In the early days of the Church the community would gather at home on the Lord’s Day, the Eighth day, the day after the Sabbath (they were still faithful members of Synagogue and Temple) and celebrate the Eucharist. There were no church buildings for a long time.
All present received the sacrament and families would take home the sacred host for members of the family too ill to come. Our lecturer in Rome told us that the Church has never taken away that privilege: bringing Holy Communion to the frail and sick – a beautiful sign of a community gathered with Christ at the celebration and at home. Rather, he said, when the freedom came to build churches, they developed that blessing to reserving the sacrament in a chapel and any time in the week people might ask for Holy Communion, especially for the dying, and the ministers would come. He made it sound beautiful and we shared his understanding. Love, faith and sympathy surrounded the sick at home.
In every parish I have served I have shared with the people that lovely tradition. Before mass the pyxes are left on the altar, and with a small prayer for the sick at home I place the host and the family receives the pyx to take home. During the week I would call whenever people wanted Holy Communion – home, hospital, care home – and what a privilege that always has been.
At Morning Prayer last Saturday a thought came: if I had hurt my hand and I could not reverently hold the sacred host I would be able to say the prayers and one of the family could actually give Holy Communion. Of course! I thanked the Lord for this glimpse of understanding. Later, that same day, a good friend of Jenny’s family phoned. Jenny was close to death. What blessing could they share with her? I had the answer from my morning prayer! If he would go and take the holy oil to the house, then phone me on loud speaker so that Jenny and the family could hear every word I prayed of the beautiful final anointing, he could bless her with oil on forehead and the palms of her hands.
On the Sunday it went beautifully. Jenny could hear my voice and shared the prayer along with her loving family. We moved slowly through the greeting – prayer for family and home – for Jenny – short Gospel reading – Our Father – the anointing – final blessing. Christ was uniting us in the sacrament . . . . . answer in the morning, question at mid-day and anointing next day in the early afternoon! We were the early Church seeing a small new way. Other times, I have prayed with the sick and dying on loudspeaker and felt blessed to share the prayer whilst longing to be well enough to go in person. On Sunday my voice was there, so I was: David anointed as I spoke the prayer – just as family or friend or minister of the Eucharist might “give” Holy Communion if I couldn’t. At the end Jenny spoke “Thank you.” She was surrounded by love and faith and had shared everything. She died peacefully during the week.
At the Last Supper Jesus promised the disciples (the whole community, remember: apostles and families, the women from Galilee, his lovely mother) that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth: the community, the church, open to the Spirit of God. Look at the Church’s sharing in the mission of love that Jesus brought, its saints in every age, quiet but sometimes exalted, reflecting Jesus’ love and willingness to serve and die. The Mystical Body is wonderfully alive in every age. The Institutional Church has rarely been inspiring and, whilst the wrong men have lusted for power, wealth and political influence, our saints have still seen how to bring God’s love for the poor, weak, persecuted, lonely, downtrodden in every age, and offered their lives in suffering with and for those they love, the Holy Spirit guiding through beautiful human understanding and through faith.
In my present weakness I long to be involved through my prayer. Others are suffering so much, I simply weak wonderfully looked after, surrounded by a community which has created a lovely welcoming attitude for all who come. People tell me and love our alive parish and the atmosphere enveloping us. God is here.
We beg God for those suffering loneliness, desperation, feeling forgotten, missing loved ones, longing to be loved and appreciated in their darkness of life. The precious moments of a smile, a kind word, a gaze of friendliness can last forever.
We long for everyone to be appreciated and valued and to have people wanting their appreciation so that they, too, can give.
God who blesses us, bless us,
(27th June 2021)