ASK FATHER: During sick call, tea and biscuits before administering Communion

From a reader…


When a priest arrives at a sick person’s house in order to provide Communion, should the Communion rite happen immediately upon arrival?

I presume that tea, biscuits and chatting should certainly not happen beforehand?

I was recently put into this situation: bonhomie taking place for at least an hour before Communion. I wasn’t sure that the Blessed Sacrament was present at first, but when this was made apparent I was shocked and upset.

I raised this with the assistant priest, one of the two who had visited. He said that the parish priest (he was the other who had visited) likes to give Communion at the end so all can leave in silence (which on my recollection didn’t happen anyway.) The assistant priest conveyed my thoughts to the parish priest, and apparently his suggestion was that they leave the Blessed Sacrament in the glove box of the car until it’s time.

I have to commend the priests on their pastoral care; I’ve seen priests with no attention to this whatsoever and I think it’s important, but not at the expense of proper treatment of the Blessed Sacrament.

Thanks for also adding your positive comments about your priests.

“tea, bicuits beforehand”

“leave the Blessed Sacrament in the glove box”

I am sure that these priests have no intention of showing a lack of respect for Christ in the Eucharist.

However, as soon as I read this, a phrase flooded into my mind:

Nihil anteponendum dilectioni Christi.

Flooded with this phrase, I had to look it up.  I had it almost right.  The true phrase is: “dilectioni Dei et Christi nihil praeponendum … nothing is to be set before/preferred to the love of God and Christ”.  This is St. Cyprian of Carthage (+258) Ad Quirinum 3, 18.

One of the things priests learn when they use the traditional forms of our sacred liturgical rites is that, indeed, nihil anteponendum when it comes to the Eucharist.  This principle guides even the order in which a priest carries out certain tasks.

For example, after Holy Communion he must purify vessels.  First, he consumes whatever of the Precious Blood might be in the chalice.  Then he begins the ablutions.  If there is a ciborium to be purified, he pours the ablutions into the ciborium and consumes everything from it.  In reposing the Blessed Sacrament after exposition, the lunette is handled as little as possible.  Therefore, tabernacle is opened, pyx is readied, etc.  Then the Host is removed, put into the pyx, reposed in the tabernacle, door closed before anything is done with the monstrance, etc.  Everything is readied so that when it is time to do something with the Blessed Sacrament, no other object or activity interrupts.   Anything having to do with the Eucharist has priority of attention and action.

Nihil anteponendum.

Another clue is taken from the rite of visiting the sick itself.  The very first thing that the priest does when he arrives at the place and enters, he says, “Pax huic domui!  Peace to his house!”  The rite continues from there without interruption… for biscuit or chats or anything.  Also, knowing that the priest is coming, people should have everything ready for the visit.  Households had sick call sets.   I’ve written about them HERE.  Everything should be ready for the arrival of the King.  With all things set out beforehand, when the priest arrives he should be brought directly, without delay, to the person who will receive Communion.  There’s time for other things after the more important things are completed.

Nihil anteponendum.

Hence, I cannot go along with anything that is put before proper attention to the Blessed Sacrament when it comes to sick calls.

This must must must also be hammered into any lay people who take the Eucharist to the sick or shut it.   If you are given the tremendous task, do nothing to interfere with your duty.  Don’t stop for gas (get it beforehand.  Don’t go through the Taco Bell drive-thru (go later).  Don’t … don’t… don’t.   Just go straight to the place you must go and carry out your task.  The same then applies to purification of the pyx.  Christ is present even in small fragments of the Host.

Nihil anteponendum.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. iamlucky13 says:

    “Another clue is taken from the rite of visiting the sick itself. The very first thing that the priest does when he arrives at the place and enters, he says, “Pax huic domui! Peace to his house!” The rite continues from there without interruption”

    Pardon the seemingly ignorant question, but is there a current, formal rite for visiting the sick to administer Communion?

    If so, this seems like something that needs to be emphasized, and not merely as a set of rules, but as an opportunity to reverently make the experience more meaningful.

    In my observation, there is currently little to no ritual followed. I recall in the past hearing some discussion about a rite for when the priest arrives, but it seems like in most parishes, Communion is taken to the sick by an extraordinary minister or even a family member.

  2. adriennep says:

    Thank you for asking. In the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon last year, we were blessed to have workshops put on by our Office of Divine Worship, in order to shape up the practice of “Eucharistic Ministers” (a misnomer) and have them registered to be able to assist a priest in giving communion to the homebound. There is this small book they were to start using which contains the words of the rite, and other norms they are to observe. All this because Archbishop Sample takes the Liturgy very seriously. I copied the text announcing this from the November 2017 ODW newsletter. Please share with those who need to know where you are.

    Vademecum – a book for ready reference.
    The Vademecum (Latin word meaning go with me) contains the Proposed Archdiocesan Norms for EMHCs and some special considerations for home visits along with the Ordinary Rite and Shorter Rite of Holy Communion to the Sick. Copies of this booklet are available from the Office of Divine Worship.
    Msgr. O’Connor presented the Norms and gave some advice to the Extraordinary Ministers with regard to the spiritual, theological and practical preparation that is required by the United States Bishops’ Conference.
    He encouraged the extraordinary ministers to demonstrate a love for and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament and have a discernible prayer life. Msgr. O’Connor said that each of those involved in this important ministry should also have a high level of participation in the life of the parish. It is important that the extraordinary ministers are visible and active members of their parish community. They should avail themselves to frequent confession and participate in daily Mass when possible and have a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Rosary.
    On the theological front he expressed a need for ongoing formation at the parish level but also stressed the importance of the self study of topics of interest to this ministry.
    Msgr. O’Connor challenged those present to participate in Archdiocesan events especially those which involve the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with the Archbishop and those which are relevant to the ongoing formation goals of this ministry.
    Msgr. O’Connor encouraged the extraordinary ministers to be able to explain catholic doctrine regarding the Holy Eucharist and to use the Catechism of the Catholic Church as their guide in this area. (CCC 1322-1419). He explained to those present the teaching of the Council of Trent with regard to the real presence; Jesus Christ being present in his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity.
    In summary Msgr. O’Connor thanked the attendees for their service in the Archdiocese and reminded them of the beautiful privilege which they have accepted. He encouraged them to pray for vocations to the priesthood and asked them to be: Docile; Humble and Worthy: Servants of the Most Holy Eucharist.

  3. originalsolitude says:

    About leaving the consecrated Host in the glove compartment: no, no, no. That happened in our diocese some years ago. An EMHC placed the pyx in the glove compartment and returned to the narthex for morning tea before going to the sick person’s house. Meanwhile the car was broken into and the pyx stolen. The whole diocese had to make reparation.

  4. BrionyB says:

    I know this is easy to say when I’m not in that situation myself, but I really think that if I were sick and housebound, I’d rather wait until a priest was able to come to me (even if that meant only receiving once a year) than have the consecrated Host handled by a lay person and treated in such a casual way for my sake. Or is that the wrong attitude?

  5. TonyO says:

    Fr. Z, great comments and advice. The whole emphasis, with the reminder – Nihil anteponendum – just beautiful!

    I would make one more point: The homebound sick person may need confession. [Of course. The opportunity for confession is part of the traditional rite.] The priest should explicitly ask, before he goes into the communion rite. But – how to put this delicately – maybe he should ASK the person, directly, and alone? Maybe the sick person doesn’t want everyone knowing “he had to go to confession first – and him sick in bed!” So, (just a suggestion), maybe EVERY sick call should start with 5 minutes alone with the priest and the sick person? Hasn’t this issue been addressed before?

    but I really think that if I were sick and housebound, I’d rather wait until a priest was able to come to me (even if that meant only receiving once a year) than have the consecrated Host handled by a lay person and treated in such a casual way for my sake.

    Briony, I suspect your attitude comes in part from a very high respect for the priesthood. There’s nothing wrong with that. And I too don’t like it when a pay person is unable to carry out the care and precision that the Eucharist deserves.

    [The issue of confession is critical.]

    But I also would ask myself, if I were you: would I really want to wait a year for Fr. rather than get Jesus next Tuesday? What if I didn’t have much confidence that I was going to be alive a year from now? I suspect, too, that a lot of this depends on practices in the parish: in some busy busy busy parishes, Fr. is caught in 30 different activities a day, and can scarcely find time to make more than 5 sick calls a week. If not for Eucharistic ministers, the other 40 in need would never see Jesus in the sacrament. (Yes, maybe Fr. needs to examine his priorities, but I am not here to judge – a lot of those 30 activities are important.) I was once in a situation where I was homebound for some time. I must say, I received far more comfort from the visit of a priest than of a lay minister, both bringing Jesus. Nevertheless, I would offer that you shoot for a balance, and specifically request a priest only a portion of the visits you request. You do have a right to ask for some of your pastor’s time. So do other people.

  6. Geoffrey says:

    “The same then applies to purification of the pyx. Christ is present even in small fragments of the Host.”

    What are the norms for purifying a pyx and fingers “on the road” as it were? You cannot carry an ablution cup with you.

  7. scholastica says:

    Many years ago, before my conversion, we were visiting my husband’s grandmother in a small town in SD. Fr. Robert Fox ( of EWTN) was the parish priest there. I’ll never forget the impression it made on me when he came to give communion to her. Wearing surplice and stole, he entered the home in silence and went about his business. The small table beside her was prepared and no-one spoke except the priest. I believe she responded. I had no idea what was happening, but was informed to be quiet and reverent. This was my first experience with such and I’ll never forget it.
    No tea and biscuits necessary.

    BrionyB- I’m at this point, that yes, I would prefer to receive less frequently from a priest if that were necessary. (I now receive daily)
    TonyO- It is true that our priests are busy with many things, but as Fr.Z has reminded us, nothing before the Eucharist and I believe that could be applied here. We’ve allowed them to become social workers, but their primary duty is to give the sacraments. My experience is sometimes they need gentle reminders that we can handle the bake sale, but we need them to handle the Eucharist.

  8. Hidden One says:

    I think properly formed and episcopally instituted acolytes are a potentially very useful solution to the problem of not enough priests (and deacons) to bring Communion to the sick on a regular basis. An instituted acolyte is not an ordinary minister of Holy Communion, but he has been given, in a permanent way, the mandate of the Church to serve in this way (and related ones). That’s not nothing!

    I think that too few dioceses employ instituted acolytes (other than ones preparing for ordination). The depth of formation acolytes need is probably at least what many permanent diaconate programs at present seem to provide.

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