Q: Last Sunday a person collapsed at the beginning of the gospel. Our deacon left the sanctuary, attended to the person throughout the Mass, even going outside during the Mass and returned at the Sign of Peace. He participated in the Mass like he had never left, meaning he received Holy Communion, distributed Holy Communion and performed the duties for the remainder of the Mass. What should he have done? Not returned or do as he did?
A: This is a judgment call. The liturgical books don’t really cover the situation. I think I would have advised the deacon not to return to the liturgy at all because he had been gone for so much of it. But it’s not like he went out to shop for milk or get a haircut. He was aiding a sick person who had attended Mass. The purpose of his absence is what makes me think I’d give him a break. But in general, if someone misses that much of the Mass, there really isn’t much need to return. Their obligation to participate at Mass is surely suspended in such an emergency.
It’s also hard to read how the people would interpret his actions: that it’s OK to duck out for a while and then come back in, or that it’s OK to leave but only if you have an emergency.