Recently I was asked to conduct a funeral and realised that once again, I had lost contact with this person whom I remembered as once being a regular at Sunday Mass. Sadly it wasn’t the first time this has happened to me, and I suspect to many other priests.
I think it starts like this. The person becomes ill and cannot get to Mass, but simply thinks they will get to Mass again as soon as they are better. The priest notices they are missing, but assumes that they will be back soon, or that they have moved away, or have decided to go to Mass somewhere else; or if it is a very large parish just doesn’t notice that they are missing.
It is such a pity that their friends in the parish don’t take action, but sadly they often assume that someone else has told the priest, or are embarrassed about being too pushy. Everybody is responsible here and needs to be prepared to take action even over someone who they do not know, but sits near them in church. A word to the priest could help so much here.
However, they do not get better. Their spouse does not want to frighten them with a visit from the priest as he assumes that they will think they are at the hour of their death; or not being a Catholic the spouse just doesn’t understand the significance of the sacraments; and so even as things get worse, no contact is made.
In hospital, they forget to mention that their are Catholics and that they would like to see the Catholic Chaplain, and the staff in the hospital will not call the Chaplain unless they are asked. This means that once again they are deprived of the support of the Church and of the Sacraments at this crucial time. Alternatively, they do ask to see the Catholic Chaplain, but when they go home, the Chaplain cannot tell the Parish Priest, because nowadays as a member of the hospital staff he has to respect patient confidentiality. They may well have assumed that the spouse has told the Parish priest and is sad, or even a bit angry, that the priest does not come to see them, or alternatively is too ill to think about it at all.
Finally they die. The Church has not supported them, because no-one told the priest, and so sadly they have not received Communion or the Sacrament of the Sick at all during their long and painful illness. Their spouse knows that they have been a devout Catholic all their life and that they want a Catholic Funeral and so approaches the priest who, of course, says yes, and feel incredibly guilty that somehow this parishioner was not supported.
But whose fault is it?
When this happens, as a priest, I always feel like giving the spouse a big telling-off for not letting me know about their spouse, but it is too late, and what I need to do is support the grieving widow/er, not make them feel guilty.
The solution lies with each devout Catholic who has the silly notion that they do not want to bother a busy priest if they are ill, or know of someone else who is ill. Each of us is a part of the family of God and when we are sick we need to ask for the prayers of the Church. How sad when people do not realise this.
Preparing to stay in a hospital – from A Catholic Patient’s Guide to Hospital
As Catholics we have recourse to the richness of what the Church offers to those who need her help in all the situations we encounter in life – including a stay in hospital. Just as those responsible for your physical health provide what is needed, so too the Church has a treasury to assist the hospital patient. As well as family members, close friends and medical authorities the local parish community also desires to support you at this time.
It is recommended therefore that you inform your parish priest that you will not be present in the worshipping community for a longer or shorter time, or request another to do so for you. This has a twofold purpose and benefit. It alerts your parish priest of your intended absence and it is an opportunity to ask for prayers for yourself.
How do I contact the chaplain?
There are three ways to contact a chaplain. Before admission, you may like to tell your parish priest that you are going into hospital and ask him to arrange for the Hospital Chaplain to visit. Alternatively, on admission, the person admitting you may ask you your religion and if you would like a chaplain to visit; this request should be passed to the chaplains and one of them will come to see you.
Finally, chaplains can be contacted at any time during your stay, and if you would like to see one, just ask one of the ward staff to contact them.