The classical Prayer Books did not permit the reservation and delivery of consecrated bread to the sick; rather, the Communion of the Sick involved a full, yet brief, celebration of Communion by their bedside. This rite is a restoration of earlier practice, and, properly presented and explained, can help the home- or hospital-bound feel a part of the congregation they miss, as the minister literally brings them food from the table they’re normally a part of.
The minister should resist the urge to tamper with this rite; its prayers are carefully selected to pare down the Communion liturgy to its familiar and essential elements, with an eye toward brevity and faithful communication of the Gospel.
This rite should be conducted with no expectation of posture or movement. The sick person may be able to sit up, or may be entirely prone. Family members should be gathered and participate alongside whenever convenient. The minister should not have an elaborate setup, traditionally no more than a small table for the pyx of consecrated bread, the Bible, Prayer Book, and a small standup cross or crucifix for a simple visual.
The Psalm and Lesson
The 1662 Prayer Book appointed Hebrews 12:5 and John 5:24 as the Epistle and Gospel in this rite. Neither are provided in this Prayer Book, but further options are listed.
- Psalm 23 is often associated with the sick and the dying, and is a favorite source of comfort for many.
- Psalm 62 expresses trust in God, and can be quite profound to the attentive patient.
- Psalm 103 is more of thanksgiving, briefly noting God as the one who “heals all your infirmities” and thus may be best for one who is sick but recovering.
- Psalm 145 is also a psalm of thanksgiving, with special attention to God as our provider.
These Psalms may best be used in course, the minister using one in successive weeks or visits, until the sick person is restored to the congregation.
The Gospel lessons reflect on the role of faith and the sacrament, respectively, in the life of the believer. When choosing between them the minister should consider the spiritual needs of the sick person(s) and bring the gospel of faith or the gospel of the sacrament as appropriate.
The option to read the Gospel “appropriate the day” should be favored when brevity is not the first priority and the patient has time and energy to listen. This should be accompanied with a brief synopsis of the sermon, when possible.
The offering of additional prayers (analogous to the Prayers of the People) should be considered; at least one collect appropriate to the sick person’s situation should be read before proceeding.
The short Confession, from the Renewed Ancient Text, is provided in this liturgy. The rubrics make no mention of it in this rite, but in light of the fact that the two Communion rites may freely exchange their equivalent elements the minister should feel free to use the Confession from the Anglican Standard Text instead. In this context, the ideal should be that the minister use the prayer of confession that the sick person is most familiar with.
The absolution or prayer for forgiveness, the peace, and the Lord’s Prayer continue as normal.
The Ministration of Holy Communion from the Reserved Sacrament
The Agnus Dei should be included if the sick person is familiar with it, and the words of ministration and the Post-Communion Prayer (like the Confession) may be drawn from either Communion rite according to familiarity.
Traditionally only the bread is to be reserved and delivered to the sick. Proper washing of a Communion chalice or cup is often not possible in a hospital or similar setting, even after the difficulties of transporting consecrated wine have been accounted for. The pouring of consecrated wine into tiny individual cups to be thrown away thereafter is never an appropriate means of ablution.
After the final blessings and prayers are said, the minister should offer the sick person the Prayers and Scriptures on BCP 234-235 for their own comfort thereafter. On a practical level this should mean that the minister provides the patient with a bookmarked Prayer Book and a Bible.