A PASTORAL LETTER ON CARE FOR THE SICK AND DYING
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
During this season of Easter we celebrate once again our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead and our own incorporation into the new life that he offers to all mankind through the waters of baptism. It may seem strange to issue this pastoral letter on care to the sick and dying during this joyful season of the Church’s year. In fact it is entirely appropriate that we consider our own mortality at the time the Church invites us to meditate upon the eternal hope that Easter offers.
I have been prompted to write this pastoral letter by a growing concern that at times of sickness and death, when we are in need of our Lord’s loving care through the ministration of the Church, there is sometimes a certain reluctance to receive the sacraments and accompanying pastoral ministry. In this letter I will set out what we should consider if we fall seriously sick or realise that death may be approaching. Whatever stage of life we are at it is important that we consider these issues.
Pastoral Care in Sickness
All of us get sick at sometime or another and usually we simply recover without requiring any particular pastoral care. However, at times of acute or longterm illness it is important to consider how you will be supported and receive the sacraments of the Church. If you are unable to attend Mass for a sustained period then Holy Communion can be brought to you in your home by a member of the Ministry Team. For the longterm housebound this is usually on a monthly basis but in acute need may be more frequently. It may also be appropriate to receive the sacrament of Anointing, the healing sacrament of the Church, together with the laying on of hands. The Church’s ministry of healing is an ordinary part of our life. We provide opportunities for this ministry within services of healing but this ministry is certainly not restricted to these times.
Both priests and lay ministers are quite used to visiting people in their homes. Please do not be concerned if you are unable to dress, are in bed or your home is not as tidy as normal! We will not shocked and the most important thing is that you receive the care you need at this time.
Admittance into Hospital
If you are admitted into hospital, pastoral care and the sacraments can only be given if you let me know that you are in hospital. On being notified I will contact the hospital chaplain to provide pastoral care in the first instance. Please note that due to data protection rules you are very unlikely to receive a visit from the hospital chaplain unless you or your family inform me or hospital staff that you would like spiritual care. Remember to ask for the Anglican chaplain if you wish to receive the Holy Communion as most chaplaincy teams are multi-faith and multi-denominational. For longer stays in hospital or in acute cases I will arrange to visit if you would welcome this.
If it seems that death may be approaching then family members should contact me as soon as possible; please encourage them not to leave it until the last moment. It is important that you speak with your family about your wishes. Often we have family members who are not practising Christians and it may not occur to them to contact your priest. Depending on the circumstances ministry at the time of death can include: the Sacrament of Penance (confession), the Sacrament of Anointing, Holy Communion and prayers of commendation. Family members are very welcome to join in these prayers at the bedside and many people find this to be a helpful and moving experience.
It is important to discuss your funeral wishes with your family well in advance. They may think it is morbid or ‘tempting fate’ to do so but simply explain that it is important for you to have a Christian funeral and explain your wishes. Again it is often the case nowadays that family members arranging the funeral may not be practising Christians and may not appreciate the importance of the Church’s Funeral Rites. You will also need to to make sure that your next of kin knows that you wish to have your service at Holy Trinity and this should be conveyed to the Funeral Director. Please think about having a Funeral Mass as this is the most appropriate way to commend a committed Christian to our Heavenly Father. It can be helpful to leave a document outlining your funeral plans with your will. I am more than happy to discuss funeral arrangements at any point and can advise on what would be appropriate.
When the Church cares for the sick, it serves Christ himself in the suffering members of his Mystical Body. When it follows the example of Jesus who ‘went about doing good and healing all’ (Acts 10.38) we obey his command to care for the sick. I hope that we will experience the immeasurable love of God not only through visiting those in poor health but also by raising them up through the Sacrament of Anointing and nourishing them with the Holy Eucharist during their illness and when they are in danger of death.
I hope that this simple guidance will be of help to all of us at whatever stage of life we are at. If it has raised any issues for you then please do not hesitate to get in contact with me.
With every blessing,
Fr Philip Wells