My husband volunteers as a Eucharistic Minister in our local hospital. He visits each person who has identified him/herself as Catholic, offering the Body of Christ to any who would like to receive it. He told me a story about one patient this past week: he stopped in to visit her. He introduced himself. She was recovering from surgery and they chatted briefly. He offered her Communion. She said no, no, explaining that she had been attending an evangelical church for the past several years and had not been to Mass. Besides, she said, she just eaten breakfast. They talked some more, about the fasting requirement, about related subjects.
“Did you give her Communion?” I asked, and to my surprise he said “yes”. Thoughts of the rules and needing to be properly prepared to receive Our Lord ran through my head. Scripture passages. Homilies. Years of training and study.
He went on to tell me that they first prayed together. He prayed over her and for her. They said the Our Father together. As they prayed, she began to tear up. She asked for the Eucharist, and gratefully received the Host. Then she began to cry in earnest. My husband felt this to be a beautiful, powerful moment and a profound experience of faith.
I thought about it, knowing the canon law and the importance of being in a state of grace and properly prepared to receive the Eucharist . . . but also knowing how the necessity of the moment seemed to call for this bending of the rules.
Jesus is the very definition of mercy and forgiveness, and He alone knows what was in a person’s heart. I suppose that if it came down to this sort of on-the-spot decision, even if it turned out to be in error, I’d rather err on the side of mercy and compassion than in being strictly correct.