Some questions about ministry to the sick and the homebound came up recently when talking with staff. Consequently, I thought that some clarification for the entire parish would be helpful based on our discussion.
We have a number of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (commonly referred to as Eucharistic Ministers) in our parish. Besides helping to distribute Holy Communion at the Masses, they may also serve regularly in two other capacities depending on the parish: bringing Holy Communion to those in the hospital and bringing Holy Communion to the homebound.
First of all, I note that they are intended as extraordinary ministers. The priests and deacons are the ordinary ministers. While we have become very accustomed to seeing the extraordinary ministers at Mass, whenever a priest or deacon is present, distributing Holy Communion is their ordinary ministry and the extraordinary ministers should properly defer to them.
If there is someone in your family who is homebound and is unable to come to Mass, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion can be assigned to visit the home weekly to bring Holy Communion. Please contact the parish office to arrange for this. The minister is then asked to be the eyes of the priest in this situation. If the person requests the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (confession) or should receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick because of advanced age or illness, the minister is asked to notify the priest and he will visit the home as soon as possible.
Priests are specifically ordained for ministry of the sacraments and should be called especially for confession or anointing. The forgiveness of sin is tied to these two sacraments and a priest—rather than an extraordinary minister or even a deacon—is required.
At the time prior to a person’s death, a priest has special authority to do what is necessary for the salvation of the person’s soul. A priest should be called whenever a person becomes seriously ill because the sacraments are intended for the living. While a priest can always pray with the family after a person has died, he should be called to be present—if at all possible—before death.
Additionally, most hospitals in the Diocese of Camden have a chaplain assigned to them. However, the patient or the family needs to make the chaplain's office aware of someone wanting to see a priest or to receive Holy Communion. Please be aware that privacy restrictions (HIPAA) can sometimes prevent priests from finding out information unless they are specifically informed by the patient or family. Also, while I am glad to visit a parishioner in the hospital, please do not assume that your parish priest automatically knows that someone is there. The parish emergency number should be used in this instance, usually after an attempt to contact the hospital chaplain, especially in emergency or serious circumstances.
In one of my former assignments, a religious sister told me about how her father prayed every day for the grace of a happy death and that a priest would be present when he died. On the day of his death, mysteriously there were so many priests who happened to visit the home, to be in the area, that she knew God answered his prayer with His super-abundant mercy.
Also in one of my former parishes, a scheduled parish appointment was cancelled and I then had the opportunity to go to the home of a long-time friend who had been seriously ill with pancreatic cancer. When I arrived at the home I could see that he was gravely ill. He had been given the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and received Holy Communion on almost a daily basis when he was still able to do so. With the family and the hospice nurse present, I began to pray with him as I held his hand. I whispered in his ear that it was “okay to go to Jesus.” Peacefully, he passed.
I believe Jesus was present in that home at that moment working mysterious through my priestly ministry. Why was my parish appointment cancelled? Why was I at the home at that particular moment in time? Was it simply an accident or coincidence, or rather a remarkable act of God’s Providential Grace?
Pray for the grace of a happy death. Pray and request a priest for family members or yourself when there is any serious illness.
Time and time again, God is mysteriously present in the sacraments and working through the ministry of His priests.
Fr. Ed Namiotka