11 February, 2012

Pastoral Reflection - Communion to Homebound Faithful

For the sake of a more thorough reflection on the subject of extended Holy Communion and the diaconal ministry, the present piece should be considered in conjunction with the previuos IME reflection on Communion in care homes

So far my experience has been inspiring, very affirming, and humbling at the same time, as I have met people deeply committed to their faith who manifested a genuine sense of expectation to receive the Eucharist Christ. Moreover, their conversation always showed interest in the day-to-day business of the parish churches where they formerly worshipped.
Through this liturgy and the participation to the Sacrament the local Church is gathered and kept into one body even when some members cannot participate to the celebration of the Eucharist. This also reflects the call of deacons to reach into the forgotten corners of the world and to assist in administering the sacraments distributing Communion and ministering to the sick and housebound [Ordination Services, Study Edition, Church House Publishing 2007, 15]. In this sense, home Communion ought to be regarded as a joyful duty and a great honour by the clergy even when personal schedules become hectic and pastoral zeal lukewarm.

Taking communion to those who are unable to attend Church services is an ancient practice of which we have recordings dating back to the second century. For example, Justin Martyr wrote that the deacons give Communion to each of those present and carry away the consecrated bread and wine and water for those unable to attend [Apology, 1, 65]. Faithful to this tradition, the Church of England provides liturgical material for such occasions [Common Worship: Pastoral Services, Church House Publishing 2005, 76-91] which maintains a strong link between the celebration of the Eucharist in churches and the distribution of the consecrated species to the homebound. For example, the introduction states that
The Church of God, of which we are members, has taken bread and wine and given thanks over them according to our Lord’s command. These holy gifts are now offered to us that, with faith and thanksgiving, we may share in the communion of the body and blood of Christ. [ibid. 80]

Pastoral Services encourages also the use of seasonal material during the penitential seasons, and at Christmas, Easter and Pentecost [ibid. 78].

Since my training at college I have learnt that there is always a risk of making these services either too short or too long. Indeed, almost everyone who has been involved at some point with this rite will have his or her own particular opinion about its length and content. The temptation of “cutting corners” is always at hand even when the minister need not doing so.

During my first year of training I was advised to prepare a place for the Blessed Sacrament upon arrival. This involved both laying a corporal – with perhaps a crucifix and candles – making sure that the Sacramental presence of Christ was the focus of the attention and reading the Sunday gospel with those present. The same tutor walked us through all the possible forms of distributing the Sacrament and gently nudging us towards distribution in one kind alone – bread. Similar guidelines are now observed in my training parish.

Through various placements and my short experience as a deacon, I have arrived to the same conclusions; great care should be given to the place where the Blessed Sacrament is placed; a form of Liturgy of the Word should precede Holy Communion which should be administered under the form of bread alone. I do agree with the Church of England that Communion should normally be received in both kinds separately [Pastoral Services, 79], but I am also aware of the practical difficulties linked to this practice, such as reservation, transport and distribution of the Precious Blood.

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