In my parish there are a number of lay people who take Communion to the sick, but occasionally I see them take the hosts and then chat with people after Mass before going to the home of the sick. Is this proper? How should Communion be taken to the sick?
Your question affects many people, both the ministers and the families of the sick, so it is a good one to answer in this column.
There are no written norms of which I am aware apart from the actual rite of Communion to the sick, but there is a certain spirit that should govern all the actions of the minister beforehand, and it is this that I will discuss here.
To facilitate the description, I will assume that the minister is a woman and that she is taking Communion to just one person.
The first thing to remember is that the minister is not just taking a host to a sick person. She is taking Jesus himself. It is an awesome privilege and it carries with it a great responsibility. It should be done with great reverence.
Consider, for example, how the priest treats Our Lord in Mass. After the consecration of each species – the bread which becomes the Body and the wine which becomes the Blood of our Lord – he genuflects to show his reverence to Our Lord.
The Latin rubric describing this genuflection actually says “Genuflexus, adorat” – “Having genuflected, he adores”. This is only fitting, since Jesus himself is now present on the altar.
The Gospels relate how the Apostles themselves on occasion adored Our Lord. For example, just before his Ascension into heaven, “when they saw him they worshiped him” (Mt 28:17).
This spirit of reverence obtains throughout the rest of the Mass. When the people come up to receive Communion they make a sign of reverence beforehand, at least bowing if they are to receive Communion standing, or even kneeling to receive Our Lord.
After receiving Communion they return to their seat and give thanks to Our Lord for coming into their body and soul, and many remain for some time after Mass to continue their thanksgiving. During this time they would not think of talking to anyone else. They are focussing on Our Lord.
This is the spirit with which a minister takes Communion to someone outside Mass. At the end of Mass she takes from the altar the pyx, a small round vessel containing the host, and leaves immediately for the house of the sick person.
While she may smile or say hello to someone who greets her, she makes it clear that she is carrying Our Lord and so does not stop to chat with anyone.
In the car she does not turn on the radio or chat with other persons. It is best that she prays silently or says the Rosary or some other prayers with any others in the car.
Their focus is on Our Lord who is the most important passenger in the car. If Jesus were actually sitting there with them they would be wholly focussed on him.
When they arrive at the house, the family members of the sick person should have prepared a table with a white cloth, a crucifix, two candles and a small bowl with a little water in it.
While in a hospital setting it is generally inadvisable to use candles, in a home this presents no problem.
Many families use lighted candles to decorate the dinner table or for other purposes.
The minister greets the family at the door and then proceeds to the room of the sick person.
On the table she opens out a corporal, a white linen cloth used only for the Blessed Sacrament, and places the pyx on it, genuflecting reverently along with any others in the room.
The others remain kneeling from this point on. The sick person of course may be in bed or sitting in a chair.
She then proceeds through the rite of Communion, giving Communion to the sick person and to any others who may wish to receive it and have not already received Communion that day.
At the end, she purifies the pyx with a small purifier, making sure that any particles of the host fall into the bowl with water.
She may also wash her fingers in this bowl. Since the bowl may now contain particles of the host, she may ask the sick person to drink the water, or she may do it herself, or she may pour the water into a flower pot or under a shrub in the garden where no one will walk.
Only after the final prayers have been said and the sick person has had a little time to give thanks for having received Our Lord, should she engage in normal conversation.
This way of acting is a great catechesis to all involved and helps them appreciate the great Gift that the Eucharist is.