Sick Call Crucifix

I’ll never forget, when I was a deacon and was helping in a parish in Pennsylvania on the weekends, taking communion to an elderly gentleman and finding, when I arrived, that he had a candle lit and a crucifix near him. He knew the traditional way of receiving Holy Communion in his home.

Indeed, it used to be common for people to receive a “sick call crucifix” as a wedding gift. They would hang it over their marriage bed. And the idea was that, in old age or infirmity, when a priest had to come over to provide the sacraments, the crucifix would be taken down, and set up beside the bed with the candles lit.

Do you have a sick call crucifix in your home? Here is one that I saw in the EWTN Religious Catalogue:

Usually there was a small bottle inside to hold holy water. Of course, that meant that you would have to change out the holy water every now and then, or at least fill it with water and ask the priest to bless it when he arrived.

If you called a priest to your home to bring Holy Communion, then ideally, someone would be waiting by the window for the priest, and seeing him pull in the driveway, go outside (holding a candle) to escort him into the house. After all, he is carrying with him the Most Blessed Sacrament! Nowadays, if someone did this I would be shocked!

But it is important that we think about this. When a priest brings the Most Blessed Sacrament to your home, Someone far more important than any other person on earth is coming over: Christ himself. It is not a time for small talk, to have the television on blaring in the background, or for folks to be fidgeting with their smartphones. It’s a time for everyone to stop, recollect themselves, and pray for the sick person to whom the sacraments are being brought. We all need to prepare ourselves for this eventuality. When I am sick and need communion in my home, will I be ready? Will my family be ready?

And folks, you have my permission to put the fear of God in your children and loved ones and insist that the first thing they do, after calling the doctor or the ambulance, is to call the priest. This should be so seared into their minds that they wouldn’t dare forget, even under the greatest distress and sorrow. Perhaps it would be wise to keep the local church’s emergency phone number next to the phone.

Getting back to the main subject of this post: if you have a sick call crucifix, maybe it’s time to take it off the wall, open it up, and make sure that it has the necessary supplies in it: two smallish candles, and a clean bottle for holy water (sometimes they also have a little linen cloth). If you don’t have such a crucifix, then it might be a nice thing to obtain from your local Catholic store or a good catalog. And then invite the priest over to bless your home and bless that crucifix.

Nobody likes to think about being gravely ill or on one’s death bed, and all that it brings with it. But it’s going to happen to us all in one way or another. Better get ready now!

UPDATE 5/6/15: Take a look at this more recent post, with more info!

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13 Responses to Sick Call Crucifix

  1. Magdalena says:

    The ones we have, from a long time ago, also have tiny containers with holy oils for anointing. Do the priests who bring the Viaticum commonly travel with oil?

    • I’m a bit surprised they would have holy oils in them for anointing, as the priest carries with him the Oil of the Sick. Most priests keep it in their car, if they do not carry it all the time on their person, so that they always have it close at hand when going on sick calls. The priest has to change out the oil every year (after the Chrism Mass, when the parish receives its new supply).

  2. Lisa and Dave McCord says:

    My parents have one of these crucifixes hanging in their bedroom for almost 60 years (their 60th wedding anniversary is October 16, 2014). They received it as a wedding gift as you said many couples did. We will be purchasing one of the sick call crucifixes and putting the phone number of our local priest on our “Emergency Phone Number” list. Thank you, once again, for your great suggestions for getting back to the basics and being prepared.

  3. that is the same set my parents had. Exactly! i will be ordering it soon!!

  4. Sarah says:

    Just a few thoughts from the medical profession…
    1. It is never too early to start planning for the end of your life and to make your needs and desires know for that time.
    2. Put it in writing. Make some advanced directives. Give your closest family members and local hospital a copy to keep on file just in case. Your nurse and the people who work in social services do read these and we strive to make everything you have in writing happen. This includes putting down that you want a priest called. Often times younger family members will not think to do this and we are always happy to make the phone calls for them.

  5. Bee says:

    Well, my elderly mother has one hanging on her bedroom wall, and although we have Holy Water in a bottle in the kitchen cabinet, I know the little bottle inside is dry. I was unsure that a priest would even WANT us to have this out, so the last time my mom needed to be taken to the hospital, we did call a priest and he came to her home to administer the Sacrament of the Sick before she left, but we didn’t use the crucifix. Now I wish we had. I will definitely make sure we have everything we need for the next priest’s visit.
    Thank you for this post Father. It seems even if we learned things long ago, we’re not sure if some of those rituals are still to be carried out. How good of you to clarify what we could and should be doing as Catholics when we call a priest to our homes. Thank you for using this blog as a vehicle for teaching the younger generations.

  6. Analda Anglin says:

    Yes, I have one that my parents gave us as a wedding gift. It was years before I discovered there were items inside. Now I use it each year in RCIA when we teach about Anointing of the Sick. There are usually one or two people who recognize the kit. I’ve had to replace the candles once after the crucifix sat in my vehicle all day and the candles melted together in the heat. Fortunately, at least one Catholic supply company sells ” replacement sick call kit candles” that are the correct size!

  7. Mary Chaires Damon says:

    These are beautiful traditions and I’ll purchase one. Do Priest with their busy schedule, paper work, and other pressing matters still respond like the Priest of the time when the “Sick call kit” was so important.

    • I would hope! I suppose it depends on the area you live in, how many priests there are, and how overworked they are. But most priests, I think, put true emergencies ahead of other things and if someone is in need of the Last Sacraments goes as quickly as possible.

  8. Renee G says:

    I have one but it’s very very old. So old I’m fairly certain the plastic wrap is stuck to the candles… but I will be taking it down to check

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