What Do We Do In the Absence of a Priest?
I would not mind being compared to Pope Francis. I am going to have the same surgery he had. Next week I will have minor surgery for a hernia repair. It is day surgery, but I will be home at least one week for recovery. Fr. Jim will cover the weekend Masses for us.
My recovery time is a good occasion to remind all what we do in absence of a priest. The two main areas of concern center on the Sunday Gathering for Eucharist and for people who are dying. If we were not able to find a priest to help, we do have people trained to lead a Liturgy of the Word with the distribution of Communion in place of the Mass. If the situation was not planned for, we may not have sufficient number of consecrated hosts in the tabernacle. We would need to request a neighboring parish to consecrate additional hosts for us or simply have a Liturgy of the Word.
When a person is near death, the Church has a beautiful ritual called, “The Commendation of the Dying.” This may be led by a priest, deacon, or layperson. If a priest is not available, we will have trained staff members and parishioners who can be with be with families at this difficult but holy moment.
The Anointing of the Sick, which requires a priest, is that prayer which we pray for healing and recovery from serious illness.
The term, “Last Rites,” has not been in official use for the past 60 years, since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The closest thing to a last rite would be the Commendation of the Dying or the reception of Holy Communion by the one going home to God. Neither of these require a priest. As a priest, it is always a privilege to be with people at these moments, and they are a priority.
With Partners in the Gospel, maybe a priest will be able to focus more on pastoral ministry. With fewer priests, there may be more occasions for the laity to be the presence of the Church for one another.
What do we do in the absence of a priest? We continue being Church.