Ministry to the Sick

Interim guidance for engaging in ministry to the sick during the COVID-19 pandemic. A principle during the COVID-19 pandemic is to provide as much pastoral care by telephone as possible, or other non-face-to-face means, to reduce the spread of the virus.

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Interim Guidance

The Church considers the care of those who are sick as holding a special place in the heart of the Church and its people, and participation in healthcare ministry is upheld in Catholic Teaching as a participation in the Ministry of Christ.

A principle during the COVID-19 pandemic is to provide as much pastoral care by telephone as possible, or other non-face-to-face means, to reduce the spread of the virus.

Full Text

The Church considers the care of those who are sick as holding a special place in the heart of the Church and its people, and participation in healthcare ministry is upheld in Catholic Teaching as a participation in the Ministry of Christ. Our ministry in this space extends to nurses, doctors, healthcare assistants, care workers, volunteers, pastoral care, public health, scientists, caterers, cleaners and more. Upholding the sick, their loved ones and everyone who works to care and support them in prayer and during the Eucharist is also a crucial part of our ministry.

Within this context, the Sacrament of the Sick and other sacraments are one strand of the Church’s witness and ministry.

At this time, using every effort to reduce the spread of the virus, and protect the vulnerable, is a continuous act of loving charity for our neighbours, in the same way as volunteering to support the most vulnerable.

A principle in COVID-19 is to provide as much pastoral care by telephone as possible, or other non face-to-face means, as a means of reducing the spread of the virus.

Carefully explaining to people with COVID-19 and to families and loved ones that ministry from a distance is no less effective, the mercy and love of God is present and effective and the prayers of the Church uphold the person who is ill and their families will be important for reassurance, especially where people have an understanding of needing “the last rites” rather than a current understanding of the nature and meaning of the sacrament of the sick.

Literature such as CTS Books for people who are ill and their loved ones can often bring comfort, alongside traditional prayers like the Rosary and the Art of Dying Well website – artofdyingwell.org – has many resources.

Protection of vulnerable people

There are a number of people vulnerable to serious disease should they become infected with coronavirus. That list can be found here. Many of our clergy and Extraordinary Ministers, and many of those they visit pastorally, will be in this category. There is also a list of people who are extremely vulnerable and who should be shielded.

Face to face pastoral ministry, especially to people who are vulnerable or extremely ill should be suspended while social distancing is advised by government.

Telephone support and Literature, as previously mentioned, such as CTS Books for people who are ill and their loved ones can often bring comfort, alongside traditional prayers like the Rosary.

  • It is advisable that priests who are more vulnerable to having severe disease if they get coronavirus do not attend for pastoral care of people who are symptomatic or self-isolating.
  • Priests who are in the category of those who are extremely vulnerable and are to be shielded from exposure to the virus should under no circumstances be providing pastoral care in an environment where they will be exposed to the virus.
  • While it is recognised that in situations of pastoral care, some clergy as part of their vocation and identity will choose to disregard these guidelines and sacrificially put themselves at risk, this is neither to be advised nor required. There are reports for example of Catholic Priests giving up ventilators when very ill for others. While this is strictly not advised, we recognise that there is a Catholic tradition of such self-giving in times of infectious disease. While we recognise that those very few who make these sacrificial acts of love and charity for the spiritual good of others are to be respected and held in love, we do not advise it, nor is it to be regarded as a required display of the mark or calling of priesthood
  • It would be sensible where possible to have the clergy who are fittest be available for face-to-face sacramental ministry if this is deemed strictly necessary in hospital settings.

Hospital and residential nursing / care settings

  • The guidance and advice of the infection control team in hospitals should be followed, and appropriate Personal Protective Equipment worn. Ensure you inform staff before you attend and follow guidance on cleaning and both donning and removing PPE.
  • The stole should be worn under any gown or apron.
  • The oil stock and any books etc should be left outside the room and oil put on either both ends of a cotton bud (one for anointing head, the other hands) or cotton wool pads. These should be disposed of as clinical waste.
  • Laying on of hands should not have physical contact. Extending hands over but not touching the person.
  • Holy Communion should be spiritual communion unless strictly deemed necessary and routinely bringing the Eucharist to people in hospital with COVID-19 should be avoided.

In Home settings

  • Home visits must be avoided during times of social distancing wherever possible whether by clergy or Extraordinary Ministers. Support should be by telephone.
  • In particular, in the absence of the type of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which is available in a hospital, pastoral visits should not be made to people who are self-isolating at home or infected.
  • Priests over the age of 70 should refrain from making any such visits.
  • However, the use of telephone support where possible is very much encouraged as such contact can offer great reassurance and hope.

Anointing, Laying on of Hands and Holy Communion

Laying on of hands should not have physical contact. Extending hands over but not touching the person.

Holy Communion should be spiritual communion unless strictly deemed necessary and routinely bringing the Eucharist to people in hospital with COVID should be avoided. Bringing the Eucharist to those at home, especially self-isolating or ill, should not be undertaken during times of social distancing.

If anointing is to happen, the oil stock and any books etc should be left outside the room and oil put on either both ends of a cotton bud (one for anointing head, the other hands) or cotton wool pads and then disposed of as clinical waste.

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