from that Liturgy on that Sunday. Nevertheless, a formal “liturgical” visit from a delegate of the community could well be in order. At that visit the minister could do everything that is done when Communion is taken, apart from giving Communion. The central part of the Liturgy during the visit would be prayer and the reading of the Sunday scripture(s), and comments. The less formal part would be the usual conversation and listening and sharing of community news.
If a sick person has not had a sacramental connection with the church community for a long time, it would not be appropriate to take Communion to that person at home. This could be a case where the priest should be the one to re-establish sacramental Communion. By all means, members of the congregation could make a caring visit to such people at any time that is convenient to all concerned.