COVID-19 has brought the church and its faithful into new territory. Because of health and safety restrictions, some Catholics may not have access to the sacraments typically sought during serious illness or in dying — anointing, reconciliation and the Eucharist.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz issued a letter to help alleviate concerns about this reality.
“For those who have worries or concerns about their loved one not being able to receive the sacraments, especially Confession and Eucharist, during a time of illness or death, I remind all of us that God is with us always,” he writes. “God’s grace and God’s mercy are always available to us. God knows of our sorrow for our sins, our intentions, and our desire to be united with Him and reconciled with others.”
Hospitals around the area have varying levels of restrictions — and those restrictions may be updated anytime. Some are still allowing chaplains to visit a dying patient after the chaplain has a health screening. Others are allowing no one to enter.
Flaget Memorial Hospital in Bardstown, Ky., has a Catholic chaplain on staff who is available to patients.
Those whose loved ones are admitted to a hospital without Catholic chaplains are asked to direct requests for pastoral care to the hospital’s staff chaplains, who can contact Catholic clergy for the patient.
Younger priests who are less at-risk of dying from COVID-19 are encouraged to offer their help and allow those at-risk, especially priests over age 60, to stay home.
Following is guidance for patients and their loved ones provided by the Office of Worship.
Anointing of the sick: Only a priest may offer the sacrament of anointing, but deacons and lay people may offer a blessing of the sick. Any prayer — whether formal or spontaneous — is appropriate. One may pray the rosary, read Scripture or simply speak from the heart. Deacons in the archdiocese who provide pastoral care at hospitals are also offering “virtual pastoral visits” via smartphones and tablets.
Confession: In the situation where a priest isn’t available for confession, patients may make a perfect Act of Contrition.
This is accomplished by expressing genuine sorrow for one’s sins and the intention of going to confession when and if possible. The penitent may examine their conscience through prayerful reflection and recite the Act of Contrition.
Pope Francis has offered a plenary indulgence to those suffering from COVID-19 or caring for them. An indulgence is “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Others may receive this indulgence by offering certain prayers and other activities. More information is available at www.archlou.org/covid-19/.
Eucharist: Some hospitals may have a tabernacle and access to holy Communion for critically ill patients.
Patients who don’t have access to Communion may make a Prayer of Spiritual Communion. This prayer can be prayed formally or spontaneously in one’s own words.
Baptism: If someone is in danger of death, a lay person may baptize another person if the person or their parents (in the case of children) request it. This is accomplished at minimum by praying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the son and the Holy Spirit” and sprinkling with water.