ROME, 6 Nov. 2012 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: In a program to help prepare parents of children who are to receive first Communion, a father asked about his child who has had a serious illness from birth. She cannot eat or drink normally but receives nourishment through her stomach directly by way of PEG [percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy] tubes. She attends normal school, speaks with difficulty, but is intelligent and leads a normal life. How can she receive Communion? Is it at all possible for her to receive the sacrament without being able to eat and drink normally? — A.A., Dundee, Scotland
A: In all probability yes, but with special permission. During the late 1950s and early 1960s the Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) granted several indults to Catholics to be able to receive Communion, specifically the Precious Blood, through a stomach tube (Canon Law Digest 5, page 434; 6, pages 562-565). A similar request for Communion through a nasal tube was denied.
These indults were granted before the publication of current Code of Canon Law, which grants wider faculties to bishops. Hence some canonists argue that it is now within the power of the local bishop to grant such an indult based on the knowledge of established practice of the Holy See.
At the same time, it would be a good idea for the chancery office to present the case for consultation to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. In this way officials could more clearly determine the practical aspects of administrating Communion under these special conditions so as to ensure proper respect for the sacred species.
Communion received in this way retains all of the grace and union with the living Lord that is obtained by oral reception.
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Follow-up: Communion Through a Feeding Tube [11-20-2012]
Pursuant to our comments regarding the possibility of receiving Communion through a feeding tube (see Nov. 6) a reader asked about a case where a hospital patient could not ingest the host:
"Could an extraordinary minister of holy Communion bless them with the holy Eucharist instead, or is that seen as Benediction and only to be done by a priest?"
The rites for the pastoral care of the sick only foresee the possibility of a priest or deacon blessing a sick person with the Blessed Sacrament.
In the rite for visits to the sick in ordinary circumstances the rubrics say:
"No. 91 [After distributing Communion] The priest or deacon blesses the sick person and the others present…. If, however, any of the blessed sacrament remains, he may bless the sick person by making a sign of the cross with the blessed sacrament, in silence."
In referring to hospital visits where Communion is brought to many rooms, a briefer rite is observed in which the blessing is omitted (Nos. 92-96).
The above cases foresee the blessing in addition to, but not as a substitute to, holy Communion. If, however, a patient is physically unable to receive the Eucharist, I believe it is compatible with the mind of the legislator for a priest or deacon to offer some spiritual comfort by blessing the person with the pyx.
An extraordinary minister of holy Communion would not have that possibility since Eucharistic blessings are reserved to the ordained. He or she could still visit the sick person with the Blessed Sacrament, place it on the prepared table as if coming to give Communion, and accompany the patient for a period of prayer, adoration and spiritual communion before moving on to the next room.
This procedure is not specifically foreseen in the rites, but I believe it falls within the bounds of the relevant liturgical law.