"God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."
(1 Jn 4:16)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

When a Priest Makes a Sick Call

I wish that I had known. Our pastor paid a sick-call to our house yesterday to give Holy Commuion to Catherine. Before he came, he called and asked me if I had ever been present for a sick-call and I answered in the affirmative, letting him know that I had been present when my mom was sick and given Holy Communion by priests.

After hanging up the phone, I began to worry. I thought, I don't remember how the sick table should be set up. I wondered do I cover the whole table with a white cloth or is a small white cloth all that is needed? I don't think that I have a white cloth to cover the whole table. Do we need a standing Crucifix? I hope not because one of the boys accidentally broke ours. Even if I had remembered, the administration of Holy Communion for a sick-call is different in the Tridentine Rite than in the Novus Ordo.

After Father left, Catherine made me aware of an old prayer book that we own. At the same time, she also brought my attention to several other old Catholic books that once belonged to my husband’s grandparents and other relatives. If I had known about a well-worn and well-used book, Catholic Practice at Church and at Home: The Parishioners Little Rule Book*, I would not have needed to worry.

So what does this book say about preparing the sick-room and sick-call visits?
III. Preparation of the Sick-Room.
"An important person is coming; prepare as for a human of importance." (penciled in note by John P. Bagan)
Have the sick-room in good order by the time the Priest arrives, perfectly clean and tidy. Have all unsightly objects removed, such as soiled linens, dishes and vessels used by the sick person. Let the articles that must remain, be perfectly clean and presentable.
Have clean linens and coverings put on the bed.
Have no dog, cat or other animal in the room or in the parts leading to it.
Have a small table with a clean white cover opposite the sick-bed or at some distance from it, so that it can be seen by the sick-person. (emphasis mine)
Do not place it right next to the bed at the head of it, if it can be avoided.
Have a chair immediately next to the bed at the sick person's head for the Priest, so that he may look toward the foot of the bed and not into the sick person's face when he hears the confession.
IV. Articles for the Sick-Room  
1. A small table or stand, at least two feet at the top, with a clean white cover. 
2. One Crucifix standing on the table or hanging directly over it for handing to the sick person to be kissed.  Do not have the holy-water font attached to it. (I need to buy another standing Crucifix.) 
3. Two pure wax candles, or one at least least, in suitable candlesticks. 
4. One small vase or glass of holy water (not Easter water) with a small sprig or brush for sprinkling. (Father brought holy water with him.) 
5. One small glass of fresh drinking water and spoon
6. One clean white cloth, napkin or small towel, as a Communion cloth…  Have nothing else but the above mentioned articles on the sick-room table... 
V. Administration of the Sacraments 
The following rules suppose the bringing of Holy Communion to the sick person. 
As soon as the Priest arrives at the house, let someone meet him at the door with a lighted candle, and having bent the knee before the Blessed Sacrament which he carries, lead him to the sick-room. 
Let none bid him the time of day or begin to speak to him, unless what is strictly necessary, and that in a low tone of voice. 
Let all others drop on their knees as soon as they meet the Priest, in whatever place they may be, and then follow him to the sick-room. 
All should remain kneeling in the sick-room or in the place adjoining it, as space will permit, whilst the Priest pronounces the blessing and sprinkles the room, and not retire until bidden by him, when he is about to hear the confession. 
Do not run away when the Priest comes; but let all endeavor to be present when he administers the rites of religion. Arrange your dress and put on a respectable appearance. Let no one be present in his shirt-sleeves, or with bare arms and the like. 
When the Priest has heard the confession of the sick person and gives the signal, all should re-enter the room and remain kneeling in devout prayer until the Priest has finished his ministrations. 
If at any time before the Priest administers Holy Communion, it is necessary to pass before the sick-room table, the knee must be bent before it as in passing before the altar in church.
If anyone is familiar with the Latin prayers, he should answer to them. 
Somebody should be ready to assist the Priest, especially during the anointing, to see that the ears, hands and feet of the sick person are uncovered and properly presented for the unctions. 
Whatever articles of devotion may be required for the sick-room, have the Priest bless them before he retires, such as an indulgenced crucifix for the sick person to hold, a pair of beads, the scapulars and the like.

The book goes on to say that those things with which the Priest has purified his fingers, must be thrown into the fire.

*The book has been republished (I don't know if it is a scan and reprint, or an actual republishing) and is available here. It is also available via Google Books here. It would be nice to see the book updated (if need be) and republished.  I have a lot to learn.


  1. This is wonderful Christine, thank you so much for reprinting it here. I hope Catherine is feeling better soon and that your family also remains healthy! God Bless You!

  2. This is fascinating, Christine! As you said - so much to learn. We recently were fortunate to find an old 'sick call' crucifix set at the thrift store, complete with candles stored inside. Hope Catherine is getting well, and I trust you were all blessed by her visitation.

  3. Thank you, Kimberlee. Catherine is better and we were blessed by Father's visit.

    I will have to keep my eye out for a crucifix set.

  4. Anonymous12:41 PM

    This was wonderful! I'm housebound & blessed with wonderful Traditional Priests (one in particular :) ) who visit regularly, bringing the sacraments. Father just left & I was curious to see if I have been doing things properly. Your article put my mind at ease. Years ago it was traditional for the bride's Mother to give a "sick kit" to the newlyweds. That Crucifix has hung in our bedroom for 45+ yrs, & has presided over many a sick call. I thought I had it pretty down pat, but it's good to have it verified. Now I NEED to find that book! :) Glad to hear that your daughter's doing better. God bless you & your family.


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