Matters Liturgical: September 2006 Archives


A recent experience finally pushed me over the edge. Has anyone really read, pencil in hand, Redemptionis Sacramentum, the 2004 Instruction of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments? The wanton proliferation of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in circumstances that do not meet the criteria established by the Holy See is a pastoral problem with grave theological implications. Liturgical practice has a direct bearing on one's understanding of the faith.

A few observations based on the text of the Instruction:

[154.] As has already been recalled, "the only minister who can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi is a validly ordained Priest". Hence the name "minister of the Eucharist" belongs properly to the Priest alone. Moreover, also by reason of their sacred Ordination, the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are the Bishop, the Priest and the Deacon, to whom it belongs therefore to administer Holy Communion to the lay members of Christ's faithful during the celebration of Mass.

[156.] This function is to be understood strictly according to the name by which it is known, that is to say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not "special minister of Holy Communion" nor "extraordinary minister of the Eucharist" nor "special minister of the Eucharist", by which names the meaning of this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened.

Words are important. A slack vocabulary leads to a slack theology. I still hear the term "Eucharistic Minister" used by clergy and laity as in, "Nellie is a Eucharistic Minister", or even worse, in the sacristy before Mass, "Good Morning, Father. I am Nellie, your Eucharistic Minister."

The use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion is not a means of fostering fuller participation in the Sacred Liturgy. It is not a way of honoring the generous and faithful parishioner. It is not a way of making Mr. X. or Mrs Y. feel needed and useful. The Sacred Liturgy is hierarchically, not sentimentally, ordered.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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