The Resurgence of Sick Call Crucifix Sets
The popularity of Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, and other similar TV shows prove that as much as we embrace the modern world we live in (and all our savvy gadgets), we still have a strong interest in learning how generations before us lived, worked, played, and even worshipped. Sadly, many of the devotional items and traditions that were once popular in the Catholic Church are now obsolete. Some religious traditions, however, are making a comeback and gaining in popularity. One such tradition is the use of sick call sets in the homes of Catholic families.
What are sick call sets? These sets usually consist of a crucifix, two candles, a vessel for holding holy water, and a stand. They are used by priests to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick when they come to “call” or visit someone who is seriously ill and homebound. While the sacrament was originally only given to those who were dying, it can now be given to anyone who is facing a serious illness or surgery, as well as the elderly.
History of Sick Call Sets
While some collectors have come across sick call sets dating back to the 19th century, sick call sets likely existed long before. In the early days, before people had access to hospitals, sick family members were cared for in the home. A sick call set was therefore quite common in many Catholic homes. Biblical historians point out, that sick call sets existed in some form or variation well before the 19th century. The act of anointing the sick is described in James 5:14-16: “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins he will be forgiven.”
In addition to anointing a sick person, these sets can bring immense comfort to loved ones. The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is “both
a liturgical and a communal celebration…the Sacramental anointing of the sick can inspire and comfort both those who are ill and their family and friends who are gathered.” How comforting it is knowing that “the sick person receives the Holy Spirit’s gifts of strength, faith, peace, and courage, and his or her suffering is united with the suffering of Christ for the building up of the Church.”
How is a Sick Call Crucifix Set Used?
Each sick call set comes with instructions and lets you know what to expect when a priest visits. According to the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the priest opens the celebration with a penitential rite followed by the Liturgy of the Word. Family members and friends are asked to pray to Jesus for the strength of his Holy Spirit. “The priest lays his hands on the head of the sick person. He then proceeds to anoint, with the blessed Oil of the Sick, the forehead and hands of the sick person (in the Roman Rite). He accompanies these acts with the words, ‘Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.’”
In Sickness and In Health
Even when every member of the household is in excellent health, a sick call set, especially the crucifix, is a poignant reminder of Jesus’ healing powers. Many choose to hang the crucifix on a wall–above a bed, in a child’s bedroom, or any place in the home as a reminder that Jesus doesn’t ever abandon us when we are suffering. The crucifix is a reminder that we are to suffer with patience as Jesus did and to put our entire trust in Jesus’ mercy and loving care.
As they say, “everything old is new again,” and sick call sets are and old tradition making their way back into the homes of the faithful.