Can an EMHC, struggling with his faith, continue to volunteer?


We have a teenage son - high school senior, confirmed, went through 9 years of primary Catholic education (K-8th), and who is struggling with his faith. He is your typical teenager with playing the video games, attending Running Start, and working part-time.

Several months after he was confirmed, he expressed his doubts about believing God but continued to serve as an EMHC. About 6 months ago, he said he wants to quit serving because he said it doesn’t sit right with him serving the Holy Eucharist/Blood while struggling with his belief. My husband and i praised him for caring enough to express his doubts about serving and not being complacent with being an EMHC.

We are part of a huge faith community of 1600 households and don’t have enough EMHC to help amongst four masses in one weekend. My husband and I told him that we recognize his struggle with the faith and that it is very common, but would like for him to continue to serve even if it’s just in the spirit of helping/volunteering. We did instruct him to NOT take the Holy Eucharist/Blood but instead fold his arms across his chest for blessing when Fr. N hands him the ciborium/chalice.

We’ve had several discussions and have asked why the struggle, and his reply is he doesn’t feel God in his life. When we suggested reading more faith-based books and listening to faith-based themes, he just shrugs and never really took us up on it. My husband and I think that the struggle is sincere, but not wanting to search further/dig deeper is complacency/laziness, BUT enough conscience in him to want to step down from serving.

Our first instinct as parents was to give in and let him quit, but then we are often reminded that kids will skip doing a lot of things if we let them (e.g., eating their vegetables, going to Mass) and as parents we still push them to do it because we know what’s good for them. Once they leave home, they can do whatever they want. He confided that there’s a good chance he’ll be skipping Mass when he leaves home. We said, “As long as you’re home and part of this family, you will do family things including going to Mass.” Thankfully he hasn’t run away yet.

My husband and I are torn and want to make sure we are not committing grave sin by insisting he serves; we shared all this with our pastor who was empathetic that he went through the same thing as a teenager. He stated that searching isn’t a sin, and added that because our son is always respectful and reverent as an EMHC, he will allow him to continue to volunteer but to keep him abreast of any changes.

Last week we had a visiting priest and during the distribution of the ciboria, he noted our son/his arms folded over chest. The priest bluntly told him he is unfit to serve because he is not taking the Holy Eucharist/Blood for whatever reason. He gave him the ciborium anyway but my son was shaken by the exchange. My husband and I found out about it from another EMHC standing next to our son.

My question, is which priest is correct? I understand the mercy that our pastor has shown to our son by letting him continue to serve, but I also can respect the visiting priests’ reasoning.

Struggling Mom


Whether or not we should have EMHCs is for another thread. Don’t derail this one.


If he were my son, I would absolutely allow him to make his own decision about whether to serve. He is showing great maturity. And in a time when too many do not take the Eucharist seriously. I would think we should encourage that, not discourage it.


He should not be forced. If he is struggling, honor that and pray for him. Has he talked with the priest?


My own sense is to not force any non-essential religious practices on him, like EMHC, youth group, whatever.
But Mass attendance is still a non-negotiable.

  1. Your’re GREAT parents!

  2. IF son is receiving JESUS in the HOST; there in no theological reason for him not to ALSO partake of the “wine” {Sacred Blood}

  3. It’s your call on "making him continue to be a EM {as a great granpa; I’d be inclined to let him do so CONDITIONALLY on him continuing to attend Mass and RELIGIOUS Education classes

  4. NO, you and hubby are not committing Mortal sin

a. son is old enough to decide this for himself
b. An EM should NOT be in Mortal sin; however your son’s doubts at that age are necessarily grounds for HIM to be in mortal sin
c. Try a sit down discussion of WHY he’s feeling this way

did out the Family bible and read and explain each of these {to be understood as literal}

Mt 26: 26-28
Mk. 14: 22-24
Lk. 22: 19-20
John 6: 47-59 AND 68-70
Paul 1st Cor. 11: 23-30

[23] For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread. [24 giving thanks, broke, and said: Take ye, and eat: this is my body, which shall be delivered for you: this do for the commemoration of me. [[25]In like manner also the chalice, after he had supped, saying: This chalice is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of me.

[26]For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come. [27]Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. [28] But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. [29]For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. [30] Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep. {sleep here mean choose for THEMSELVES eternal hell}

Point out that one CANNOT be “guilty” for just eating Ordinary bread; drinking ordinary wine.

d. PRAY VERY much to Jesus THROUGH Mary {which you’re likely already doing}

The 2nd priest is WRONG: there is MANDATE to HAVE to take the “cup” {discuss this with your Pastor and have him clarify iy for your son casually}


He definitely has his mature moments…and immature ones. :slight_smile: A part of us as parents is figuring out how much is he being sincere and what part of him is just being complacent and taking the easy way out of serving and just sitting in the pews.

Thank you.


Yes, he has discussed it with our pastor who has told him that his door is open anytime he wants a dialogue. Our son, not unlike some teens, will avoid the dialogue because he said, “it’ll probably be a lecture.”

As adage goes, “you can lead them to the water, but you can’t make them drink.”

Offering him up daily to the Holy Spirit.

Thank you!


I’m not a parent so I can’t offer any insight as to that aspect. But your pastor is the one in charge of your parish. So if he says your son can EM, that’s whose word you take. A visiting priest (as I understand) may be able to make decisions as to the Mass they celebrate, but the pastor is the one in charge of your parish.


My first reaction was hurt that visiting priest (Priest #2) treated my son that way (being momma bear and all) but after thinking about it clearly, he doesn’t know my son personally. The priest reacted the best he can with the situation he was given. I can’t fault him for that.

Thank you!


Oh, it is a struggle and a challenge. Maybe you will catch him in a more adult moment and suggest he can have an adult conversation with the priest without it being a lecture.


the visiting priest has one opinion, your parish priest is fine with your son volunteering as an ECHM, I suppose if you want to pull rank and see which one is correct, to probably write your Bishop, since technically the Bishop out ranks both and is their superior.

But it goes to show, that clergy do have differing opinions.


Thank you so much for your detailed response.

About your #1 - The struggle is real that’s for sure - especially nowadays. HA! I appreciate the very kind words.

About your #2 - he is NOT receiving the Holy Eucharist/Blood because of his struggle. We also emphasized that once he decided that he would like to receive again that should go to confession first. AND that he shouldn’t receive just to please us.

About your #3 - Unfortunately, he isn’t going to religious classes because of work and Running Start classes happen at night.

About your “b” - this is an eye-opener. Will chew on this for awhile.

About your “c” - he said it’s because he isn’t feeling anything about God. He prays but doesn’t see/feel anything different. We explained to him that it happens but that as individuals we have to keep seeking Him out in dialogue, books, in relationship with others. He is a stoic introverted kid - having him open up is like pulling teeth - but we continue to try.

Very grateful for the specific scriptures.


Yes, this is what we thought too and will update our pastor with what happened.

Thank you for your time.


I charge by the hour. All major credit cards accepted.

Good luck letting the pastor know. And I’ll say a prayer for your family.


Your son sounds like a lovely, mature young man. Kudos go him for taking his role seriously and making a considered decision.

You may be surprised at the interiority if his evaluation of faith. And, if it heartens you, I fell away from the church at 7, only to return again in grad school after over a decade of agnosticism and searching.

I would remove all stress from continuing in the ministry. At his age, and I’m spitballing here, masturbation and similar sins might be considerations, and he could just be being responsible about ensuring he attends confession as he deals with those challenges.

If that’s the case, an elegant solution to any issue associated with sin/confession would be to ensure he ministers at a Mass (if he and your pastor so choose) that always offers confession beforehand, and ensure the whole family arrives early and goes to confession together. De-stigmatize it, in case that’s the issue. I wouldn’t require him to confess or receive communion, but I would stress that confession is good for venial and mortal sins so nobody feels “outed”.

It might also be worth gently asking about his thoughts around faith and offering some reading about the dark night of the soul to him. I would aim to keep the conversation light touch, and reassure him that whatever his beliefs, and however they evolve, you’ll always love him exactly the same, and you’re happy to listen as he unpacks his ideas. Save advice or teaching initially—what he needs is to see Catholicism as supportive of his thoughts and in no way restrictive☺️


As an adult, I find lectures to be unhelpful when I’m wrestling with major issues. Can’t say I blame him. Sometimes it’s more helpful to hear the perspective of someone who has been in your shoes before, or just to have a compassionate listener.

When you think of it, Jesus in the tabernacle is exactly that!


The visiting priest is in his early 80s who was filling in for our pastor, who just turned 40 years old last year and was away for a mission trip. You are definitely correct that there are some varied interpretations. Maybe in this case, a generational difference in approach.

My concern is if there is Canon Law we are breaking about not taking communion but continuing to serve as an EMHC.

Thank you for your suggestion about writing the Bishop - that might eventually happen.


Probably just an abundance of caution by the visiting priest, who wouldn’t know your son or the parish personally.


Your pastor should make the decision, but I was always taught by our priests and bishops over the years that it’s at very least “bad form” to serve as an EMHC if you aren’t receiving yourself. It really doesn’t make sense.

As far as your son’s doubts, just keep encouraging him to seek answers from solid sources, but I wouldn’t push much otherwise; just pray for him.

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