ROME, 17 JAN. 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of
liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Sunday last an acquaintance of my wife’s
remarked, in passing, that it had been a stressful spring, “You know,
with first Communion and all.” The lady explained that at her parish in
Virginia, mothers (as in moms) administer first Eucharist to their
children. She was “so nervous [she] almost couldn’t say ‘the Body of
Christ’” and had to be prompted. Have you ever heard of such a thing,
and is it not a gross liturgical/sacramental abuse?
L.L., Washington, D.C.
A: This practice is not only unlawful but is also
rather poor pastoral practice. From the legal point of view, an
analogous case was dealt with in the instruction “Redemptionis
Sacramentum,” No. 94. To wit:
“It is not licit for the faithful ‘to take ... by
themselves and, still less, to hand ... from one to another’ the sacred
host or the sacred chalice. Moreover, in this regard, the abuse is to be
set aside whereby spouses administer Holy Communion to each other at a
A mother and child are in a similar relationship
to that of spouses with respect to the above norm.
Extraordinary ministers of holy Communion are
commissioned by the bishop to respond to concrete pastoral needs.
Appointing a parent as ad hoc extraordinary minister can never
correspond to such a necessity.
Apart from the legal consideration, one could
honestly ask, what kind of message is conveyed by such initiatives.
Perhaps, the thought is that since mothers gave
life and nurture to the children, then it is somehow appropriate that
they should also be the first to give them the Bread of life.
If this, or any similar reasoning, is behind it I
sincerely believe that the practice actually weakens both the importance
of first Communion, and the importance of the role of parents in
bringing their children to the altar rail for the first time.
When children receive Communion for the first
time they receive a gift from God. For the first time they share in
something on a par with their parents, something which their parents, by
themselves, are incapable of giving. In a sense they take a step in
spiritual maturity, in entering into a personal relationship with
Christ, and in forming part of the wider family which is the Church.
The fact that holy Communion is primarily God’s
gift is best expressed by receiving it from the celebrating priest as
Christ’s representative. Indeed, most pastors rightly reserve the
administration of first holy Communion to themselves and almost never
delegate this ministry to extraordinary ministers, or even to deacons.
The joy of parents in seeing their children
receive Communion should stem from seeing how they have fulfilled part
of their mission in assuring their children’s spiritual growth in unison
with the physical. They have strived hard to form and guide the child
and pass on the faith, but they know full well that it is above all
God’s gift and not theirs.
* * *
Follow-ups: Moms Giving First Communion
I wish to clarify an aspect arising from our column on parents giving
first Communion to children (Jan. 17).
A Denver reader, who is a formally mandated extraordinary minister of
Holy Communion, asks: "Was the abuse incurred because the moms were
appointed as ad hoc ministers? I am asking because ... when my daughter
made her first Communion, I served her the chalice. I assumed this was
authorized and licit, was I wrong to do so?"
The abuse we mentioned erred on several counts, among which was the
technically unnecessary appointing of ad hoc extraordinary ministers,
but above all because we judged it as unsound pastoral practice.
Our reader's case is different. Here, we are dealing with a properly
authorized extraordinary minister who assisted the priest in
administrating the chalice at a first Communion. In doing so he was
carrying out his usual service and the fact that one of the children
happened to be his daughter makes no difference from the legal point of
From a pastoral viewpoint, even if the parents are authorized
extraordinary ministers, there may be situations when it is imprudent to
specifically delegate them to administrate their children's first
Communion, especially if such singling out could easily lead to
misunderstandings and resentment in other parents.
Such a procedure would also be illicit if this was done when the
circumstances did not require the use of an extraordinary minister at