Lay Ministers: Extraordinary For A Reason

eucharist, minister, extraordinary minister of holy communion, ordinary minister

Eucharistic Ministers, a term commonly ascribed to those who participate in the Liturgy of the Eucharist by assisting the priest in the distribution of Holy Communion, is a misnomer. This may explain many misconceptions concerning the purpose for their role and their extensive use. The proper title, though largely ignored, is Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Correcting the misused label enables better catechesis for the misled. The obvious component is the term Holy Communion, which signifies the portion of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to which it pertains. The more representative term, Extraordinary Minister, in its currently disused state explains the misconception.

Words Matter

As a verb, the word ‘minister’ is universally used to describe the action of someone who provides comfort and assistance to another. However, modern days find the word ‘minister’, when used as a noun, with a changed focus. Consequently, it is no longer used as a term reserved for a cleric. Whether priest or preacher, minister as it is now used, describes many diverse positions. This evolution of language has altered and diluted the original, and much more appropriate, definition.

Therefore, calling anyone a minister certainly contributes to the rampant misunderstanding concerning the use of those who are not Ordinary Ministers within the context of Catholic worship. In the Spirit of Vatican II, the title ‘minister’ found its way into many job descriptions. Music Minister, instead of Choir Director, is one example, as well as Youth Ministers and varied other titles containing the word.

Ordinary Ministers

Ordinary Minister is the title given to the presbyter, an ordained priest, who has undergone stringent discernment of a vocation and formation. His role is set aside from the properly called for role of the laity. His hands are consecrated and he comes to us in persona Christi – another Christ – when he ministers to us.

The redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; yet it is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church. The same is true of the one priesthood of Christ; it is made present through the ministerial priesthood without diminishing the uniqueness of Christ’s priesthood: “Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers.” CCC 1545

“Bishops, priests and deacons distribute Holy Communion in virtue of their office as ordinary ministers of the Body and Blood of the Lord. (1) When the size of the congregation or the incapacity of the bishop, priest, or deacon requires it, the celebrant may be assisted by other bishops, priests, or deacons. If such ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are not present, “the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, i.e., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose. USCCB

Extraordinary Ministers

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and Redemptionis Sacramentum, the practice of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs) is intended to be just that – extraordinary. Reading the GIRM makes this clear. In fact, there is no provision in Church documents to support the scheduling of EMHCs. The position is one created for the people of God when there is a clear need, not as a common weekly or even daily occurrence.  The use of EMHCs is prescribed when extraordinary circumstances exist. Extraordinary pertains to unusual events, such as huge crowds or lack of sufficient Ordinary Ministers.

GIRM 162. The priest may be assisted in the distribution of Communion by other priests who happen to be present. If such priests are not present and there is a very large number of communicants, the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, e.g., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose. In case of necessity, the priest may depute suitable faithful for this single occasion.

RS 88  It is the Priest celebrant’s responsibility to minister Communion, perhaps assisted by other Priests or Deacons; and he should not resume the Mass until after the Communion of the faithful is concluded. Only when there is a necessity may extraordinary ministers assist the Priest celebrant in accordance with the norm of law.

He Is Complete In Either-Species

There is also no Church law stating that both species MUST be offered – since the Catechism states that He is present completely in both species – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Therefore, a pastor of a small (or even medium-sized parish) has no valid need of EMHCs.

We, the people in the pew, are not in a rush. We attend Mass to worship God and to avail ourselves of the graces it brings. A few extra minutes taken, to receive from the priest, are not an extraordinary situation. If the pulse of people in the pew was taken, it might be surprising to learn how many prefer to receive from the priest. He is the ordinary minister, in persona Christi, whose vocation brings him to serve us the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Q. 881. Is Jesus Christ whole and entire both under the form of bread and under the form of wine?

A. Jesus Christ is whole and entire both under the form of bread and under the form of wine. Baltimore Catechism


There is also another option for those with the desire of receiving both species. Intinction, which is a Latin word that literally means “dipping into”, goes back to at least the fourth century—300 years after Jesus Christ’s Incarnation. This practice consists of dipping the sacred Eucharist into the Eucharistic chalice and placing the host on the tongue of the communicant. Any falling drops or fragments are caught by a paten, held by an altar server. The use of the paten is actually called for no matter which mode of reception is used.

The Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling” Redemptionis Sacramentum 

Intinction is still practiced and allowed throughout the world. The practice of intinction, however, would mean that the faithful would once again adhere to the worldwide norm of receiving on the tongue – rather than the indult currently active in the United States, of receiving in their hands.

In conclusion, we see that there are tangible corrections available to our practice in Sacred Liturgy.  Preventing or eliminating the widespread profanation of the Eucharist in the world today, we must seek a return to holy reverence. This begins with actions that demonstrate a faithful belief in the True Presence. Eradicating the blurring of lines between Priest and Deacon (ordinary ministers), and laypersons, offers a faithful solution. What a wonderful return to reverence and universality that would be!

Editor Note: Distribution by Intinction is solely reserved for consecrated, ordinary ministers.

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16 thoughts on “Lay Ministers: Extraordinary For A Reason”

  1. Thank you, good, clear article.
    But the tipping point in this and many other areas in the Liturgy of the Novus Ordo Mass has been reached. It is beyond correction. It should be abandoned altogether, but it won’t be. The ministers distributing Holy Communion are there to appease the feminists, first, last and always. They will never go away no matter what GIRM says. The whole display is so casual and disrespectful. No wonder so few believe in the Real Presence. The RCC is beyond the point of no return. Bet on it.

  2. Katrina Fernandes

    Thank you Brigit for your spot-on article. Today at our weekday morning mass there were no more than 20 people yet there were three EMHCs helping distribute the Body and Blood of Jesus. There seems to be a lack of reverence due to the conversations before & after mass, lack of genuflection and some even stand during the consecration. We are new to the parish, and I’m worried about raising my kids in this environment. Is there anything I should do (other than prayer) or is it a lost cause? Most parishoners are elderly and there are almost no young adults (18 – 30).

    1. We experience the same thing in our diocese. – all of it. It is disheartening to note the apparent lack of reverence. If you have a different, more reverent parish available, you may consider attending there. My family periodically attends Mass in the chapel of a Carmelite order.

      Other than that, I would suggest getting to know the parishioners and pastor. Make sure that your family is a devout example of reverence, but without judgment. So many simply don’t know.

      Teach your children what is proper. You are their primary teacher. My family simply refrains from assisting in abuses, whenever possible. For example, we don’t hold hands (or use the Oran’s posture reserved for the priest) during the Our Father. We kneel and give thanks immediately after the recessional song. Our after Mass discussion is taken outside.

      I recently told our pastor that because we receive on the tongue, my family prefers receiving from his consecrated hands. He gave us his blessing to change lines for Communion to follow him – he alternates sides. I believe that the success of my request lies in having an approachable pastor, getting to know him, explaining my thoughts, and asking his permission.

      Charitably discuss any blatant abuse with your children, privately, on the way home making sure not to harm their belief in the Church in general. Choose your battles wisely but be thorough in due time. This is an excellent time to discuss the importance of following rules.

      Good luck. These are my personal opinions and examples of what has worked with my family. Of course, I am no expert. Praying for your family.

  3. I really really don’t understand why this topic causes so much angst. The Church allows it. The Church sets the rules. The end.

    1. “The Church sets the rules” – therein lies the rub. A thorough reading of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and other sources quoted demonstrate that the Church doesn’t allow it under ordinary circumstances. In order to follow a law, one must consider all aspects of a law and its intent. The intent here is to prevent the blurring of lines between the ordinary (bishops, priests, deacons) and the laity.

  4. Thank you for this article, which is clear and informative. However, I do have a concern about the part about intinction. I am an EMHC at my parish and also assist several days monthly at a local hospital to bring Communion to Catholic patients.

    When I and my fellow EMHCs were trained by our Diocese (Cleveland – it was thorough instruction of several hours by Diocesan officials), we were expressly warned *not* to permit intinction. We were told it was permitted only by priests, and if anyone came to us with a consecrated host to intinct in the Precious Blood, we were to put our hand over the chalice and ask that person to consume the host first.

    It was explained to us that to permit intinction would open the possibility of the Precious Blood being spilled on the floor or on clothing, etc. During flu season particularly, occasionally communicants will attempt this in order not to drink from the common chalice. But our pastor explained clearly to our parishioners that if anyone feared germs from the chalice, that they fully receive Jesus in the consecrated host, and in that case, they should have no hesitation to receive the host alone.

    God bless and protect all here – Susan, OFS

    1. Yes, you are correct. “The practice of intinction, however, would mean that the faithful would once again adhere to the worldwide norm of receiving on the tongue…” I must have been remiss in continuing by saying that the priest would, most certainly, be the only one to distribute in this case. Therefore, EMHCs would no longer serve a purpose during Mass. That being said, those who bring the Eucharist to the sick would continue to do so, knowing that He is fully Present in the Host.

  5. Pingback: VVEDNESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  6. Nice article. I think most ‘Eucharistic Ministers’ simply think they’re ‘helping’ the priest by speeding up the communion lines. I find it distracting when a whole herd of ‘Eucharistic Ministers’ ascend to the altar immediately after the Consecration. Especially now that so many also hurriedly wring their hands with hand sanitizer as they approach. If we’re really concerned with avoiding the spread of germs, perhaps the ‘Eucharistic Ministers’ should decline their positions and let the priest’s hands be the only ones touching the Holy Eucharist…after all, even hand sanitizer leaves behind both traces of itself & germs and the more hands touching something (like the Holy Host) transfer more germs.

    As a high school student I was given ‘training’ to be a Eucharistic Minister in about 15 minutes. At the time, my thought was more about having a ‘job’ that important in front of my peers than whether I should be handling the Blessed Sacrament. During our training nothing was mentioned of the patens or the fragments of the Body of Christ it was designed to catch. It was more about being a presence instead of the True Presence.

    I no longer serve in that capacity because I finally broke free from my sophomoric understanding of the Holy Mass. the Eucharistic Feast is not made *of* men (or women) but *for* men (and women) to approach Christ in the most intimate of ways. Just as (hopefully) we no longer ask our friend to ask our crush for a date, we do not need an intermediary between us and the Consecrated Victim. The priest is himself consecrated, so he is the true minister of the Holy Meal.

    1. Thank you for your thought-provoking comment. Since the priest is celebrating the Mass in persona Christi, he is there as Christ Himself. Yes, I agree that we do not need a human intermediary. As for your lax training as an EMHC, I am afraid that is common. Many of the laity are under the false impression that they are bound by an obligation to physically participate in the celebration of Mass. The call for participation is one of spirituality, not physicality.

    2. I do prefer to receive from the Priest. The line moves at just the right pace, as far as I’m concerned. We should not be in such a hurry to receive such a Miracle.

    3. As do I. Recently, our aged resident monsignor retired. Our pastor added an EMHC in his stead, in the line for receiving the Host. Because the pastor was not distributing on the side where we were seated, I discretely crossed to his line. After Mass, I asked him if that was okay with him, since my family receives on the tongue and we are more comfortable receiving from consecrated, experienced hands. He assured me that it was fine. His plan is to switch sides every week. I replied, ‘why not stand in the center and distribute to both?’ It was quite a friendly exchange.

  7. It is very good to see something written so clearly on this matter which, as the article points out, is generally dealt with in a confusing manner.
    Two documents are key to understanding the issue: Inaestimabile Donum, 1980, and Redemptionis Sacramentum, 2004.
    Regrettably, EWTN still uses an incorrect title. Quoting from their current site: “10. The faithful, whether religious or lay, who are authorized as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist can distribute Communion only … “, even though the matter has been brought to EWTN’s attention. Redemptionis Sacramentum specifically excludes the title: “extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist”. This should be obvious! The ordinary minister of the Eucharist is a validly ordained priest … so there can be nothing “extraordinary” to that ministry.
    This faithfulness on the part of Catholic Stand is commendable – please keep up the good work, which is so essential at this time of lack of clarity.

    1. It is unfortunate that EWTN resists correcting their error concerning proper terminology. The more sources available for proper catechisis the better. Use of the proper terms would go a long way in rebuilding belief in the True Presence. In addition clarifying the blurring of lines between clergy and laity would assist in making further progress in the proper celebration of the Holy Mass.

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