Proper Ministration of Holy Communion

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states, "In every celebration of the Eucharist, there should be a sufficient number of ministers of Holy Communion so that it may be distributed in a reverent and orderly manner. Bishops, priests and deacons distribute Holy Communion in virtue of their office as ordinary ministers of the Body and Blood of the Lord. When the size of the congregation or the incapacity of the bishop, priest, or deacon requires it, the celebrant may be assisted by other bishops, priests, or deacons. If such ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are not present, ‘the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, i.e., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose. In case of necessity, the priest may also depute suitable faithful for this single occasion (GIRM 162).’ "

I understand that extraordinary ministers are meant to be used purely for pastoral reasons as the U.S. bishops have officially discerned. But I still wonder whether large crowds are sufficient reason to commission laypeople to be dispensers of Holy Communion to the faithful. I resonate most with my patron Thomas Aquinas when he says that the priest is in persona Christi throughout the whole consecration and also in the dispensation of the Body of Christ. For this reason, he has the sole right to handle the sacred Body of our Lord. I think the only concession Aquinas makes is allowing a deacon to hold the chalice or to handle the Body in case of grave necessity, because the deacon is intermediary between the priest and the laity. Aquinas’ whole opinion on the matter can be found in Summa Theologiæ, part 3, q. 82, art. 3.

I wish our bishops in America would revisit the issue of the proper way to receive Holy Communion. Unfortunately, receiving standing and on the hand has become something of a norm in many parishes, including my own. What is frustrating to me is that we don’t really need extraordinary ministers at my parish, but we do it out of a minute convenience. But then, how do we balance due reverence for our Lord Jesus with actual pastoral needs, because there are some big parishes out there? Have the bishops made too many concessions? I fear we may be presuming against God.


The upcoming (in my diocese) feast of Corpus Christi has made me think a lot on the Eucharist lately, and has turned me to many of St. Thomas’ prayers and hymns devoted to Eucharistic adoration.

Don’t try to be more Catholic than the Pope, Bishops and Magesterium.

Aquinas had opinions, and well reasoned theological writing. That is not the same thing as Church teaching. He also held opinions on the Immaculate Conception which in his day were fine, but are not aligned with the dogmatic declaration formulated hundreds of years later.

Communion in the hand, standing, or receiving from an extraordinary minister is perfectly fine. Do not attempt to rationalize that is it “not” acceptable or “not” as Catholic, or “not” as reverent because all these things take you down a path away from the actual teaching and practice of the Church.

St. Thomas Aquinas does give his thinking, but it was not accepted as dogma.

Summa Theologiæ, part 3, q. 82, art. 3
Reply to Objection 1. The deacon, as being nigh to the priestly order, has a certain share in the latter’s duties, so that he may dispense the blood; but not the body, except in case of necessity, at the bidding of a bishop or of a priest. First of all, because Christ’s blood is contained in a vessel, hence there is no need for it to be touched by the dispenser, as Christ’s body is touched. Secondly, because the blood denotes the redemption derived by the people from Christ; hence it is that water is mixed with the blood, which water denotes the people. And because deacons are between priest and people, the dispensing of the blood is in the competency of deacons, rather than the dispensing of the body.

Rather the current practice is akin to that given earlier in Apostolic Constitutions 8:28:2-4, about 400 A.D.:

The Same Apostle’s Canons Concerning Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons, and the Rest of the Clergy.

XXVIII. Concerning the canons I the same make a constitution. A bishop blesses, but does not receive the blessing. He lays on hands, ordains, offers, receives the blessing from bishops, but by no means from presbyters. A bishop deprives any clergyman who deserves deprivation, excepting a bishop; for of himself he has not power to do that. A presbyter blesses, but does not receive the blessing; yet does he receive the blessing from the bishop or a fellow presbyter. In like manner does he give it to a fellow presbyter. He lays on hands, but does not ordain; he does not deprive, yet does he separate those that are under him, if they be liable to such a punishment. A deacon does not bless, does not give the blessing, but receives it from the bishop and presbyter: he does not baptize, he does not offer; but when a bishop or presbyter has offered, he distributes to the people, not as a priest, but as one that ministers to the priests. But it is not lawful for any one of the other clergy to do the work of a deacon. A deaconess does not bless, nor perform anything belonging to the office of presbyters or deacons, but only is to keep the doors, and to minister to the presbyters in the baptizing of women, on account of decency. A deacon separates a sub-deacon, a reader, a singer, and a deaconess, if there be any occasion, in the absence of a presbyter. It is not lawful for a sub-deacon to separate either one of the clergy or laity; nor for a reader, nor for a singer, nor for a deaconess, for they are the ministers to the deacons.

Do not forget that the Catholic Pope, in an exercise of the Magisterium, promulgated Redemptionis Sacramentum

[158.] Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when … the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason.

What constitutes undue prolongation? :shrug:


This was stated in 2005 by the Synod of Bishops in INSTRUMENTUM LABORIS:

  1. Particular gratitude is owed to the lay faithful, above all, catechists, who are engaged in leading others to prayer and communion, especially in those cases where the lack of clergy makes the faithful’s participation at Mass impossible. However, many Lineamenta responses allude to certain practices which tend to obscure the faithful’s distinction between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood. For example, some pastoral assistants effectively take over the supervision of some parishes and practically preside at the Eucharist, leaving a minimal involvement to the priest to guarantee validity; the laity sometimes preach the homily at Holy Mass; oftentimes extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist distribute Holy Communion, while the ordinary ministers, above all the priest-celebrant and the concelebrants, remain seated; some extraordinary ministers keep the Blessed Sacrament in their homes before bringing the Eucharist to the sick; and pastors sometimes authorize someone caring for the sick to bring Viaticum. The guidelines in the Instruction Ecclesia de Mysterio, together with the canonical norms in the matter,85 should be considered in properly instructing those responsible and ensuring a celebration of the Eucharist which is truly ecclesial.

Indeed, what the bishops have promulgated is magisterial discipline, but it is not dogma by any means. And I would like to say that I did not intend to seem so puffed up in having these opinions. I merely was expressing that I feel uneasy about certain Church disciplines. By no means am I required as a Catholic to agree with every pastoral consideration given by the bishops. However, I am required as a Catholic to maintain union and peace with all members of Christ’s mystical body, the Church. Given that most in my parish receive Holy Communion standing and in the hand, I’m not seeking to stir up a fight among my brethren; I simply hold dissenting private opinions.

I hope the bishops revisit the issue at some point, because I believe Communion on the tongue while kneeling naturally inspires more reverence and avoids potential presumption. And as to your comment that every disciplinary practice the Church exercises should be incontrovertibly accepted without question: I’m glad that’s not true, otherwise Mother Church would still be selling indulgences. You might say, “But that’s not the same thing.” It, in fact, is if the Church has made formal declarations on what is the normal way to receive (kneeling and on the tongue), but parishes have unduly adopted standing and on the hand as their regular practice, especially when it’s not pastorally necessary.

One last thing: Thomas Aquinas may not have been a bishop, but he is a Doctor of the Church. His denial of the Immaculate Conception as taught by Mother Church today was due more to a medieval lack of understanding of original sin than to an explicit denial based on mere opinion. I’m confident St. Thomas would have accepted the doctrine had he considered original sin in a more accurate way. As for his opinions on Holy Communion, there was no doctrinal or theological data lacking in that regard; his opinions are pure adoration, just as ours ought to be today. Pope Benedict XVI would have agreed with me there.

You need not feel “uneasy” when you are obedient.
think about it.
People with way more knowledge/scholarship about such things have spoken.
Reverence is a matter of the heart.
If you are worthily receiving, you are doing the will of God.

I shall therefore remain obedient in receiving on the tongue, as is the ordinary practice in most parts of the world. It is not disobedience not to receive on the hand; it is, in my eyes, striving after a more excellent obedience.

Fair enough. I receive on the tongue as well.
But I do it because it’s allowed. Not because I’m trying to influence others.
Be careful of trying to change what the Holy Spirit has led the Church to teach.

Never did I say I was trying to influence others. I did say I foremost seek union and peace with my brethren. Nevertheless, I wish the liturgy was considered less on an individual basis and more on a communal one.

What this says is that those who don’t see it as you do, who don’t do as you do, are “less”. Striving less. Being less excellent (i.e. holy). Being less obedient than you.

Yes, that is a problem. It is prideful and inaccurate.

There’s a reason I prefer to receive Holy Communion the way I do. It’s not an arbitrary decision. To my conscience, yes, I strive after a more excellent obedience. I’m not sure how my convictions about the Eucharistic celebration are attacks on the moral integrity of individuals. You misinterpret me. If you’re convicted of one way of doing things, then why should you feel put down by others? Why should anyone?

I’m old enough to know that people do things differently than I, and I have to be grown-up about it and go on living. I’m not being prideful; I’m only concerned about the way some of the concessions have allowed for abuses and leniency within the liturgy.

Please don’t accuse me of any vices when we’re separated by pixels and electrons. If I say I’m not condemning my fellow churchmen, then believe me.

I believe the necessity for EMHC has come about, in part, due to the distribution of the consecrated wine from the chalis. If a priest needed to distribute once from the ciborium then from the chalis this would prolong communion.

I don’t believe we need both at daily mass, so could dispense with EMHC in that situation. But on Solemnities, such as Sundays, a fuller sign is given by distributing the Body and Blood in the forms of bread and wine. And so would require the EMHC’s.

Now this weekend we happen to have 4 priests, but I don’t think all will be at all masses. So we will still be using EMHC’s. (a priest returning from vacation with another member of his order, the substitute who was here while the one priest was on vacation, and our pastor.)

Speaking just for myself, the opportunity and privilege of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ at a daily Mass via the “fuller sign” versus eliminating the “requirement for an EMHC” would be a very easy choice.

Me too - there is absolutely no question that I would opt to receive via the “fuller sign”. As an altar server in the 50’s, it struck me as exceedingly strange that we could not receive both.

I have never heard anyone suggest that someone could be "more excellently obedient. One either was obedient or one was not.

Putting the form of reception in that term is an underhanded way of saying that those who receive in the hand are “less obedient”; there is no other way of interpreting such.

Merit has degrees. For example Pope Paul VI wrote this in Indulgentarium Doctrina, 1967. Of course the four general norms apply for reception of partial indulgences, where something is not already required. The general norms are:

*]Raising the mind to God with humble trust while performing one’s duties and bearing life’s difficulties, and adding, at least mentally, some pious invocation.
*]Devoting oneself or one’s goods compassionately in a spirit of faith to the service of one’s brothers and sisters in need.
*]Freely abstaining in a spirit of penance from something licit and pleasant.
*]Freely giving open witness to one’s faith before others in particular circumstances of everyday life.

From Indulgentarium Doctrina:

Since by their acts the faithful can obtain, in addition to the merit which is the principal fruit of the act, a further remission of temporal punishment in proportion to the degree to which the charity of the one performing the act is greater, and in proportion to the degree to which the act itself is performed in a more perfect way, it has been considered fitting that this remission of temporal punishment which the Christian faithful acquire through an action should serve as the measurement for the remission of punishment which the ecclesiastical authority bountifully adds by way of partial indulgence.

Thankfully however, we have the option to receive on the tongue from an ordained minister.

I don’t know about anyone else’s parish but I know that in several where I was an EMCH, Communion was not offered under both species so that wasn’t the reason for their use. Once I learned what the documents said, I opted to stop being an EMCH.

I have heard more than one priest say that by virtue of having been named or installed as EMHC it is their right to distribute Communion in their parish. Didn’t matter that that flies in the face of every document on the topic. One, who had formerly been a professor at the seminary attended by my pastor, argued with me that the laity were now ordinary minsters of Communion and that was a good thing. He’s also the same one who shocked everyone when, in a liturgy meeting where this was being discussed and where I had referred to Redemptionis Sacramentum, stood up and yelled at me as he was wagging his finger, “We’ve never listened to Rome about that before and we’re not about to start now.” Alrighty then…

They’re being perfectly obedient to the canon law. I was referring more to an obedience to Christ’s lordship. I think receiving on the tongue naturally inspires greater reverence, and also carries less risk of profanation because the host is always in the care of the priest or deacon. People certainly can worthily receive Communion in the hand; there’s no real problem there. But I think it seems a little pastorally risky to allow the faithful to receive the Body in their own hands, seeing as how many communicants may be innocently careless and rub their hands on their pant legs or against each other (which I have seen happen in my parish). I guess I just don’t see the point of allowing the concession if it carries such a potential for profanation. Plus, I believe Sacramentum Redemptionis was getting more at saying that if a person asked to receive communion in the hand, then a priest or other minister could not deny the person the Body. It sounds more like a just-in-case measure rather than a prescription for the institution of a second norm of receiving. The document says:

“Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful (Sacramentum Redemptionis, par. 92).”

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