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Communion of the Sick


Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy

Chapter 23


The Antiquary had been ill. Not seriously but sufficiently, for at his age a slight indisposition may easily have grave consequences. For three weeks the new “Scott” had stood disconsolately in its tin garage, and the Liturgiologist had been in almost constant attendance at the bedside of his lifelong friend. The old priest had asked for Holy Communion, “and Extreme Unction, if you think I ought to have it.” But Liturgiologist had smilingly insisted that the Antiquary was in no danger of his life, and called one of the young curates[1] to hear his friend’s confession. So next morning, and on many other mornings, the Antiquary had received Holy Communion most edifyingly, propped up on pillows, a stole about his shoulders, and the Liturgiologist had said his own thanksgiving after Mass in the sick room that his friend might share in it.


When the Antiquary finally decided to remain on earth a while longer, his first thought was for the new “Scoot.” “Run her round under the window,” he said, as he sat in his big armchair, looking very much like an old ivory statue of some nameless saint, “if you can’t manage it yourself, get Jim to do it.” So the Liturgiologist got his first lesson in driving, with Jim at his side, one hand on the wheel, lest he should wreck the bus! The driveway was perfectly straight, and the distance not enough to warrant a shift of gears, but the Antiquary’s feeble laugh rang out at the serpentine trail of the “Scoot,” and the sudden and unprovided way it jolted to a halt under his window. But (tho' this is really another story, which you shall hear in due time) the Liturgiologist caught, from this small experiment, the fever and, when the Antiquary was well—But no! There is a time for everything, as old Koheleth remarked,[2] and this is not the time to tell of the Liturgiologist’s transformation into a second Barney Oldfield![3]


Afterwards the two old friends sat in the bay window and talked. The little table which had been prepared for the administration of the Sacrament had not yet been removed, and the Antiquary remarked, “Quite like the ancient times, Pere, you bringing the Blessed Sacrament right from the Church, in your surplice, with the boys and candles and bells and things.” More pity it can’t always be done that way.”


“The rubrics suppose it,” replied the Liturgiologist, “but circumstances alter cases, and of course we have faculties to carry the Sacrament privatim ad infirmos.[4] But I sometimes wonder if we haven’t carried over into our interpretation of this, circumstances which nowadays rarely exist. In cities, for instance, are we right in assuming conditions such as the missionaries meet in pagan lands, or in ‘great open spaces’ of our own country? The rubric of the Ritual about wearing surplice and stole in sacramental administration is very strictly interpreted by the Congregation of Sacred Rites, and by all the ‘Approved Authors’ but very laxly observed by our Reverend Brethren. Fortescue, in one of his invaluable footnotes, most of which are of equal importance with the text, says, ‘Even when the priest takes the Sanctissimum secretly, he must vest in cassock, surplice and white stole at the house,’ and he cites S.C.R. 16 December 1826 no. 2650, 2 facti spec,[5] and also Wapelhorst and O’Kane support of what must seem somewhat strange to so many priest who habitually transgress this order of the Church. O’Kane mentions that some theologians go so far as to say that the priest would rather permit one to die without the Viaticum, than administer It without the sacred vestments prescribed by the rubric. This, of course, is rigorism of a sort seldom met with nowadays, but it may give some of us a moment’s pause to find St. Alphonsus saying, ‘Ministrare (Eucharistiam) sine stola et superpelliceo communiter censent Doctores esse mortale ex genere suo.’[6] The decree of the Congregation cited by Fortescue is quoted by O’Kane, being in response to a question whether ‘the prevailing custom’ of administering the Sacrament wearing only a stole ‘super vestem communem’[7] and without surplice, might be allowed. The answer as ‘Negative, et eliminate consuetudine servetur Ritualis Romani praescriptum.’[8] That seems to settle the matter, except in circumstances of notable inconvenience, which will arise less and less in this country and in these automobile days of ours.”


“Yes,” said the Antiquary, thoughtfully, for he admitted himself to have been careless about this matter, “there really is no reason why a priest, going on a sick call in his automobile, should not wear his cassock, and even surplice and stole under a cloak. Certainly it would be no hardship to pack these things in a bag and take them along, and what little inconvenience there might be would be more than recompensed by the edification it would give to the sick person, and other layfolk, to see the Sacrament administered with fitting dignity.”


“There’s another matter needs amending,” went on the Liturgiologist. “Even the grave Homer sometimes nods, and so weighty a writer as O’Kane had to correct, in subsequent editions of his invaluable work, (of which, by the way, the 1922 edition, revised and made to conform to the new Code[9] by the Bishop of Clonferty,[10] has lately become available in this country) the statement, upon which most of our priests have acted, doubtless in perfect good faith, that the burse containing the pyx, might be placed in a pocked of the cassock or coat. The learned author received a caveat[11] from the Congregation of Sacred Rites, and subsequent editions recommend that the burse be suspended round the neck by a cord or chain. Fortescue says ‘he carries the burse or pocket which contains the pyx concealed within his coat, either hanging by its strings around his neck, or held all the time in the right hand, and he adds that the oil stock (if Extreme Unction is also to be administered) is carried in another bag around his neck. O’Kane has a valuable hint, which might be recommended to our friend PUSCO.[12] He says the pyx is sometimes provided with a handle or hook to which the chain may be attached. This might project through an opening in the burse, and in that case, I wonder if it would be de rigeur[13] to steady the pyx by hooking this handle through a buttonholed, in the way a bishop manages his pectoral cross?”


Punctum,”[14] murmured the Antiquary. “But that would likely necessitate a soft silk burse instead of the leather affair we are accustomed to.”[15]


“What is exactly what the rubric contemplates,” was the Liturgiologist’s retort, in a tone not unmixed with triumph!


1 That is, a priest.


2 Also spelled as “Qoheleth”, this is the Hebrew name for the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, referring also generically to the author.


3 In reference to a well-known race car driver of the 1920’s, whose driving accomplishments resulted in the oft-used quip of that era, “Who do you think you are? Barney Oldfield?”


4 Latin for “privately to the sick”.


5 Latin for “reference made to”.


6 The Liturgiologist is citing a commentary on St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s moral theology treatise, Theologia Moralis S. Alphonsi M. De Ligorio compiled by Francisi Antonii Zacahariae (which can be viewed at The quote from Lib. VI, Tract. III, De Eucharistia roughly translates as:


By the common consent of the Doctors [of moral theology], the minister of the Eucharist may be without stole or surplice if there is a grave danger of death.


The Liturgiologist has actually reduced the full quote which reads:


#4: Ministrare eucharistiam sine lumine et solita confessione reputatur tantum veniale, uti comm. dicunt Suar., Ronc., cum Quarti Croix, cum Gob. et Salm., cum Fili. Gran. et Fag. ac Mazz.[these are abbreviated names of authors on moral theology, though their title citations have been omitted here] cum communi ut asserit. Ministrare autem sine stola et superpelliceo, comm. censent dde. esse moriale ex genere suo, ut Suar. et Ron., ac Fili.[ditto]. Omissa tamen tantum stola dicit Ronc. pluribus videri solum veniale. Utrum autem in necessitate liceat ministrare viaticum sine lumine et vestibus sacris.


7 Latin for “over common vesture” or clerical “street” clothes.


8 “Negative, and this practice eliminates the practice prescribed in the Roman Ritual.”


9 Referring to the newly-published 1917 Code of Canon Law.


10 A reference to Bishop Thomas O’Doherty (1877-1936), who was then the ordinary of the Clonfert diocese in Ireland.


11 Latin for “a warning”.


12 PUSCO is a clever anagram referring to a “Supply (sup) Company (co)”, or a religious goods store. The Liturgiologist’s following quip to the Antiquary’s suggestion of finding just what he needs, is an allusion to religious supplier’s propensity to offer mass-produced ecclesiastical wares made in a manner contrary to liturgical prescriptions—or the lack of what is actually required. Later in the chapter entitled, PUSCO'S, a visit will be made to the religious supply store where the Liturgiologist will further lament about the inadequate wares they carry.


13 A French term that literally means “of the rule” but in this case meaning “befitting”.


14 Latin for “point!”


15 The leather pouch commonly seen used for taking Viaticum.

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