|ROME, 21 SEPT. 2004 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: I am a convert to Catholicism. Little if anything was taught to me
during RCIA regarding the liturgy, yet I was immediately encouraged to
become a Eucharistic minister as soon as I received the sacraments. The
training I received amounted to about four hours on a Saturday. When I
transferred to a different parish, all I had to do was sign up to be a
Eucharistic minister. There was one brief training focusing on where to
stand depending on which station you were assigned. My husband, a devout
cradle Catholic, tells me that it is not appropriate to receive under both
species at a Mass unless there are enough priests or deacons to administer
both the Body and the Blood. He sees the use of Eucharistic ministers to
distribute both species as an abuse. Is it wrong to partake of both
species if both are offered, albeit by Eucharistic ministers?
A: While the preparation required before appointing someone as an
extraordinary minister of holy Communion may vary from place to place, the
norms issued by the diocesan bishop (see "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No.
160) should always be followed.
Most bishops delegate the rite of appointment to parish priests, although
some dioceses organize special courses for those called to serve in this
The 1973 instruction "Immensae Caritatis," No. 6, outlines some of the
personal qualities demanded of the extraordinary minister:
"The person who has been appointed to be an extraordinary minister of Holy
Communion is necessarily to be duly instructed and should distinguish
himself by his Christian life, faith and morals. Let him strive to be
worthy of this great office; let him cultivate devotion to the Holy
Eucharist and show himself as an example to the other faithful by his
piety and reverence for this most holy Sacrament of the altar. Let no one
be chosen whose selection may cause scandal among the faithful."
It is thus clear that due care must be taken in selecting and forming the
extraordinary ministers, presuming of course that they respond to an
authentic need, because of the delicate and sacred character of the office
that they are called to fulfill.
Before appointing them, the priest should have a sufficient knowledge of
their moral stature and their standing in the community.
He should also ensure that they fully adhere to all of the teachings of
the Church especially those regarding the belief in the real presence of
Christ in the Eucharist and the Catholic understanding of the holy
sacrifice of the Mass.
They should be trained not only regarding where to stand but also with
regard to proper procedures to follow when approaching the altar to
receive the sacred vessels from the priest; how to return them; how to
avoid accidents; and how to proceed if accidents occur. They should also
be instructed on the limits of their office with respect to purifying the
sacred vessels and approaching the tabernacle.
Those who officiate to the sick will need supplementary instructions
regarding the proper rites to be followed.
I would recommend that, in order to appreciate the importance of their
service, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist be encouraged to foment
their love for the Eucharist through adoration or frequent visits to the
They should also have at least one retreat a year as well as other
instructions in Catholic doctrine and the norms and spirit of the liturgy.
This brings us to the second part of your question.
If no priest or deacon is available to distribute the Precious Blood in
the circumstances where Communion under both kinds is permitted and
customary, then it cannot be considered an abuse to avail of the services
of an extraordinary minister of Communion.
You write from the United States, where the distribution of Communion
under both kinds at Sunday Mass has been approved by the bishops and
validated by the Holy See. When needed, an extraordinary minister of
Communion may assist the priest and deacon with the administration of the
Precious Blood from the chalice.
There is no reason to refuse the chalice if offered in this way, although
there is no obligation to do so.
While receiving Communion under both species is more perfect from the
point of view of the sign, it is important to remember the Church's
teachings that Christ is received whole and entire under either species.
Thus, one's Communion is perfectly complete when it is received under the
species of bread alone. One is not deprived of extra graces by not
receiving from the chalice.
While your husband is obviously a good Catholic with a sincere love for
the Eucharist, his ideas in this area do not correspond to the reality of
liturgical norms. ZE04092122
* * *
Species From an Extraordinary Minister [from 10-12-2004]
Several readers questioned some aspects of my Sept. 21 reply regarding the
use of extraordinary ministers of holy Communion for the distribution of
the Precious Blood.
Above all, they pointed out that the General Instruction of the Roman
Missal 283-284 and the U.S. Norms for Holy Communion apparently militated
against the use of these ministers. The text of the GIRM states:
"The Diocesan Bishop may establish norms for Communion under both kinds
for his own diocese, which are also to be observed in churches of
religious and at celebrations with small groups. The Diocesan Bishop is
also given the faculty to permit Communion under both kinds whenever it
may seem appropriate to the priest to whom, as its own shepherd, a
community has been entrusted, provided that the faithful have been well
instructed and there is no danger of profanation of the Sacrament or of
the rite's becoming difficult because of the large number of participants
or some other reason.
"In all that pertains to Communion under both kinds, the Norms for the
Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the
Dioceses of the United States of America are to be followed (see nos.
No. 284 states:
"When Communion is distributed under both kinds,
"a. The chalice is usually administered by a deacon or, when no deacon is
present, by a priest, or even by a duly instituted acolyte or another
extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, or by a member of the faithful
who in case of necessity has been entrusted with this duty for a single
The Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both
Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America, No. 24, adds:
"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
These documents clearly allow for a wider distribution of the Precious
Blood than had been hitherto permitted. But our readers are correct in
pointing out that the documents do not favor an indiscriminate
multiplication of extraordinary ministers of holy Communion just in order
to avail of this possibility.
Indeed this practice should be limited to cases of necessity. And greater
recourse should be made of Communion by intinction, provided those who
wish to receive under the species of bread alone have the possibility to
However, neither do these documents forbid the use of these extraordinary
ministers of holy Communion, and, as stated in the previous column, their
use may be justified by necessity.
The difficulty arises in adjudicating what constitutes a case of
necessity, and this often depends on the norms issued by the diocesan
The bishop should, of course, issue norms guided by the GIRM and so avoid
creating situations where an excessive number of extraordinary ministers
However, if for serious pastoral reasons the bishop permits, or even
requires, that the faithful be offered the possibility of receiving
Communion under both kinds every Sunday, there is sometimes no other
feasible solution for pastors, especially if he is the lone priest, then
to recur to the use of one or more extraordinary ministers of Communion.
In such cases pastors should strive to limit their use to the minimum
although, since this possibility is contemplated in Church law, I
reiterate that I do not believe that the mere fact of their use can be
considered an abuse.
Another correspondent chided me for slipping up on my vocabulary and
referring to extraordinary ministers of holy Communion by other titles.
Rereading the column I note that most of the incorrect usage was from the
original question which was left substantially intact. But, effectively, I
did momentarily lapse into incorrect usage on one or two occasions. I wish
to thank this reader for his attention and kind observation. ZE04101224