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Our readers asked:

Should lay eucharistic ministers distribute the eucharist at Masses where a priest is present, or should their ministry be “exceptional”, i.e., only when there is no priest or deacon present?

Fr. Joe Answers:

The term used for lay ministers of the eucharist is not “exceptional” but “extraordinary.” “Ordinary” is the Church’s term for someone who is ordained. For example, a bishop is often called an “ordinary” because he is the ordained spiritual leader of a diocese. “Extraordinary” means “outside ordination” referring to a minister who has not received the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Since 1973 bishops have been authorized to appoint non-ordained Catholics to distribute communion during the Mass. Lay ministers are also appointed to bring the eucharist to those who are sick or homebound. Dioceses vary in their practices but as a rule in the Church today extraordinary eucharistic ministers are recommended by the pastor based on need and formally approved by the bishop of the diocese.

Lay ministers of the eucharist have become part of the fabric of the Church’s life and are likely to become even more so, given the present shortage of ordained ministers. You mention that your parish is served by a full-time pastor and a part-time deacon. The amount of pastoral ministry that takes place in even a small parish is likely to be more than one pastor can handle adequately. Many pastors today are exhausted from the pastoral demands that their ministry entails. This is not likely to change in the near future. It’s likely, in fact, that the number of available priests will decrease and the responsibilities of pastoring will increase. The service of lay ministers of the eucharist helps ensure that the sick are adequately provided for and that the time of the Mass is not unduly lengthened.

You commented that it is sad that some children are receiving their First Holy Communion from a lay minister rather than a priest. I would respond that the significance of receiving First Holy Communion is not dependent upon whether or not the minister is ordained but in the fact that one is receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, the presence of the life-giving Lord. It’s exactly the same Body and Blood of Christ whatever the “official” status of the minister within the Church’s hierarchy. As pastor of a busy parish, I feel gratitude for those lay Catholics who have answered the call to take part in this ministry to make the presence of Christ more available to those who seek him.

 
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The Author : Fr. Joe
Fr. Joe Scott, CSP, has been a campus minister, pastor and editor as a Paulist priest.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • William Van Duzen

    I only go to churches where I receive communion from a priest. The use of extraordinary ministers has gotten way out of hand; no pun intended.most extraordinary ministers are under the influence of mortal sin , i.e using birth control, vasectomy, tubes tied. Come on, two kids nice house and car. Real catholics are too busy taking care of their four plus children to be doing this anyway. Why don’t we just mail the Eucharist and watch mass on T.V. I see, were slowly moving toward the ordination of woman, practicing homosexuals and what ever. Like the story of the frog in the hot water. Isn’t this all under the heading of subjectivism?

  • Fr. Martin

    Regarding Angela’s comment. The source is “Redemtionis Sacramentum”,n. 87, a document from 2004.
    [87.] The First Communion of children must always be preceded by sacramental confession and absolution.[169] Moreover First Communion should always be administered by a Priest and never outside the celebration of Mass.

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20040423_redemptionis-sacramentum_en.html

    The reason, this is my guess, is that the priest is the “ordinary minister” of the Holy Eucharist. The priest is ordained by Christ to bring about the transsubstantiation and to administrate this most holy sacrament. When the Church allows the help of extraordinary Eucharistic ministers, then this is to be seen as an exception resulting from a kind of emergency situation. But at first Holy Communion there should not be given a “misleading” sign, namely, that anyone, also lay ministers, are “ordinary” ministers. Only priests and deacons are. Sometimes these things are not easy to understand and to accept for some people. But theologically well reflected, they make sense.

  • Angela

    You are wrong in this matter: “Moreover First Communion should always be administered by a Priest and never outside the celebration of Mass.”

    this comes from the Vatican

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