“Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion” is the formal title of laypeople who distribute the Eucharist during Mass. There are also “ordinary ministers” – those who are literally “ordained” to the ministry namely bishops, priests, and deacons. These ministers are the first in order to distribute the Body and Blood of Christ, the deacon being the customary distributor of the cup. In most places, especially when Communion is offered under the forms of both bread and wine, there are rarely enough “ordinary” ministers for the timely distribution of Communion.
Through the local diocese and at the parish level, Communion ministers receive spiritual, theological, and practical preparation to fulfill their role with knowledge and reverence. Such preparation addresses appropriate attire, demeanor, and the manner in which to handle the consecrated bread and wine.
The role Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, like all roles of service, is a true ministry, called forth from those who have the special gifts for that ministry. The ministry of the Eucharist is a ministry of gift-giving. It should therefore, be a ministry for those who themselves are loving, generous, and self-giving people. The ministry of the Eucharist is also a ministry of welcoming. It should therefore, be a ministry for those who are warm and accepting, who can look each person in the eye comfortably, and who can welcome all without judging any.
The person called to be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion should have a sense of reverence for the Eucharist that is obvious to all through their demeanor, their attire, and the manner in which they handle the consecrated bread and wine. Through their example, the Extraordinary Minister encourages an equal reverence in those receiving communion.
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion serve, by invitation of the Pastor of Christ the King.
ORDINARY AND EXTRAORDINARY MINISTERS OF HOLY COMMUNION
Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are bishops, priests, and deacons. These persons distribute Holy Communion by virtue of their ordination. “It is first of all the office of the priest and the deacon to minister Holy Communion to the faithful who ask to receive it. It is most fitting, therefore, that they give a suitable part of their time to this ministry of their order, depending on the needs of the faithful” (Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outisde Mass, 17).
Under certain circumstances, lay men and women may be delegated to distribute Holy Communion by a bishop (or a priest, on a single occasion). These persons are known as “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion”. Instituted acolytes (usually seminarians and candidates for the permanent diaconate) become Extraordinary Ministers through their institution. The role of the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion does not replace that of the Ordinary Minister, but supplements it on a provisional basis (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 151). That is, when a sufficient number of Ordinary Ministers is present for the distribution of Holy Communion, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should not serve. The term “Minister of the Eucharist” refers to those who confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 154; CIC, 900). As such, it applies only to bishops and priests.
NEED FOR EXTRAORDINARY MINISTERS OF HOLY COMMUNION AT MASS
The Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum states that Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion may be used during Mass when a “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” (158). In these cases, it is appropriate for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to be employed. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should not serve if there will otherwise be only a brief prolongation of the Mass (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 158). Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion may be asked to assist in the distribution of the Precious Blood. When this takes place, “their number should not be increased beyond what is required for the orderly and reverent distribution of the Body and Blood of the Lord” (Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America, 28). The Bishops of the United States also note that, “in practice, the need to avoid obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon as the Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion by an excessive use of Extraordinary Ministers might in some circumstances constitute a reason either for limiting the distribution of Holy Communion under both species or for using intinction instead of distributing the Precious Blood from the chalice” (Norms, 24).
BECOMING AN EXTRAORDINARY MINISTER OF HOLY COMMUNION
Those who are selected to be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion must:
1. Be at least 18 years old.
2. Be a Catholic who has received First Communion and Confirmation and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be assumed.
3. Not be bound by any canonical penalty legitimately imposed or declared.
4.Be reverential, respectful of his or her faith and the Blessed Sacrament, and of good moral character.
5. If married, must be in a valid marriage according to the law of the Catholic Church.
6. Special care should be exercised in the choice of Extraordinary Ministers who will bring Holy Communion to the sick. These individuals should be able to minister to the sick in a compassionate, prayerful, and sensitive way. They should possess psychological maturity and the ability to keep confidences, not discussing indiscriminately the condition of patients or their homes.
NEED FOR EXTRAORDINARY MINISTERS TO BRING COMMUNION TO THE SICK AT HOME OR IN HEALTH CARE FACILITIES
The Pastoral Care of the Sick directs pastors to provide for the frequent reception of Holy Communion by the sick and aged (72). These individuals have the right to periodic visits by priests, who, in addition to bringing Holy Communion, can offer the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick, and bring added comfort and spiritual assistance. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion may be asked to assist the priests and deacons of a parish in their service to the sick and homebound. This need for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion can arise when distance “makes it difficult to bring communion, especially as viaticum to the sick in danger of death; or when the sheer number of sick people, especially in hospitals or similar institutions, requires several ministers” (Immensae Caritatis, I).
It is particularly appropriate that Holy Communion be brought to the sick from Sunday Mass (see Pastoral Care of the Sick, 73). Sunday, however, is a day on which the pastoral ministry of priests and deacons can make it difficult for them to bring Holy Communion to the sick at home or to healthcare facilities. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion may be employed in these circumstances as well.
PROPER RECEPTION OF HOLY COMMUNION
Because we are receiving Christ himself at the Eucharist, Catholics must be in a “state of grace.” A state of grace means that we are free of any serious sin, and living according to the teachings of the Catholic Church. For adults, this includes if we are married, we are married by the Church. If we are single, we are living chastely. (CCC 1384-1395, 1415)
If one is conscious of grave sin, he or she must make amends to correct the situation and seek forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) prior to reception of the Eucharist.
We are to fast for at least one hour prior to the reception of the Eucharist. Fasting is from food or beverage, including gum, and candy. Drinking water or taking necessary medication is permitted.
To receive on the hands: To receive the Body of Christ in one’s hands, after bowing, and responding “Amen,” the communicant holds out both hands with one hand cupping the other so as to form a throne upon which the minister will place the sacred host. The communicant takes one step to the side and consumes (eats) the Sacred Host at once.
What not to do:
* Hold out one hand;
* Hold both hands out “side by side”
* Take the Sacred Host from the minister (reaching out)
* Walk off with the Sacred Host without immediately consuming
To receive on the tongue: To receive the Body of Christ on the tongue, after bowing and responding “Amen,” the communicant opens the mouth wide, and sticks out their tongue while holding the head slightly back. This ensures the Body of Christ will not fall out of their mouth, and that the minister has enough room to place it on their tongue without incident. Hands should be folded together down at the hip/waist.
What not to do:
* Barely open mouth so minister must fit Sacred Host between the teeth;
* Dip head downwards
* Keep tongue inside
* Hold hands up close to face
Receiving the Precious Blood: To receive the Precious Blood, one bows again, and responds “Amen,” to the words “The Blood of Christ.” The minister will hold out the cup (to adults) and the communicant takes the cup with BOTH HANDS, and consumes a swallow. The communicant SLOWLY AND CAREFULLY hands the cup back to the minister with BOTH HANDS fitting hands so that they do not bump the minister’s hands.
For children: For children who have received First Holy Communion, the child will still bow, and respond “Amen,” to the words “The Blood of Christ.” However, the minister may hold the cup to the child’s mouth for them to drink if the child is small or the cup is unusually heavy.
What not to do:
* Reach out for the cup before responding “Amen”
* Reach out for the cup with one hand
* Hand the cup back to the minister with one hand
After receiving Holy Communion, one should return to the pew in a prayerful spirit, giving thanksgiving to Jesus for the gift of himself. If a hymn is being sung, the faithful should join in singing the hymn. If the hymn is over, one may either kneel or sit and remain quietly in prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Where did the title extraordinary minister of Holy Communion come from? Why aren’t we called Eucharistic Ministers?
Extraordinary minister of Holy Communion is the proper term for the ministry, because the term “eucharistic minister” can apply to the priest or deacon as well as to the lay ministers. The term “extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion” makes clear that they are “extraordinary,” that is out of the ordinary, while the deacon, priest, and bishop are the “ordinary” ministers of Holy Communion. It is a reminder that you serve in this capacity only when there are insufficient clergy to distribute Holy Communion.
May an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion bring the Blessed Sacrament home and reserve it there for a time later that day or later in the week when he or she will bring Holy Communion to another sick person?
No. It is never permissible for an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion to bring the Blessed Sacrament home, except for the purpose of administering Holy Communion to the sick at that location.
What exactly is the Eucharistic fast?
The Eucharistic fast for a sick person is fifteen minutes, if possible (Immensae Caritatis, III). If, for any reason, this is not possible, no fast is required. The fast of fifteen minutes also applies to Roman Catholic family members or health attendants who are properly disposed and who wish to receive Holy Communion with the person to whom the sacrament is being brought.
Can the Precious Blood be reserved and given to a sick person?
Yes. “Sick people who are unable to receive communion under the form of bread may receive it under the form of wine alone. If the wine is consecrated at a Mass not celebrated in the presence of the sick person, the blood of the Lord is kept in a properly covered vessel and is placed in the tabernacle after communion. The Precious Blood should be carried to the sick in a vessel which is closed in such a way as to eliminate all danger of spilling. If some of the Precious Blood remains, it should be consumed by the minister, who should also see to it that the vessel is properly purified” (Pastoral Care of the Sick, 74).
What is the proper procedure to follow when a sick person is unable to consume the host?
If a sick person is unable to consume an entire small host, a smaller piece may be given to them. A glass of water may be provided to assist the sick person in consuming the host. If the host is rejected, it should be wrapped in a purificator, and brought to the church or chapel from which the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion was sent. There, a priest or deacon should dissolve the host in a small bowl of water. Once dissolved, this water should be poured down the sacrarium.
What is the sacrarium?
The sacrarium is a special sink in the sacristy that does not drain to the sewer, but directly into the ground beneath the church building. It is used for the rinsing of sacred vessels following their purification by the priest, deacon, or instituted acolyte, for the rinsing of altar linens, and for the disposal of soiled hosts after they have been completely dissolved in water. Usually the sacristan is the person to handle the sacrarium, but it is good for all the extraordinary ministers to know where the sacrarium is — and why is there.
What is an instituted acolyte?
Whil the term “acolyte” is often used as a synonym for “altar server,” it has more precise meaning as well. Before the reforms following the Second Vatican Council, “acolyte” was one of the minor orders, steps on the way to Holy Orders. With the reforms, the minor orders were suppressed, and “acolyte” is now considered a lay ministry. It is, however, limited to men and is usually conferred on candidates preparing for the priesthood or the diaconate; however a lay man may also become an “instituted acolyte” by being formally installed in this ministry by the bishop. In this ministry, the “instituted acolyte” is permitted to assist with the purification of the sacred vessels after Holy Communion as well as function as an extraordinary ministry of Holy Communion and altar server.
Who may purify the communion vessels at Mass?
The most recent legislation states that only priests, deacons, and instituted acolytes (e.g., seminarians and candidates for the permanent diaconate) may purify the communion vessels (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 279). This may occur after the distribution of Holy Communion. Alternatively, vessels which need to be purified may be left on a corporal and covered, either on the altar or credence table, and then purified immediately after Mass (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 163).
May an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion consume any remaining Precious Blood at the conclusion of the distribution of Holy Communion?
Yes. An Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion may directly consume any Precious Blood which remains at the conclusion of the distribution of Holy Communion. Under no circumstances should remaining Precious Blood be poured into the sacrarium (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 107). The consumption of remaining Precious Blood should be done reverently, at the altar or credence table, but never while walking back to the sanctuary.
Is it proper for the celebrant to give the host to the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion before his own communion at Mass?
No. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should receive Holy Communion after the celebrant has received the Eucharist.
Is it proper for an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion to approach the sanctuary during the Agnus Dei?
No. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should not approach the sanctuary until after the celebrant has received Holy Communion.
Is it proper for an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion to go to the altar and give Communion to themselves?
No. The Eucharist should always be ministered to, not picked up and received by individual communicants (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 160).
May an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion assist with the breaking of the Eucharistic host?
No. The fraction of the Eucharistic host is performed by a priest, with the assistance of a priest or a deacon, when required (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 240).
Should an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion give a blessing to one who comes forward in the Communion procession, but who does not wish to receive the Eucharist?
No. In this case, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion should direct the individual who wishes to receive a blessing to the nearest priest or deacon. In general, the practice of giving blessings in the course of distributing Holy Communion is discouraged (see Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Protocol No. 930/08/ L).
What is the proper procedure to follow when a host is dropped or the Precious Blood is spilled?
If a host or any particle should fall, it is to be picked up reverently; and if any of the Precious Blood is spilled, the area where the spill occurred should be washed with water, and this water should then be poured into the sacrarium in the sacristy” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 280).
May Holy Communion be given to someone who wishes to kneel?
Yes. While the norm for the (arch)dioceses of the United States is that Holy Communion is received standing, an individual member of the faithful may receive Communion while kneeling (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 160; Redemptionis Sacramentum, 91).
May Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion sanitize their hands before and after the distribution of Holy Communion?
Parish policy should be followed in this case. If it is desired that Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion sanitize their hands, this should be done in an inconspicuous manner, outside the view of the congregation.