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Praying with the Sick
So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Since the needs of each individual situation and patient will be different, praying with the sick requires the greatest flexibility. Sometimes, the most familiar prayers, such as a well loved collect or the Lord's Prayer, the Prayer of St. Francis, or the 23rd Psalm will provide the most reassurance. On other occasions, extempore prayer or striking images from biblical sources may inspire and cheer. Sick persons often have little energy. It is therefore crucial to watch vigilantly for signs of fatigue, and not outstay the patient's stamina. The ill can be particularly vulnerable to jostling and to scents. The comfort of a touch will provide most solace when it is gentle. While the odors of anointing oils can have a powerful therapeutic effect, colognes and perfumes tend to be oppressive, sometimes to the point of respiratory distress.
In order to respond with sensitivity to the particular circumstances, those who have come to minister with the sick should prepare themselves in advance. Hands will be washed before the visit. If a service is to be conducted, readings and prayers will have been chosen beforehand and marked so that the effect will not be marred by needless flipping through pages.
Above all, those who pray with the sick need to be fortified by their own prayer life. Our effectiveness in intercession lies in our openness to the channels of God's healing grace. The wholeness we seek for others, we seek also for ourselves.
* "Praying with the sick seems more personal and penetrating than praying for the sick" [Norman Autton in A Manual of Prayers and Readings for the Sick, SPCK 1970]. Since illness is often accompanied by deep frustration, feelings of helplessness and loneliness, prayer which joins with patients can lift up and remind the afflicted that they are neither alone nor powerless in intercession, but are part of the whole communion of saints. Further, it reminds both them and the ministers that while some of us may appear to be healthy and full of life, sickness and death are universal conditions to which we all must come. Therefore, our prayer is an act of true sympathy and identification. St. Augustine wrote, "One becomes sick, oneself, to minister to the sick, not with any false claim to having the same fever, but by considering with an attitude of sympathy, how one would want to be treated if one were in the sick person's place."
* Prayers with the sick should be full of the presence and power of God. We are meeting with God about a particular situation, asking for help and guidance in sure and certain trust that while we cannot always understand, God's goodness will prevail in ways we cannot always know.
* Prayers with the sick will be positive. While relief is sought, lengthy enumerations of the patient's condition will add little. In Letters to Malcolm, C.S. Lewis remarked, "I have heard a man offer a prayer for a sick person which really amounted to a diagnosis followed by advice as to how God should treat the person." Yet positive prayers can be a fruitful opportunity to offer up the patient's negative feelings of anger or resentment (St. Teresa once prayed, "I do not wonder, God, that you have so few friends considering the way you treat them."). In this way, we acknowledge that all aspects of us belong to God. The words that shape our prayers will instill confidence. Since there continues to be a residue of older prayers and hymns suggesting that illness is judgment from God on the individual, care should be taken to avoid materials that convey a guilt-inducing theology which might undermine the sick person's confidence, breed feelings of worthlessness, and even interfere with recovery, rather than inspire a conviction of God's loving and compassionate presence.
* Praying with the sick will be filled with confident expectation that God hears us, and will answer. Of course, this does not mean that our own wishes will necessarily be granted. True healing comes about in closer communion with the heart of the Holy Trinity, regardless of physical or even psychological condition. On the other hand, we should not be timid in what we express, lest we imply that nothing positive may be expected. Prayers should be offered for the heart's desire, yet with spacious intention of living into God's will, rather than our offering shallow assurances.
* Prayers with the sick will be persistent. Patience becomes a necessity in illness. It is profoundly disheartening for patients to pray with people who expect their rapid recovery, only to become discouraged when the condition persists. In the case of chronic illnesses, one must sometimes cultivate a spirit hopeful enough to wait while temporarily accepting present circumstances. This protects the sick person from the peaks and valleys of raised hopes followed by frustration and disappointment. Again, the true nature of healing —which is our relationship and closeness with God—must be the focus of prayer. St. Augustine reminds us that even when God refuses the desires of our hearts he never refuses the heart of our desires.
* Praying with the sick may be costly. "It is so much easier to pray for a bore than to go and see him," C.S. Lewis wryly observed. When we take upon ourselves to join with the intercessions of others, we agree to share in their tribulations. We cannot remain aloof and detached. Lack of love on our part is quickly perceived in the sick room, where there are few distractions. When praying with those who are most vulnerable, our own preparation of heart will help us cultivate the compassion to identify with those we serve. We need protection lest we sit in judgment on low spirits, anger, nervousness, or self-pity. Our role with the sick is to witness to Christ's understanding of their condition.
Therefore, part of the act of prayer will entail listening to those we have come to visit. If we tell them instead how we think they ought to react, this will be perceived as rejection, and breed feelings of guilt, resentment, or worthlessness. It is up to us to recognize that physical and emotional tensions and pain often produce attitudes and behavior unexperienced or at least repressed in health. A sense of abandonment is common among those who have undergone a protracted illness, or one which has removed them from their previous activities. These people have the greatest need of the Church's community and acceptance.
* Healing must never be seen as an end in itself. Scripture teaches us that Jesus' healings were a sign of the reign of God come near, of God's marvelous power and presence among us. Healing is not merely the alleviation of affliction, but testimony to the wholeness and salvation God intends for us.
* Prayers with the sick will include periods of stillness. Silent prayer and meditation can instill a sense of peace which will be more useful than activity. The exhaustion sick people frequently experience makes them hypersensitive to fussing. "In quietness and confidence will be your strength." Our presence with the patient carries louder than spoken words. Hospitality requires that, when one prays with an unconscious or uncommunicative person, extra care should be taken to phrase thoughts and feelings in a gracious manner so that the one praying will not appear to be putting words into mouths unable to speak for themselves. Phrases such as "If there is anxiety, send your calm," bring more relief than "Help your anxious servant."
* Praise and thanksgiving are integral to prayer with the sick. Attention should ultimately focus on God rather than ourselves. A spirit of thankfulness will be quicker to appreciate the divine presence, and to hope and trust in God's nearness.
* Finally, all prayers with the sick should be linked with the people of God in the context of the whole Church. The community of intercessors embraces not only the parish, but also family and friends of the patients and all who are caring for them, as well as the medical community. At the same time, people long cut off from the outside world by illness and diminished stamina will inevitably have a vision of community different from those who lead active lives. Petitions should be tempered accordingly.
Our prayer is equally linked with the Passion of Christ, our loving intercessor who has taken on our suffering and redeemed us for our salvation, that we might come more fully into the wholeness of God's love.
Phoebe Pettingell for the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music
Ministry with the Sick or Dying
In Ministry with the Sick or Dying, the Church acts in the grace of God for the health and salvation of its members. This ministry is based on Jesus' constant witness of concern and care for the sick. It is also shaped by the Epistle of James' direction to the sick to call for the elders of the Church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of Jesus Christ (James 5:14). James expects these actions to have three effects: the prayer of faith will save the sick, the Lord will raise them up, and their sins will be forgiven.
We may draw two conclusions from our knowledge of early Christian ministry with the sick, as illustrated in Holy Scripture: first, Christians were to call on the senior members of their own community for prayer for healing; second, the ministry those leaders offered was an extension of the Church's basic act of worship: the proclamation of the Word and the offering of bread and wine each Sunday.
Sacramental healing is traditionally called "unction," defined by the Prayer Book as "the rite of anointing the sick with oil, or the laying on of hands, by which God's grace is given for the healing of spirit, mind, and body" (BCP p. 861). In Ministry with the Sick or Dying, healing is offered for any who feel the need for specific healing of spirit, mind, or body. While all Christians stand between the fullness of the baptismal gift of grace and the final consummation of that grace—and thus all are in need of healing—the sacrament is usually offered in response to some particular need or concern. The sacrament is particularly appropriate at times of discovery of illness, a turning point in an illness, a particular procedure, or at a time of great distress.
Traditionally, the oil used to anoint the sick is pure olive oil, blessed by a priest or bishop. Unlike the chrism used for baptismal anointing, no fragrance is added to oil for the sick (some fragrances can be allergens or aggravate an illness).
Prayer is also an important dimension of Ministry with the Sick or Dying. Some Christians, including some of the Church's great theologians and saints (such as John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, and John Donne), have found illness to be a catalyst and stimulus for prayer. But many sick people find their prayer hampered by illness. The support of others in prayer becomes even more important in these times.
These new rites for Ministry with the Sick or Dying include public services of healing, the incorporation of sacramental healing in the context of a regular Sunday or weekday celebration of the Eucharist, and individual ministration in a home or health care facility. In addition, the suggested passages of scripture are appropriate for use by a sick person, and a number of prayers are included specifically for use by a sick person.
Order of Service
Ministry with the Sick or Dying may include some or all of the following actions by the minister and people. For both a Public Service of Healing and Ministry in a Home or Health Care Facility, the order of service follows that of the Sunday Eucharist. When prayer for healing precedes the liturgy of the table ("The Holy Communion," BCP pp. 333, 361), it is more evident that participation in communion is the climax of the service.
Gather in the Name of God
The gathering may take the form of a greeting such as "Peace be to this house (place) and all who dwell in it." Suggestions are provided below for a public service of healing.
Proclaim and Respond to the Word
One or more passages of scripture may be read. When ministering to individuals, the minister may comment briefly on the reading. A public service of healing ordinarily includes a homily or other form of response, such as song, talk, dance, instrumental music, other art forms, silence. When Eucharist is to be celebrated (not administered from reserved sacrament), a reading from the Gospel is always included.
Pray for the World and the Church, particularly for God's healing grace
Prayer may be offered for individual(s) in need of healing and for the needs of the world and the Church. Laying on of hands [and anointing] is included as part of the Church's work of intercession, and the subsequent administration of communion is then focused on participation in the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, which is the primary sacrament of healing. A confession of sin and absolution may be included prior to the laying on of hands. If communion is not included, the Lord's Prayer follows the laying on of hands.
Exchange the Peace
All present may greet one another in the name of Christ.
Participate in the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood
The Eucharist is the primary sacrament of healing to all who seek it. A public service of healing may include celebration of the Eucharist, beginning with the offertory, or may conclude after the exchange of the Peace. When communion is taken by a Lay Eucharistic Minister ("Lay Eucharistic Visitor") or an ordained minister to those who, by reason of illness or infirmity, are unable to participate in the Church's eucharistic assembly, those who are ill or infirm are enabled to experience their relation to the community and join their personal faith and witness to that of their community. Sometimes, especially in situations of lengthy confinement, the Eucharist may be celebrated in the home or health care facility; such on-site celebration of the Holy Eucharist for shut-in and seriously disabled persons may be an occasion of great joy and consolation.
Ministry with the Sick or Dying may conclude with a blessing. A public service of healing concludes with [a blessing and] a dismissal.
When unction is administered in the context of the Sunday Eucharist or a regular weekday Eucharist, the portion of "A Public Service of Healing" entitled "Laying on of Hands and Anointing" may be used. It is recommended that this take place immediately before the exchange of the Peace, so that it may be evident that participation in communion is the climax of the service.
Ministers of the Rites
Ministry with the Sick or Dying is under the direction of the Rector or other member of the clergy in charge of the local congregation.
Ordinarily, a priest or bishop presides at A Public Service of Healing. In the absence of a priest or bishop, a deacon or a lay reader may lead a service that includes the following:
Gather in the Name of God
Proclaim and Respond to the Word
Pray for the World and the Church
Laying on of Hands and Anointing
When a deacon or lay reader leads A Public Service of Healing, the liturgy concludes with the exchange of the Peace or with a dismissal.
At A Public Service of Healing, lay persons should read the lessons which precede the Gospel and may lead the Litany for Healing. A deacon should read the Gospel, may lead the Litany for Healing, and should perform the customary functions of diaconal assistance at the Lord's Table (BCP p. 354). In the absence of a deacon, an assisting priest may perform the diaconal functions.
Oil for anointing must be blessed by a priest or bishop.
Under the direction of the Rector or other member of the clergy in charge of the local congregation, lay persons with a gift of healing may administer or assist in administering the laying on of hands and anointing.
Ministry in a Home or Health Care Facility may be administered by an ordained or lay minister. If communion from the reserved sacrament is to be administered by a lay person, the guidelines for Lay Eucharistic Ministers are to be followed.
In case of serious illness, the member of clergy in charge of the congregation is to be notified immediately (BCP p. 453).
Excerpted from Ministry with the Sick or Dying Burial of a Child by The Church Pension Fund. Copyright © 2000 The Church Pension Fund. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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A Note About the Process.................... 9
Praying with the Sick.................... 13
Ministry with the Sick or Dying.................... 21
Burial of a Child.................... 129