Faithful Catholics order their lives around the sacraments of the church. They are regular in attending Mass, often more than once a week, and they participate in the sacrament of reconciliation regularly. The grace they receive through these gifts to the Church becomes one of the most important parts of their daily and weekly schedule. As people age, however, mobility can become a problem. For many older adults, getting out of the house can be challenging, if not impossible. Many Catholic parishes are not easily accessible for people who have difficulty navigating stairs. When a faithful Catholic becomes homebound, they should not lose access to the sacraments. Here are some ideas on how homebound Catholics can continue to participate in the sacraments.
Give Them a Ride
Sometimes someone is homebound simply because he or she needs assistance when leaving the house. They have a friend or family member pick them up to go to the doctor or the grocery store when they cannot travel on their own. For some reason, many homebound adults feel perfectly happy arranging for a ride to the doctor’s office but not when it comes to Mass.
In these circumstances, it is especially important for fellow Catholics to help their members of the body of Christ. This happens best when it’s a spontaneous act of love prompted by the Holy Spirit. In other words, when you notice someone isn’t coming to Mass anymore, give them a call. Ask about their health or family. If they need a ride to Mass, offer to pick them up. Not only will they continue to participate as they have in the past, but you can also serve Christ in a particularly meaningful way.
In practice, however, this arrangement doesn’t always work. Many people don’t notice when a parishioner stops attending Mass until it has been several weeks or months. Each parish should have some way to ascertain when a person becomes homebound and arrange for a ride to mass.
Take the Sacraments to Them
Sometimes illness and other infirmities make it completely impossible for the homebound to come to Mass, but the church building isn’t the only place where one can receive the sacraments. Priests and extraordinary ministers often take the Blessed Eucharist to those who cannot travel.
In doing so, extraordinary ministers and priests take great care to treat the elements of the Sacrament with reverence. The minister usually carries the host in a pyx, a cylindrical container designed to carry the sacrament. However, when they transport the elements, it should be done with respect.
Communion of the Sick in Ordinary Circumstances
When the priest or minister arrives with Holy Communion, the homebound person should set out a white tablecloth with a candle on it. The minister will lead Communion of the Sick in Ordinary Circumstances, an abbreviated liturgy that mirrors the mass.
The service begins with a greeting. Then the minister sprinkles with water everyone in attendance to remind them of their baptism and the grace given by Christ’s death and resurrection.
Next comes the penitential rite, in which all present confess their sinful state and turn to God for mercy, and readings from the word of God. Finally, the Liturgy of Holy Communion commences with the Lord’s Prayer, the Agnus Dei, and several responses and prayers. The rite ends with a blessing, in the case of an ordained minister, and with a prayer for blessing with an extraordinary minister.
A wonderful feature of this rite is the similarity to the Mass celebrated every Sunday. The homebound and sick feel like they are still a part of the parish by participating in the same rites and rituals the rest of the body celebrates together.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
While a lay minister may deliver Holy Communion to the sick or homebound, only a priest or bishop may hear confessions. While a visit from an extraordinary minister helps to extend the ministry of the priest to the sick and homebound, the minister cannot replace a visit from the priest.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to arrange for a priest to visit, because they can be extremely busy. Friends, relatives and the homebound person should be persistent in scheduling a visit. Remember it is not just the priest’s job to remain faithful, but the homebound person or members of the family should also actively arrange these things.
When the priest does come, the order follows the typical rite observed in your local parish for reconciliation.
The Sacrament of Anointing the Sick
A particularly comforting aspect of a priest’s visit can be the anointing of the sick. Many people associate the anointing of the sick with last rites. The two, however, are not the same. The church anoints anyone who is sick, about to have surgery or anyone who is showing signs of sickness or old age.
This sacrament has many benefits:
- The uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church
- The strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age
- The forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was unable to obtain it through the sacrament of penance
- The restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul
- The preparation for passing over to eternal life
(Taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1532).
The anointing of the sick includes the sacrament of penance. Then the priest or bishop lays his hands on the sick person, and he anoints the person with oil on the forehead, hands and sometimes on the site of pain or injury. The rite may conclude with Holy Communion.
The anointing of the sick is distinct from last rites. In last rites, they follow the ritual for anointing the sick and then add the apostolic blessing, which grants a plenary indulgence. This is an important distinction because it can be easy to confuse the two. You don’t want to scare someone who is homebound by making them think they are about to receive last rites!
The Homebound’s Duty
When someone becomes homebound, they often become more passive in every aspect of life. Because they must wait for help, they refrain from reaching out to the church. It is the duty of every homebound person to reach out to their local parish to request these sacraments. Friends and relatives should encourage them to call their priest to arrange a visit.
Age and infirmity can make faithful participation in the sacraments difficult, but it is not impossible. The church is designed by God to care for the poor, the sick and the infirm, so Catholic parishes have a holy duty to bring the sacraments to those who are homebound.