ROME, 14 OCT. 2003 (ZENIT).
Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Are extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist for extraordinary
circumstances or may they serve at every Mass? — W.B., Dallas, Texas
A: Bishops, priests and deacons are the only ordinary ministers of the
Eucharist and, unless impaired by a grave reason such as a serious health
problem, they should always give out communion at Mass before any
supplementary ministers are used. Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist
are just that, extraordinary, and their function remains a supplementary
one. If the celebrant can easily distribute Communion to all without
causing excessive delay, then extraordinary ministers should not be used.
At times however, factors other than numbers can play a part in justifying
seeking help such as a very elderly priest, or, in the cases where it is
approved, to administer the Precious Blood, or those daily Masses where
people sacrifice their time in order to attend Mass before work and even a
couple of minutes delay can make a difference.
Those who serve as eucharistic ministers should always be aware that it is
a privilege and can never be considered a right. Even when a parish roster
exists, nobody can rightly say "It's my turn" as if claiming something due
to them, but should always be grateful for the blessing of being called to
service as a minister of Christ's body and blood. ZE03101420
* * *
To judge by the large amount of correspondence, it seems that our reply
regarding the use of extraordinary ministers has touched a nerve ... Many
of the messages received serve to confirm that many Catholics perceive a
widespread overuse of extraordinary ministers. Some follow-up questions,
however, allow me to expand on my original reply although it is impossible
for me to respond to all of the queries.
As stated before, priests and deacons, unless physically impaired, should
not sit down and omit administering holy Communion. They may be assisted,
but not substituted, by other ministers.
These extraordinary ministers, according to GIRM 162, "should not approach
the altar before the priest has received Communion, and they are always to
receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing
either species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the
faithful." The deacon also receives Communion after the priest and from
A reader from Rome asked if an instituted acolyte were not also an
ordinary minister. Properly speaking he is not, but he does have
precedence, in the sense that, should an extraordinary minister be
required, he should be called upon first before anybody else. Also, in the
absence of the deacon, the acolyte may purify the sacred vessels,
something that is not permitted to other extraordinary ministers (although
the United States has received an indult allowing them to assist in the
purification in cases of necessity).
After the instituted acolyte, the usual order of preference for
designating extraordinary ministers is to first choose an instituted
lector, a seminarian, a religious brother, a nun, a catechist and a lay
person of either sex (see instruction "Immensae Caritatis").
An American correspondent asked who has the authority to designate
extraordinary ministers and what intellectual and moral traits are
required of them. In special cases (for example, a sudden illness of the
scheduled minister) the celebrant may designate a known member of the
faithful for that precise celebration.
In normal circumstances, the question of extraordinary eucharistic
ministers falls under the supervision of the bishop who establishes the
conditions, and grants the authority, for admission. This is usually done
through the parish priest or religious superior. In Rome, for example,
besides being proposed by the pastor the candidate has to attend a
specific course lasting several months to a year before being allowed to
This is related to an English correspondent's inquiry regarding uniformity
of movement. Extraordinary eucharistic ministers should be properly
trained in the rubrics, and the pastor should assure that all of them
adhere to the same procedures with respect to movements, purification of
the hands, etc., in accordance with the general norms and the particular
structure of the Church building.
Morally speaking, while not necessarily a candidate for beatification, the
eucharistic minister should be a devout Catholic in good standing. As
stated in the instruction "Immensae Caritatis," the choice of an
extraordinary minister "should never fall upon a person whose designation
could cause astonishment to the faithful." A person who does not fully
adhere to, and strive to live by, Catholic teaching either in doctrine or
morals should not undertake nor be admitted to this ministry. Likewise, if
one is unable to receive Communion because of some momentary fall, one
should first seek the sacrament of reconciliation before exercising the
Rather than seeing this as being somehow cast out from the fold,
separating oneself from this ministry, if one's life and belief lack
conformity with the Catholic faith, is a sincere act of respect toward
Christ in the Eucharist and the other members of the faithful. More grace
and strength will come from refraining in this field than from perhaps
living the lie of being a public witness to a faith not fully one's own.
Several readers asked what to do if they believed that there were too many
extraordinary ministers, some even suggesting that they should refrain
from receiving Communion. As we explained in the earlier column, there may
be good reasons for using them which are not immediately apparent, so one
should always be willing to give the pastor the benefit of the doubt. One
could approach the pastor and politely ask him to clear up whatever doubts
one might have. In grave cases of abuse one may inform the bishop.
Even if one has serious doubts regarding the propriety of using
extraordinary ministers in a given case, the gift of Communion is a
greater good and should never be refused. In a very real sense we always
receive Communion from unworthy hands no matter how holy the minister, for
nobody is ever fully worthy to touch Christ's sacred body.
Finally, a semantic note, in some places the extraordinary minister is
referred to as a "special minister." "Special" may not be the most literal
translation although the word is sometimes used in this sense, as in
"special representative," but in the end it matters little whether they
are called "extraordinary," "special," "supplementary," or any other
denomination as this does not change one whit the canonical norms
regarding their use. ZE03102822