Article written by Sr. Mary Anne Schaenzer, SSND
When I was a child, I read a story in a Catholic Comic Book called Treasure Chest. The story was about St. Tarcisius in Rome. ”Tarcisius was a twelve-year-old acolyte during one of the fierce Roman persecutions of the third century, probably during that of Valerian. Each day, from a secret meeting place in the catacombs where Christians gathered for Mass, a deacon would be sent to the prisons to carry the Eucharist to those Christians condemned to die. At one point, there was no deacon to send and so St. Tarcisius, an acolyte, was sent carrying the “Holy Mysteries” to those in prison.” I used to think that it would be such an honor to take communion to someone – the only part I did not like was that other boys threw rocks at him because they did not respect what he was doing. When I was in Rome in 1990, I made it a point to visit the catacomb in which Tarcisius was buried. In the fourth century, Pope St. Damasus wrote a poem about this “boy-martyr of the Eucharist” and says that, like another St. Stephen, he suffered a violent death at the hands of a mob rather than give up the Sacred Body to “raging dogs.”
And here we are, post-Vatican II, having this opportunity – that lay people can be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and bring Holy Communion to people who cannot come to Mass.
St. Stephen’s volunteers bring communion to Catholics at Mercy Hospital every Monday and Thursday and fourth Sunday of the month. In addition, a few of our volunteers join those from other parishes every Tuesday. This is approximately 35 assignments per month. A volunteer-volunteer coordinator, Kathy Whittaker, sets the calendar each month, and Don and Sue Malafa assign the actual patient visits by departments at the hospital. This involves about 25 different volunteers.
St. Stephen’s volunteers conduct Word and Communion Services at about ten places of assisted living and memory care in Anoka and Coon Rapids, where people do not get out for Mass. Approximately half of these services are every week and others are twice a month. This is about 30 services per month. Ten pastoral care volunteers lead these services, and some of them have other volunteers assisting them.
In addition, a volunteer leads a service at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center (AMRTC) unless a priest is saying Mass.
Eleven volunteers will take turns, in pairs, doing Word and Communion Services at the Anoka County Jail on Sunday mornings.
Pastoral Care volunteers also take communion to about 25 people in their homes at this time.
All of the above involves about 85 St. Stephen’s volunteers. Thank you to each one who has responded to this ministry in the Church. If you are interested in any of the above ministries, please contact me or call me at 763-712-7441.