COMMUNION OF THE SICK
A special rite by which Holy Communion is administered to a bedridden person or to a prisoner in his cell. Fasting and confession are required whenever possible.
After celebrating the Divine Liturgy in the church, and while communicating the people, the priest dips a portion of the Holy Body in the Precious Blood and places it in the artophorion, and then wraps it with a mat. A deacon takes a bottle of blessed water and a candle and accompanies the priest. It is necessary that the priest eats or drinks nothing after Holy Communion and observes complete silence while on his way to the sick.
The priest starts by repeating the prayers of the elevation, consignation, and commixture until the conclusion of the confession. After communicating the sick person, the priest washes the artophorion and gives the water to the sick person to drink. Subsequently water is poured over the priest’s fingers, which he drinks before he wipes the artophorion with the mat and wraps it up.
Should the sick person be found physically or morally unfit to receive the Eucharist, the priest should himself consume it.
The early church insisted that a dying person be communicated; according to Canon 13 of the Council of NICAEA, “Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit that, if any man be at the point of death he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum “
The thirty-sixth of the canons attributed to Saint ATHANASIUS (c. 326-373) says, “No priest shall carry forth the Mysteries and go with them about the streets, except for a sick man, when the end and death’s hour of need draw nigh. And when they carry the mysteries [without], they shall suffer none but the sick to partake. And they shall not do according to favour and give unto one beside the sick, but unto the sick alone. “
It seems, however, that later in the Middle Ages, the Copts ceased to take the Holy Communion to the sick outside the church for fear of any transgression on the sacraments. Instead, they probably preferred to carry the sick to take communion inside the church. Hence MIKHA’IL, bishop of Damietta in the twelfth century compares the Eucharist with its prototype, the lamb of the old passover, and says, “And we shall not keep it back [till the second day], and we shall not carry it out of the church, and whatsoever remains of it the priests shall eat . . . And concerning the first Eucharist, namely, the bread and the chalice which the Lord blessed and gave to His disciples, there remained nothing of it over it till the second day, and it was not carried to a house, other than the one in which it [the Last Supper] was performed.”
Saint Basil, in his ninety-eighth canon says, “And we did not bring the Mystery outside the church at all to be given to a person even if he is in the distress of death.”
Pope JOHN XVI (1676-1718) is considered the first Coptic patriarch to arrange the communion for the sick at home. In manuscripts in the Library of the Monastery of Saint Antony (nos. 343 and 389), it is written about that patriarch that he, “seeing the inability of the sick and bedridden to go to the holy church to partake of the Divine Mysteries H. H. arranged for the Holy Reserved Sacrament . . . to be carried to the sick and crippled and bedridden in their houses. This wise arrangement is followed until this day.”
- Riedel, W., and W. E. Crum. The Canons of Athanasius. London, 1904; repr. 1973.
EMILE MAHER ISHAQ