Tuesday, August 24, 2010

EXTRAORDINARY MINISTERS OF HOLY COMMUNION: TO BE OR NOT TO BE?


I saw an article on Extraordinary Minsters of Holy Communion in the London Telegraph. The reporter wasn't too keen on the use of them. I didn't agree with all of his sentiments but I do have my own take on it.

I think it is wonderful to have laity who are able to bring Holy Communion to the sick and home bound. They need to be trained not only in the reverence required of such an awesome ministry but also how to visit the sick and be pastorally sensitive and professional. It is a great blessing for the home bound and sick to be able to receive Holy Communion frequently. If only priests and deacons could do this, most home bound would be able to receive only monthly if at that.

In terms of the Mass, it is wonderful that the laity can assist in this fashion when there is truly a need. But I have changed my attitude from the liberal use of EM's to a more modified form of it during Mass. You may or may not agree with me.

When our bishop asked parishes to cease having the common chalice at Mass due to H1N1 concerns, I saw something rather marvelous. In the past we would have at least six, sometimes eight EM's come forward at the Sign of Peace. Usually some who were scheduled did not show up. This meant that others in the congregation would have to crane their necks to see if they were needed, thus distracting them at this point in the Mass and creating some confusion when too many came forward to replace the ones that didn't show up. The process of giving all the EM's their Holy Communion was more cumbersome too.

When we only need two EM's for Mass, these always show up, and it is very simple to give them Holy Communion and for us to go and distribute Holy Communion. It is more prayerful and less chaotic.

When the bishop asked that we stop offering the common chalice (we had six chalice stations)it was the first time that anyone officially acknowledged that there is a possibility of contracting a virus or some other virulent germ from the common cup. In fact most of us know that if the Catholic Mass came under the laws of the state in terms of the consumption of "food and drink" in an establishment, that the Church would be shut down for our relatively recent practice of the common chalice with up to 40 people drinking from the same cup. It is not sanitary and in the eyes of state law could create a health risk for those who do it.

Apart from the laity contracting a disease or illness from the common chalice, the priest, deacon or instituted acolyte who alone may cleanse and purify the chalices must first consume what remains of the precious blood and whatever saliva it contains, then place water into the chalice that some 40 people have shared, consume that and then thoroughly wash the chalice (hopefully).

I cannot in good conscience do it myself or ask any other poor soul, deacon or acolyte to do it. In fact a permanent deacon not far from here who is a medical doctor of the colon, contracted a bacteria that lodged in his colon and nearly killed him. He firmly believes that he contracted the bacteria from the chalices used for common sharing that he meticulously and properly cleanses after Mass according to the norms of the liturgy.

I have not returned the parish to the common chalice. I cannot in good conscience for health concerns.

On the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, I did experiment with intinction. I reminded our congregation that if they desired to receive an intincted host that they could not do so by receiving in the hand but must receive on the tongue. If they chose to receive in the hand, they would not receive an intincted host. Nearly 98% of those receiving from me received an intincted host. For many it was the first time in years that they had received on the tongue. I asked for comments after Mass and everyone was very positive about this method of distribution and hoped we would establish it regularly. They felt it much more sanitary too.

Your thoughts?

22 comments:

carl said...

I love what you're doing, Father. People receiving under both kinds is not a good enough reason in my eyes to have EMsHC. SC 55 did not intend to have communion under both kinds at every Mass. And if you are going to have it under both kinds, intinction is the way to go. Cuts out both EMsHC and communion in the hand. Two birds with one stone.

Templar said...

Intinction is not necessary in my opinion since the whole of Christ (b/b/s/d) is present in Communion under both species, HOWEVER, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, if it helps curtail the heresy of Communion in the hand so much the better!!

As for EMHC's I believe everything possible should be done to minimize their use during Mass. I think some times we could get by with 1 during Mass if we wished. In other parishes I have heard it said that so many are used to speed the distribution of Communion, to which I can only scratch my head. This is like the high point of my week, why on God's green Earth would I want to hasten it up? Let me savor those few precious moments when I am as close to My Lord for as long as possible please.

Frajm said...

Templar, technically, it's not necessary for you to receive Holy Communion except once a year during the Easter Season. While we receive the Risen Lord completely under either form, receiving both is more faithful to what Jesus said we should do at the Last Supper. He didn't offer either/or but both/and.

Templar said...

Point well taken on the either/or point Father, and in that vein, Intinction would thereby be much more desirable a method. It is very prevalent in the Eastern Churches, is it not?

As for being required to take Communion but once a year...very true, same for Confession. My parents referred to it as our "Easter Duty". But why pass up any opportunity for either Sacrament I say (Assuming proper disposition). I can use all the Grace I can get. :-)

pinanv525 said...

I prefer receiving in one kind on the tongue, but intinction is certainly better than receiving in the hand, which I believe demeans the Host. It seems to me that we should certainly receive more than once a year, but it should never become merely routine or casual. Self-examination should guide us...most probably to the Confessional. I still say that the lines at the Confessional should be at least as long as the lines going to receive. But, I am still fighting to overcome my vestigial Calvinism wherein all sins, even the smallest, are mortal. I take refuge in Augustine, a bit of a proto-Calvinist himself...lol.

Tony_Lyons said...

I have come around to embracing what you are doing in regard to Communion Father. The idea of intinction is appealing. I must share that the opportunity to distribute Communion as an Extraordinary Minister and to participate so closely in the Mass as an Adult Acolyte has been a wonderful experience and influence on my life. The Extraordinary Ministry is truly an extraodinary experience.

I had, in good Faith, began partaking of the Blood about 10 years ago. Previous to that I had a fear of disease through the use of the common chalice. You have now re-instituted my fear and I appreciate it. I now look forward to intinction when it is available on whatever frequency it is offered. Your explanation of your motives is much appreciated. The Bishop's initiative was a true blessing wasn't it.

carl said...

Templar,
I believe you're right about intinction's prevalence among the Easterners. At Byzantine Catholic parish in Denver that's the only way to receive.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to try it- never have! I'd like some kind of option of having both species!

Anonymous said...

My daughter and I eagerly hope Intinction will be come a regular occurence!
We can hardly wait.

On the topic of EMCs.
Don't mean to rattle any cages here, but this probably might.

Isn't it inappropriate for a lay Minister of Communion to give a Blessing in the context of a Mass? Is that not reserved for ordained priests and deacons during a Mass?
I am referring to giving a Blessing to those who present themselves in the Communion line but are ineligble for whatever reason.

anon at 7:44

Vianney1100 said...

Up here at my parish in Minnesota we have intinction and about 98% of the people recieve on the tongue. We also have only altar boys who reverently utilize the patten below our chin while we receive our Lord, like it used to be. We do use 2 or 3 EMHC's but not in order to speed up the process. I know this because our priest slowly and reverently makes sure every particle of our Lord from every vessel used ends up in the chalice for him to consume and then carefully purifies each one. It is wonderful to behold such respect for the Real Presence. Oh yeah, the confession lines are long, before and even during Mass. We joined this parish about 5 months ago and I think I've died and gone to heaven... okay, maybe I haven't yet died but I do experience heaven coming down to us at each Mass. I have no doubt that your parishoners feel the same way at your Masses Father.

Robert Kumpel said...

I just don't understand why so many Catholics don't seem to know that the Body AND Blood of Christ are BOTH present in the Host. This makes the laity's approach to the chalice unnecessary, and, as you have pointed out Father, a tremendous health risk. If it is not necessary, why risk it?

Intinction is fine, but again, not necessary. I have no problem with it however. It reminds me of receiving Holy Communion in the Byzantine Rite.

Anonymous said...

For about a year after going through RCIA I preferred receiving Holy Communion on the hand. I went to mass at an Oratory of St. Philip Neri and intinction was the only way to receive, no option. Personally, I prefer intinction but not too many churches distribute Communion in this way.

I think it's a blessing to have EMsHC because they are needed. They provide a great service to our community. I do think, however, that sometimes they are not needed during mass if there aren't too many people present.

Jenny said...

I'm so glad you've had a change of heart/mind about the excessive use of EMs, Father! Years ago when you were in Augusta, my husband and I were asked to serve in this capacity; we agreed to take the instruction and carry Our Lord to homebound and hospitalized folks, but declined to serve this function during Mass (There were so many EMs, they sometimes collided with each other going to and from the altar!). At the time you were not particularly thrilled with our stance, but were very supportive of my homebound efforts.
I believe you are listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit more and more each day of your ministry, and God has granted such incredible growth in wisdom! How fortunate are your parishioners in Macon!

Templar said...

I usually refrain from Communion if I can not receive from a Priest. I arrived at this position shortly after I stopped receiving in the hand. It occurred to me that if I considered it wrong for my unconsecrated hands to touch Our Lord, I could not then in good conscience receive from the unconsecrated hands of an EMHC.

I am sure I could have things "explained" to me to justify receiving from the hands of someone other than a Priest, but I don't want it explained really. In my heart I feel that this is the only proper way. EMHC's are rationalized as necessary because of the shortage of Priests, and I understand that, but it still seems like, well, rationalization and not as it should be.

With apologies to those folks who are EMHCs and may take exception to my point of view.

pinanv525 said...

I always get in the line in which the priest is giving Communion for much the same reason. I never liked all the EMHC milling around up front. Looked like sale day at JC Penney's.

Henry Edwards said...

I am a member of Holy Ghost Church in Knoxville, a beautiful old church never wreckovated:

http://www.ourladyoffatima.org/LINKS/HG-760/02-Loft-760.jpg

http://www.knoxlatinmass.net/gallery/4Easter2008/045_IMG_0345.jpg

Communion while kneeling at the altar rail was maintained until 2005, and communion in only one species remains the norm, the chalice being offered only on special occasions. I believe this is one reason the people here are more reverent than ordinarily seen (rather like yours, Fr. McDonald, I suspect).

Incidentally, I think intinction would be a good OF->EF "mutual enrichment" (though probably few EF devotees agree with me). Although the "fullness of sign" argument is probably theologically vacuous, the spiritual effect can be powerful. (Mostly, I have experienced it only at Latin OF Masses.)

Anonymous said...

I am not sure I really can go for the "germs" reasoning for eliminating the cup. Is it grem free for the EM to put their fingers near or be touched by peoples mouths then distribute to the next person without wiping their hand. If you have distributed communion you know this happens. I guess I just trust that Our Father will take care of us! The Catholic comunity has not been made extinct yet from the many years of sharing the cup and aloowing someone to put food in our mouths.
I received on the tongue on this past Corpus Christi at St Joe's for the first time in a very long time. While it was awkward at first, I can't say that the experieince was any more reverent, but i do believe that it is for others. I will keep thinking about this one.
As for EM's. I must admit fewer is better. At my church in Boston, which had 3 priests and two deacons, no EMs were used unless one or more of them were away. At the Lamb of God all of them would come from the sactristy and be avaialable to distribute communion...at every Mass of the weekend.
I have never understaood the EM who receives on the tongue and then distributes with their own hands...why is it ok to give me communion but not to yourself.
Just my thoughts.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

That would be something I'd like to see, it lets people receive under both kinds, eliminates hand communion, and in tradition of the Church (even though not the west)

Mackja said...

Templar seems to voice my opinion also, when I receive the Lord it should be from the Lord, in other words if we can't have the Eucharist with out a priest, because only the Son can offer Himself up to the Father, how can I receive the Son from anyone other than the Son, or priest being persona Christi. Maybe I am lacking a better understanding, but I am not a fan of EM's at Mass.

Dr. Strangechurch said...

No medical journal I am aware of has reorted anything about an epidemic resulting from the use of the common cup at communion.

It ought not take an "official acknowledgement" for anyone to understand that germs can be passed on drinking utensils. The question is not about the possibility, but about the actuality. Again, there are no reports in the literature that this has occurred.

Mercifully, and rightly so, church communion practices are not under the jurisdiction of State Health Departments. If they would end the Common Cup, they would also end communion on the tongue and all the saliva-swapping that can occur.

Frajm said...

Dr. Strange Church, To be honest with you, I'm not a scientist, but I have worked in the food industry. From the Church point of view, I'm more concerned about priests and deacons who must clean multiple chalices after Mass, first by consuming whatever remains of the precious blood, then seconding, pouring clean water into that same multi-used chalice and then drinking it. I believed for the longest time that getting a communicable disease from the common chalice was not possible. That was turned up side down when our bishop asked we cease with the common chalice because of the threat of H1N1. I've also ministered to a dying teenager and preside over her funeral after she caught a germ from drinking a coke after her boyfriend. Yes, I am paranoid now. But in terms of touching the tongue while distributing communion, I touch many more hands when placing the host in the hand even when I try not to. Don't hands have more germs than the tongue?

kiwiinamerica said...

EMsHC are simply one more example of Vatican II directives being taken to places where they were never intended to be taken.

The key word is Extraordinary. One can envisage circumstances where a priest might not be able to dispense Communion in a timely and efficient manner. The priest may be old and infirm or there may be large numbers of communicants such as at a site of pilgrimage. It makes sense to make provisions for situations such as this. They are "extraordinary" and Vatican II in its wisdom, foresaw this.

However, when lay ministers are used at every Mass, they are no longer "extraordinary". They have become ordinary. I've been to weekday Masses where there were more lay ministers than there were congregants. Ridiculous. I've been to Masses where the priest sat down and left the distribution of Communion to the lay folk. Is this what Vatican II envisaged?

However, it has to be said that the use of EMsHC is tied to the way in which Communion is now distributed and the new Church architecture. Before churches were vandalized.........excuse me.........renovated, in the name of modernity, most had altar rails and the faithful knelt at the altar rails. The priest passed along the line of kneeling communicants with the altar boy holding the patten and distributed Communion quickly and efficiently. Now the altar rails are gone and so we must queue up single file like we're queuing to get into the ball game. Multiple lines, requires multiple ministers.

Enter EMsHC. Simple.

Don't tell me Satan aint smart.