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Communion of the Sick
This differs from ordinary Communion as to the class of persons to whom it is administered, as to the dispositions with which it may be received, and as to the place and ceremonies of administration. In her anxious solicitude for the spiritual welfare of her children the Church earnestly desires that those who are unable through illness to receive the Blessed Eucharist in the usual way at the altar, should not be deprived of the consolations of this sacrament, and, accordingly, she exhorts her pastors to satisfy always the pious desires, not only of all who are stricken with a dangerous sickness and require strength to prepare them for the final struggle, but also of those who may wish to comply with the paschal precept and cannot do so in church, and, in fine, of everyone who hungers after this life-giving bread even from mere devotion. When Communion is administered to persons in danger of death and likely to receive it for the last time it is called the Viaticum. With this form of Communion there is no need to deal at present, as everything concerning it will be treated afterwards in its own place (see VIATICUM). The present article is concerned with Communion which is given to persons in their own houses who, though not dangerously ill, yet are so physically indisposed that they cannot without very grave inconvenience go to church to receive in the ordinary way. In the first place, then, the pastor is bound to minister Communion in their homes to such as have to fulfil their paschal duty and cannot do so in church owing to illness. The pastor's obligation in the matter is not, of course, purely personal, and hence it can be discharged vicariously. Again he is bound, though not so strictly, to satisfy the reasonable desires of all sick persons who are confined to their homes by infirmity of any kind and who wish to receive the Blessed Eucharist. The Roman Ritual observes that these pious wishes should be especially gratified on the occasion of a solemn festival or other celebration of the kind (Tit. IV, cap. iv).
The sick who desire to receive Communion out of mere devotion were hitherto bound to receive it before tasting any food or drink. Even those who had to fulfil their paschal duty and who could not fast up to a suitable hour in the morning would not be exempted from the obligation of fasting, according to many theologians. A recent Instruction of the Congregation of the Council, dated 7 December, 1906, has modified very considerably the regulations hitherto prevailing in regard to the obligation of observing the natural fast from the previous midnight, as far at least as the sick are concerned. In accordance with the provisions of this new decree all persons confined to their homes by reason of indisposition may be Communicated even though not fasting, provided (1) that they have been sick for a month; (2) that they have medical testimony as to their inability to fast; (3) that there is no certain hope of a speedy recovery; and (4) that only liquid food is taken. When these specified conditions are present Communion may be given once or twice a week to those who live in houses where Mass is celebrated daily, as in convents, and once or twice a month to others not so placed. It is unnecessary to observe that the same dispositions of soul are required in the sick as in all other persons for the fruitful reception of Holy Communion.
The Roman Ritual (Tit. IV, c. iv) prescribes, in detail, all the ceremonies to be observed when Communion is given to the sick. The manner of carrying the Blessed Sacrament and of administering it is accurately described. The Consecrated Species should be borne with all due honour, reverence, and dignity, in solemn procession, with lights, and all the other customary formalities. This, however, is according to the general law of the Church. Many countries, at the present day, in which this solemn and public conveyance of the Blessed Sacrament is not possible, have obtained an Apostolic indult in virtue of which the Sacred Species may be carried privately and without any pomp or external ceremonial (Second Plen. Counc. of Balt., n. 264), but it must always be enclosed in a silver box or pyx, which should be securely fastened around the person. Other cases of exception are also recognized (Ben. XIV, "Inter Unigenas"). Whilst carrying the Blessed Sacrament in this private manner, the priest need not wear any sacred vestment, but in the actual administration he should wear at least a stole, soutane, and surplice (cong. Of Rites, n. 2650). The sick chamber should be neatly and chastely arranged. Near the bed there ought to be a table covered with a white cloth, with a crucifix, two candles, small vessel of clean water, Holy Water and sprinkler, and communion-card. It only remains to say that the form used in giving Communion in private houses should be the usual one, the Accipe frater or soror, etc. being restricted to the administration of the Viaticum.
Rit. Rom., De Com. Inf., Tit. IV, Cap. iv; CATALANI, Commentarium in Rit. Rom. (Rome, 1850), I; BARUFFALDI, Rit. Rom. Com. Inf. (Florence, 1847); O'KANE, Notes on Rubrics of Rom. Rit. (Dublin, 1867); VAN DER STAPPEN, De Adm. Sacr. (Mechlin, 1902); GASPARRI, Tract. Can. de Euch. (Freiburg, 1896), II; GIHR, L'Eucharistic.