Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 15, 2010
Laity find fulfillment in bringing the Body of Christ to the sick
Hundreds of people involved in Communion ministry across the archdiocese
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Once a week, Ernie Murias of Rocky Mountain House stops at the local hospital to check if any Catholic patients want to receive Communion. After Mass, he takes the consecrated hosts and distributes them to the patients.
Murias also drives to the countryside once a week to distribute Communion to those who are sick at home, some of them farm people who are crippled by age or disease and have chosen to stay home instead of a hospital.
"I just love doing it," Murias says. "I'm just so happy that I can bring the Blessed Sacrament to those that are unable, through illness, to come to church. If I am able to walk with Jesus into those rooms and pray with them whenever I can, I really feel I'm doing something (worthwhile)."
Murias, a retired newspaper advertising salesperson, is one of 50 extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion who gathered at the Catholic Pastoral Centre recently for a formation workshop.
Rose Marie Fowler, former associate director of the archdiocesan Liturgy Office, led the two-hour workshop, which dealt with everything from the liturgy and the sacraments to proper handling of the Holy Communion and visitation guidelines. The archdiocesan Office of Pastoral Care and Life Initiatives organized the event.
Hundreds of people in the Edmonton Archdiocese, through their parishes, take part in the important ministry of bringing Communion to the sick and homebound. Some visit the sick and infirm in their own homes and others in hospitals, long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
Fowler said ministers of Communion should be compassionate, supportive and kind. And given the environment where they perform their ministry, they should always be prepared to use common sense.
She recommended giving a blessing rather than Communion to people with dementia "because often they don't realize what's happening and may spit the Communion out."
If somebody doesn't want to receive Communion because they have been away from the Church for a long time or want Confession before Communion, the ministers could arrange for a priest to pay them a visit.
"Sometimes you can read the Scripture to them; often they like to hear the Scripture even if they are not receiving Communion," Fowler pointed out. "People are vulnerable when they are sick and that's a time when they really need God so you just have to be supportive and help them in that way."
Ministers of Communion should also be careful about washing their hands between patients.
TIME FOR VISITING
Donna Hill, a member of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Devon who works at a funeral home in Edmonton, has been taking Communion to the homebound once or twice a month for more than 20 years now. Another parishioner brings Communion to the town hospital and the seniors' residence
"I feel very privileged to be called on to take the Body of Christ to my fellow parishioners," Hill said in an interview. "It just makes me feel good to be able to do that service for them and I usually spend some time with them just visiting."
Homebound parishioners at St. Maria Goretti usually phone if they want somebody to bring Communion to their homes.
During her visits, Hill always brings a parish bulletin to make them feel part of the parish. And she listens to them, if they want to talk. "We pretty much talk about anything; we talk about what's going on at the church, we talk about their family. Idle chit chat pretty much."
She says she spends anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour in each home. "It depends. If I have a number of people I need to bring Communion, I don't like to let the last person wait," she says. "But I never make anyone feel that I'm rushing them."
PERSON OF SUPPORT
In Murias' experience, it doesn't take long before a minister of Communion becomes a counsellor as well, which he doesn't mind.
"You certainly become a counsellor and a person of support, a confidant kind of a thing, because they want to talk, they want to be able to visit," he explained.
That's the part Murias enjoys the most because, as he puts it, "I'm a listener and I'm good at that kind of thing. When people want to talk, sometimes they don't have family there, you listen. You don't have the solutions but at least they've unloaded on somebody. That's all part and parcel of bringing Communion to the sick."
Murias said if he enters a room and the patient's family is there, he usually asks them if they want to join him in prayer. "We hold hands and say the rosary. It's part and parcel of being a (minister of Communion). It's not just simply bringing Communion to them. You end up being a part of their family in many, many situations."
Anna Mattia is part of a six-member team from St. Charles Parish in Edmonton who give Communion to the sick at Sturgeon Hospital in St. Albert.
A minister of Communion at St. Charles for many years, Mattia has been volunteering at the Sturgeon for about two years.
She and another lady go to the hospital two or three times a month. The two spend about an hour each time giving Communion to more than 30 Catholic patients.
"We go there because this is our call from God," she says matter-of-factly. "To me, it feels like we are taking the place of Jesus."
Many patients anxiously await the pair's visit. "Some say, 'I was praying for somebody to come today. Today I really needed somebody like you to come over. I really needed to receive Jesus today,'" relates Mattia.
"You can see it when they want you to stay for a minute. We do stay and we talk with them and we listen to them."
WILL YOU COME BACK?
Some patients would like the pair to visit more often. "When we go there, some of them are waiting for you to come. They ask you, 'Are you coming back tomorrow?' I feel like I'm doing (something) Jesus would do for people. We are taking his place on earth."
Mattia, who is married with two grown children, recently expanded her ministry and has begun serving at a seniors' residence, where she will help do liturgies of the word with Communion.
John MacDonald, director of the Office of Pastoral Care and Life Initiatives, recommended workshop participants go to their pastor when they have doubts about any aspect of their ministry. "He is your team leader and you should go to him for direction," he said.7
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