Through life's journey, all people in time will reach the end of the road in one state or another. In many cultures the elders of the community are treasured, protected and well cared for by family, friends and colleagues. The Western culture has become, over time, a society that throws away people and ignores marginalized populations. Until there is a personal impact on one's own family or friends, we forget the importance of sharing hope and the light of Christ with populations living on the edge of society. Maturing as a Christian in faith, encourages our hearts of mercy to pour into others the message of Jesus Christ and hope for the future. It is through sharing our invaluable time, talent, treasure and love that we will meet every Christian's mission: to have an encounter with God and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Father Paul Seil, pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Orchard Park, said the most important reasons extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist should extend their ministry to include visits to the home bound and nursing homes in today's culture is "to provide and maintain a connection with people who normally receive Holy Communion and to support the desire for a special connection with our most simplistic action, an actual connection with another human being. This connection also reminds home bound and nursing home clients that the larger church hasn't forgotten about them because, when you are in a nursing home you may feel left out, alone, or that nobody cares about you anymore." Some patients don't see anyone except staff and visiting clergy or ministers due to family being in other cities and no children.
Father Seil also mentioned, "In this day in age it is wonderful that we have the baptized laity, especially with the shortage of priests and that they are doing more than a function. Remember, there are people not Catholic in nursing homes and they look forward to the prayers and small Communion service. They may not go to Communion but they also feel the presence of Jesus, even though they aren't Catholic."
In a societal way, Eucharistic ministers carry out Matthew 18:20, "When two or more are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Moreover, in a real way they bring the blessed sacrament with them, again, Jesus is present. When joining hands and praying with them, they are praying in the name of Jesus. Furthermore, Father Seil said, "We are living by our actions what we profess with our lips, every one is important to God and we don't want to forget these people."
Linda Wach, Ministers of Holy Communion coordinator for St. Bernadette's explained the role this way, "In the spirit of community, we are an extension of the Church and God's love."
In addition she noted that she has received so many thanks and words of appreciation from those whom she has ministered, so she knows the value of her ministry.
"For some, they are recovering from a surgery or a brief illness and are temporarily incapacitated. While others are sick in their primary residence, ill in a rehabilitation facility, or living long term in a nursing home on a permanent basis; they need support and attention by local parishes," she said. "Eucharistic ministers have an opportunity to extend their ministries and see the voiceless week after week; they wait with anticipation for the visit. Their gratitude for our sacrifice of time is something I hear all of the time. After just a few visits, it's easy to develop a warm friendship with the person and we, Eucharistic ministers, all look forward to the visit just as much as they do."
Tracy Cromwell called on nursing homes in previous years and feels that patients enjoy talking about the Gospel, homily, and embrace the presence of the Eucharist minister. Cromwell ministered at Absolut Care, Courtyards, and truly believes "it has been a blessing not only to the patients but to her as well."
Once they see her walk in with the Eucharist, they are open to her smiles, conversation and overall comforting care.
Felton Davis another Eucharistic Minister called on Absolut Care, Courtyards and Elderwood, and stated the residents really feel blessed to be able to receive communion as they are unable to attend church as they had in the past. However, more importantly Davis said, "All ministers should be aware that you can never be certain how things are going to go, no matter how much you prepare. Sometimes patients in the nursing home are very alert, sometimes they are drowsy and inattentive, you must always have the presence and awareness to play it by ear."
As mentioned in a Church document, "The Rights of the Elderly and the Family" the guiding principle of these ministers is: "The aged have an innate dignity as persons and this must always be respected within the family and within society." As the population continues to age, the Church must take the time to plan, prepare, and minister to this population for they too are in the image and likeness of God and valued.