Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion

Since Vatican II (but not because of Vatican II, which is a common defense of liturgical abuse) we’ve had, at most parishes, a multitude of laypersons giving the the Holy Eucharist to the Catholic faithful – almost every time Mass would be celebrated. First and foremost, I would like to make the point that these laypersons who give Holy Communion are not actually to be called “Eucharistic Ministers”. The Eucharistic Minister (the “ordinary minister of Holy Communion”) is a bishop, priest, or deacon. The proper title for a non-ordained person who distributes the Eucharist would be “extraordinary minister of Holy Communion”.

File:US Navy 030727-N-8148A-100 Lt. Richard House, Assistant Command Chaplain, (left) and Lt. Chris Chandler offer Holy Communion during the first underway Roman Catholic Mass aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).jpg
“Extra-ordinary”: There is a reason for that title.

I’d also like to make the point, before going further, that even if Father positively encourages laypeople to distribute Our Lord at Mass every week, the Church disagrees. If the Church disagrees, Father’s own opinion doesn’t really matter.

With that said, the title “Extraordinary Minister” does not mean that the minister is wonderful (in the way that a cake could be called “extraordinary”, for example). To find the meaning of the word “extraordinary” in this case, it helps to realize that it is in fact two words: extra+ordinary. Extra comes from Latin and means basically “outside of”. Ordinary is synonymous, more or less, with “common”. Thus, we have “outside of that which is common”.

And indeed, the Extraordinary Minister should be “out of the ordinary”. In an excellent Vatican document from 2004 entitled “Redemptionis Sacramentum”, we read the following:

157 If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it. The practice of those priests is reprobated who, even though present at the celebration, abstain from distributing Communion and hand this function over to laypersons.

158 The extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the priest and deacon are lacking, when the priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. … A brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason.

God forbid Communion take a few extra minutes, right?

Now it is important to note that if you or someone close to you has been an Extraordinary Minister in the past, you’re not guilty of a sin, especially considering that you probably began that function in obedience to the priest’s request. Nevertheless, now you know the Vatican position on it, and the Vatican holds more weight than the priest’s desire.

My question is, if the constant use of Extraordinary Ministers is an abuse, how did the practice get so widespread? That’s a topic for another post, I guess.

God bless,

Michael

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4 thoughts on “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion”

  1. Interesting, and I agree. At my church, it has the shape of a cross, and has about 3000 total parishoners. Obviously there are fewer than that at each Mass, but because of the set-up, and the fact there is only one priest, Extraordinary Ministers actually are necessary. There is also 1 deacon and the seminarian (who technically isn’t ordained I guess) at each Mass as well, except for last Sunday the Deacon must have had a day off or something.
    So, as much as I don’t really like the practice, I suppose it is necessary. Without EM’s, Communion really would take 3x as long.

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      1. Interestingly, I have just been asked to do this. It has no ego thing on my part. Indeed although I do not have any difficulty with lay ministers , male or female I would never have put myself forward. It is common practice in every parish I have been to in the last 20 years and these have been in England, Scotland and in deed now in Wales. I cannot see why there is such a fuss about it. Priests are so thin on the ground, ours is in his 80s brought out of retirement and covers three parishes covering about 50 square miles. My last Priest in SW Scotland covered three parishes and more like 80/100 miles. However, even when I lived in the City and there were more than one priest or a priest and a Curate and Deacon it was common to have between two and six lay people administering Holy Communion. Is this peculiar to the UK ?

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      2. No, it’s not peculiar to the UK, unfortunately. The reason there’s such a fuss about it is, plainly and simply, because it’s not regarded as the Holy See desires, i.e., safely and rarely, but is instead thought of as “something people do” any time they want, and is thought of as “something that happens” every week. Yet, Redemptionis Sacramentum makes it clear that this should not be the case.

        Now in your case, they may indeed be legitimate. But in most cases, as I said above, they’re not.

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