“Can someone bring me Communion?” comes the usual request to the parish office. Chapter III of the Pastoral Care of the Sick provides for it. An introduction of ten sections (71-80) will take our attention over the next several posts, then we’ll review the Communion Rite itself later this week.
71. This chapter contains two rites: one for use when communion can be celebrated in the context of a liturgy of the word; the other, a brief communion rite for use in more restrictive circumstances, such as in hospitals.
72. Priests with pastoral responsibilities should see to it that the sick or aged, even though not seriously ill or in danger of death, are given every opportunity to receive the eucharist frequently, even daily, especially during the Easter season. They may receive communion at any hour. Those who care for the sick may receive communion with them, in accord with the usual norms. To provide frequent communion for the sick, it may be necessary to ensure that the community has a sufficient number of ministers of communion. The communion minister should wear attire appropriate to this ministry.
One thing to remember in the first part of PCS 72: the opportunity for providing frequent Communion is the pastor’s responsibility. When I was a pastoral associate in a rural parish, I was careful about attending to Sunday Communion, and to daily Communion for those in hospice care. I made hospital visits twice a week. It was an error on my part not to arrange Communion a few times a week for the elderly homebound folks and for the seriously ill.
Yet it is interesting the emphasis on a Communion service with the sick, even as many parishes without a full-time priest are asked to forego Communion services for the healthy, or for non-family members and caregivers. Any comment on that?
Notice also the preference for daily Easter Communion.
Note as well the purpose for the pastor training and designating additional communion ministers to the sick. While these people would not be “ordinary” ministers in the sense the clergy are, I point out that frequent communion is part of the “ordinary” pastoral care the Church intends for the sick. “Communion minister” is the preferred term in my diocese for all lay people who serve in this way–just as it is listed here in the pastoral care rite.
The sick person and others may help to plan the celebration, for example, by choosing the prayers and readings. Those making these choices should keep in mind the condition of the sick person. The readings and the homily should help those present to reach a deeper understanding of the mystery of human suffering in relation to the paschal mystery of Christ.
Giving the sick person and their loved ones the opportunity for liturgical planning is very laudable. It implies the Church is less concerned about “servicing” lay people and more with their engagement in the rites. Serious illness is a cross, but it is also an opportunity for growth, deeper understanding, and a closer relationship with God. Liturgy is meant to assist this–and these rites underscore, I think, the enormous spiritual advantage of the reformed. Not all clergy and sick people take advantage of this, but the opportunity beckons for spiritual growth. This is a tipping point, I would suggest, for the movement against euthanasia. As long as society maintains that ill people are just warm bodies rolling through life, a person near death can be seen as a commodity, a cog, and a useless one at that. If, however, there is a spiritual harvest to reap from suffering and misfortune, seriously sick people and their ministers have a counterpoint to offer, wouldn’t you say?