Anyone have quotes from church fathers since Reformation on communing the long-term shut-ins of a church? Not privately and without worship and the Word. I’m assuming hymns, prayers, exhortation from the Word, etc. Also taking a representative sampling of five to ten from church, including pastor and church officers. If you have given it some thought in the past and also have some sources, I’d be privileged to read them. A pastor-friend asked me today and is now in his elders meeting to discuss it with them. Thanks.
All I could find so far:
“Justin Martyr, writing less than a half century after St. John’s death, mentions that “the deacons communicate each of those present, and carry away to the absent the blest bread, and wine and water.””
Apol. I. cap. lxv.
Read the full excursus on Communion of the Sick here:
Very helpful; thank you. Love,
“We do not administer to the sick alone, since the apostle requires us to receive the Lord’s Supper in the congregation. However, if need arises, when sick persons (still of sound mind) and the weak too wish to receive the Lord’s Supper in faith outside the congregation, we invite others to form a congregation and so administer it. We visit the sick, console and instruct them.”
This is from the Hungarian Confession Catholic, or known as The Confession of the Eger Valley in 1561. It was written by Peter Mélius Juhász (1536–1572) and Gregory Szegedi (1511–1569). György Ceglédi/Czeglédi is also considered to have been an author.
We don’t hear a lot about the Reformed church in Hungary, but this is a great resource. It’s lengthy, and the only thing I could find in the 4 volume collection of Reformed Confessions.
The lengthier citation is as follows:
Is the Lord’s Supper to Be Distributed Privately, to the Sick and Only in the One Kind?
“We proved above that the Lord’s Supper is to be administered in both kinds (bread and wine), publicly in the congregation to all that have examined themselves. First, the Passover institution (the eating of the Paschal lamb by the whole family in one room) shows that the Lord’s Supper is not to be given to one person, and neither must one person take it alone, as the paltry priests do. Further, Christ distributed it to the apostles jointly, in the assembly, and said in the plural, “Take and drink of this all of you.” The apostles also gathered the community together and celebrated the Lord’s Supper in houses (Acts 20, 3, 16). Third, the apostle Paul commands that the devout make use of the Lord’s Supper when they gather together. The meaning of the word “supper,” as the words koinonia, synaxis and agape show, teaches that we should come together to receive the Lord’s Supper, not privately. As the apostle says, the church is one bread, one mystical body; we all share in one bread. Although each receives his own part, nevertheless they ought to receive it in the congregation. We administer it to the sick by assembling two or three of their relations for a congregation in the house, if the sick person did not despise it in the time of health, if they are feeble, and if they do not receive it unworthily in the superstitious belief that receiving the signs will save them, as many papists unworthily imagine. For it is certain that the Lord’s Supper is a seal of the confirmation of faith. However, if the sick are dissatisfied with eating in spiritual fashion, we distribute the Lord’s Supper to the others by dispelling the superstition (if in fact the sick are of a sound mind, believe and are not yet deprived of their senses). Thus the fathers teach.”
It was from the same time and era as the Debrecan Synod, which wrote,
“Fourth, in Acts it is written: the apostles assembled to break bread, and were one and the same in prayer and the breaking of bread (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:46; 20:7; 26). Just as wine is made from many clusters of grapes and bread from many grains, so the elect, though they are many, must nevertheless always jointly eat of the same bread and drink of the same cup. For we all eat of the same bread (cf. 1 Cor. 10:17). Therefore, they act wickedly that administer it privately to one person, outside the public congregation, as do the Mass-manufacturers, donkeys, devil’s scum. We do not deny that it is permissible to distribute the Lord’s Supper in the homes of the sick outside the congregation, as the lamb too was eaten in private houses, and the apostles gathered in houses and so broke bread. Only let there be a congregation, regardless of number and size: where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, Christ is present there among them (cf. Matt. 18:20).”
Also, the The Synod of Piotrkow (1578), which was a wonderful attempt at Protestant unity until the Lutherans tanked it.
" V. Should the Holy Supper be offered to the sick and to those about to die? The conclusion is as follows: All pastors ought to teach and accustom each of their listeners not to neglect going to the Lord’s Table as often as it is provided for all the believers in the public assembly. Moreover, people should neither delay nor wait for the last moment of life; instead, they should always be prepared in sound body and mind, according to the command of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 24:44; 25:10), and so be confirmed in the hope of eternal life by the use of His ministry. Nevertheless, even in this situation, so that we do not lord it over the consciences of men, the Supper is not to be denied to a sick man who requests it for valid reasons, and who is in full possession of his mental and rational faculties—provided that his conscience has been diligently examined and prudently instructed, and that, as far as possible with respect to circumstances of time and place, some of the believers are gathered together and participate along with him."
Lastly, the Bremen Consensus (Reformed and Calvinist, Contra the Lutheran influence. Written in 1595, it and Pezels’s “Bremen Catechism” replaced Luther’s small catechism, but was itself replaced the the Heidelberg Catechism.) was against it, even though they acknowledged that they did in fact bring communion to shut-ins:
The Private Supper among the Dying at Their Sick or Death Bed
On this topic we have furnished a specific and detailed treatise in which all and each remonstrance and further justifications for a private Supper are considered and with good grounds refuted. There are eminent reasons for its abolition:
That Holy Scripture produces neither command nor escape for any particular persons to maintain a special place for the Supper beyond the common gathering of the congregation of the Lord.
This was introduced from ignorance and superstition under the papacy and many abominable errors about this have entered the hearts of men, as that there should be a viaticum or provision for the journey [Zehrpfenning], as spoken of in the canon law. Through this, the dying on their passage or journey from this life are to be made free and sure against the devil and eternal condemnation. Thus, the sick must, by this performance of external ceremonies, obtain the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God and eternal salvation. Further, that only first through this does Christ really come to them. But He as the head with His members is (through the Holy Spirit and by faith) united and bound together with His believing people in life and in death, in such a manner that He eternally is and remains with them. Set in opposition to that, however, is the superstitious saying introduced among the people, to the effect that when the sacrament is carried to the sick only then may they hear: ‘Now our Lord God comes, now will it be well.’ For they devise either a corporeal presence of Christ in the sacrament or the placing of their confidence on this external work. They seek more the external ceremony than the heavenly blessing which has been promised. They dream that to them that heavenly blessing is a different Christ in the Lord’s Supper than in the gospel or in Holy Baptism. Meanwhile, they despise the proper consolation exhibited to us from God’s Word in Christ and from His constant, saving communion with us.
They do not ponder that both the healthy and the sick must always be directed to true conversion and honest faith and that not merely baptism, but also the Lord’s Supper is to be enjoyed prior to and before the illness to have its wholesome benefit and so that faith is strengthened within us. Further, that the power of the Word (when it is received with faith) is much greater than is the external work of the sacraments.
However, because the common man has been so deeply influenced by the erroneous opinions hitherto believed, the private Supper for the sick is demanded as if it were something further and they straightway desire that the sacrament should be carried to them at home. Thus, due to the weakness of our hearers, it has been done by us as well for the time as a concession. Therefore, pastors should exert themselves by preaching and otherwise to give thorough instruction and teaching about this among good-hearted Christians.
Excellent, Jerid. Andrew Dionne has some helpful things I’m hoping he’ll put up from Calvin and Samuel Miller.
It is a good question, especially given the WCF’s statement that private communion should not be practiced (29.3):
The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation.
Samuel Miller, in Presbyterianism, the Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ, strongly warns against private communion, nonetheless allows for serving communion to the sick provided that the church in microcosm is present (in other words, it is not private). He writes,
Presbyterian ministers, in all ordinary cases, decline administering the Lord’s Supper to the sick and the dying, and generally in private houses, for reasons which appear to them conclusive. They are such as these:
They consider this ordinance as social and ecclesiastical in its very nature. It is a communion, in which the idea of “solitary mass,” as admitted among Papists, would seem to be an absurdity.
We find no warrant for private communion in the New Testament. It is true, we read of Christians, in the apostolic age, “breaking bread from house to house;” but that is, evidently, a mode of expressing their ordinary worshipping assemblies. They had no ecclesiastical buildings. They worshipped altogether in private houses, in “upper chambers,” etc. There, of course, they administered the communion to as many as could come together. And, as they could not occupy the same apartment statedly, or, at any rate, long together, on account of the vigilance of their persecutors, they went “from house to house” to worship, as circumstances invited; or in a number of houses at the same time, where Christians were too numerous for a single dwelling. We read of no instance of the sacramental symbols being carried to an individual on a sick bed. On the contrary, when the inspired Apostle gives directions that the sick be visited and prayed with by the “Elders of the Church,” James v. 14, he says not a word of administering to them the communion.
If persons, on their dying beds, earnestly desire this ordinance to be administered to them, as a viaticum, or preparation for death, and as a kind of pledge of the divine favour and acceptance, we believe that, on this very account, it ought to be refused them. To comply with their wishes, at least in many cases, is to encourage them to rely on the power of an external sign, rather than on the merit of the Saviour himself. Such views being, manifestly, unscriptural, false, and adapted to deceive and destroy the soul, ought by no means to be countenanced. But what can tend more directly to favour and even nurture these views, than to hasten with the sacramental memorials to the bed-side of every dying person who desires them? Ought the evident propensity of careless and ungodly men to fly to this ordinance as the last refuge of a guilty conscience, to be deliberately promoted by the ministers of religion?
If this practice be once begun, where is it to end? All men are serious when they come to die. Even the most profane and licentious, in that crisis, are commonly in no small degree anxious and alarmed, and disposed to lay hold of everything that seems favourable to the smallest hope. Yet every wise man, who has lived long, and observed much, is deeply suspicious of the sincerity of death-bed penitents. What is a conscientious minister to do in such cases? How is he to draw the line between those who are, and those who are not, in his judgment, fit subjects for this ordinance? Is it not unseasonable, as well as distressing to have any thing like arguing or disputing with the sick and dying on such a subject? On the one hand, if we faithfully refuse to administer the ordinance where the dying man gives no evidence of either knowledge or faith—shall we not agitate the patient, distress his friends, and give against him a kind of public sentence, so far as our judgment goes, of his reprobation? And, on the other hand, if we strain conscience, and in compliance with earnest wishes, administer the ordinance to those who give no evidence whatever of fitness for it—shall we not run the risk of deceiving and destroying souls, by lulling them asleep in sin, and encouraging reliance on an external sign of grace? Will not by-standers be likely to be fatally injured? And shall we not, by every such act, incur great guilt in the sight of God!
By declining, in all ordinary cases, to administer this ordinance on sick beds, either to saints or sinners, we avoid these embarrassments so deep and trying to a conscientious man. We avoid multiplied evils, both to the dying themselves, and their surviving friends. And we shall take a course better adapted than any other to impress upon the minds of men great and vital truth, that the atoning sacrifice and perfect righteousness of the Redeemer, imputed to us, and received by faith alone, are the only scriptural foundation of hope toward God:—that, without this faith, ordinances are unavailing; and with it, though we may be deprived, by the providence of God, of an opportunity of attending on outward ordinances in their prescribed order of administration, all is safe, for time and eternity. The more solemnly and unceasingly these sentiments be inculcated, the more we shall be likely to benefit the souls of men; and the more frequently we countenance any practice which seems to encourage a reliance on any external rite as a refuge in the hour of death, we contribute to the prevalence of a system most unscriptural, deceptive, and fatal in its tendency.
It was remarked, that Presbyterians take this ground, and act upon these principles in all ordinary cases. It has sometimes happened, however, that a devout and exemplary communicant of our Church, after long enjoying the privileges of the sanctuary, has been confined for several, perhaps for many years, to a bed of sickness, and been, of course, wholly unable to enjoy a communion season in the ordinary form. In such cases, Presbyterian ministers have sometimes taken the Elders of the Church with them, and also invited half a dozen other friends of the sick person—thus making, in reality, a “church,” meeting by its representatives—and administered the communion in the sick chamber. To this no solid objection is perceived. But the moment we open the door—unless in very extraordinary cases indeed—to the practice of carrying this sacrament to those who have wholly neglected it during their lives, but importunately call for it as a passport to heaven, in the hour of nature’s extremity; we countenance superstition; we deceive souls; and we pave the way for abuses and temptations, of which no one can calculate the consequences, or see the end.
So, there you see his careful distinction. For those who once frequented communion and are no longer able to attend due to infirmity, he describes their practice in bringing together a small church for a worship service. All would partake, not merely the home-bound.
I read somewhere that Calvin practiced serving communion to the home-bound in Strasbourg but did not in Geneva. Generally, when he did something in Strasbourg and not in Geneva, I take it that he would have practiced it but could not get it approved by the meddlesome Geneva magistrates.
Here’s an excerpt of a letter he wrote in 1561 (from Calvin’s Ecclesiastical Advice, translated by Beaty and Farley, T&T Clark, 1991, 96-97):
Many weighty reasons force me to feel that the sick should not be denied access to the Lord’s Supper. I see that this can lead to a headlong fall into many abuses which need to be countered sensibly and carefully, for unless there is a real communion there will be a wrongful turning away from Christ’s sacred institution. Relatives, friends, and neighbors should gather, therefore, so that the elements may be distributed as Christ commanded. There should then be the canon, combined with an explanation of the mysterious sacrament, but there should be nothing different from the ordinary procedure of the church.
To carry the sacrament here and there indiscriminately is very dangerous. It is difficult to guard against a situation in which some people are led to seek the sacrament out of superstition, others from ambition, and other for empty show. The situation calls for judgment and discrimination. The sacrament should only be given to the sick whose lives are in great danger. It is preposterous for the bread to be brought from the church as if it were sacred, and for it to be carried in procession is intolerable.
So, Calvin’s warnings are similar to those of Miller, but perhaps Miller is more careful given Calvin’s urging to serve those who are gravely ill. I think Miller would advise against that; it seems to me that he would serve communion only to the home-bound who are not in imminent danger of death. Both men advocate for a mini-church gathering with friends, family members, and, in Miller’s case, an elder or elders of the church. And, going with what Calvin says, the service should follow the ordinary procedure of the church. It is particularly important that we never serve communion without the word preached.
Our church has performed this kind of service twice in the twelve years I’ve been serving here, both in the last year. Mary, the matriarch of our church, is home-bound and faithfully watches our live-stream each week. Just last Sunday we gathered at her house for a short worship service along with communion. We (several relatives, a few friends and families from the church, my family, an elder and his family) were led in a prayer of confession, sang some hymns, heard a short sermon. I then fenced the Table from the old Scottish liturgy, read the words of institution; an elder distributed the elements to all who were gathered. It was very sweet and Mary was more moved by the hymns than the Lord’s Table—which I take to be a good sign given the above warnings.
Ask a question here and wow!! Thanks, men. So much.
Evangel Presbytery’s BCO chapter 73 “The Visitation of the Sick”:
- The power of the prayer of faith is great, and Christians therefore should pray for the sick at the throne of heavenly grace, and should also seek God’s blessing upon all proper means which are being employed for their recovery. Moreover, when persons are sick, their minister, or some officer of the church, should be notified, that the minister, officers, and members may unite their prayers for the sick. It is the privilege and duty of the pastor to visit the sick and to minister to their physical, mental, and spiritual welfare.
- In view of the varying circumstances of the sick, the minister should use discretion in the performance of this duty. In some circumstances, the minister will be wise to encourage women to visit other women who are sick or in need of care. For those unable to attend services for extended periods of time, the sacraments may be administered to them by a senior pastor or associate pastor only when a subset of the members of the congregation is gathered in their residence. A short exposition of the Word of God should always accompany the application of baptism or the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Those gathered, and in good standing, should all partake of the Lord’s Supper together.
No mention of sacraments in this section of the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God, but good pastoral care outlined in “Concerning Visitation of the Sick.”
I have only ever served communion outside of worship one time. A faithful attender got ill and ended up in the nursing home for what appeared to be end-of-life care. We gathered a small group together, announcing that the service was taking place, but also noted that we would have particular space restrictions, and politely suggested that if they had not already been approached about it, there would likely be no room in the room.
We had all the elements of corporate worship, except much shorter, I preached a 6 minute version of my sermon, and we enjoyed the supper together. The hymn-singing made the nurses and workers stop outside the door and listen. They were invited to join in worship but declined. Table was fenced as always.