November 12, 2010

Be Our Guest / Charles Gardner and Fr. Patrick Beidelman

Extraordinary ministers of holy Communion perform a valuable service

In a recent question-and-answer column in The Criterion, Father Francis Hoffman clarified the procedural guidelines for Communion ministers, but he also offered some opinions that could cause confusion.

As most of us realize, priests and deacons are ordinary ministers of holy Communion who are also directly involved in the immediate preparations for the distribution of Communion—including the breaking of the Eucharistic Bread.

At the request of the pastor, the archbishop also appoints extraordinary ministers of holy Communion “whenever it seems necessary for the pastoral benefit of the faithful” (Book of Blessings, #1871).

As Father Hoffman points out, these ministers do not join the priest or deacon at the altar. Only after the priest has received Communion do they receive communion from him—or from another minister who has already received.

Then the priest hands them the vessels they will use to distribute Communion to others.

These ministers provide important assistance to many of our priests, who often celebrate multiple weekend Masses. They also enable the faithful to receive Communion under both kinds.

Even though the General Instruction of the Roman Missal affirms that “Christ whole and entire is received even under one species,” it also highly encourages reception from the cup:

“Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clear expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord” (GIRM, #281).

The General Instruction’s allowance for extraordinary ministers when “there is a very large number of communicants” (#162) needs to be understood in this context.

Unlike many other places in the world, we are blessed with the opportunity to receive Communion under both kinds on most occasions, usually because of the assistance of extraordinary ministers. These ministers also enable the communion procession to be reverent, but not “unreasonably protracted” (Book of Blessings, #1871).

We are grateful for the valuable service of these extraordinary ministers of holy Communion. May they continue to take to heart the words they heard from the Book of Blessings when they were commissioned:

“Gracious Lord, you nourish us with the body and blood of your Son, that we may have eternal life. Bless our brothers and sisters who have been chosen to give the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation to your faithful people. May the saving mysteries they distribute lead them to the joys of eternal life. We ask this through Christ our Lord.”

(Father Patrick Beidelman is the archdiocesan Director of Liturgy. Charles Gardner is the archdiocesan executive director for Spiritual Life and Worship.)

Local site Links: