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Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion
It has been pointed out to me that I did not include Communion Ministers in my recent series of articles on various liturgical ministries. This column rectifies that omission!
The role of special ministers is to serve the assembly by distributing the elements during the Communion Rite, so they are called “Ministers of Communion” not “Eucharistic Ministers”. The latter term should be used only to refer to the ordained minister, the one who presides at the Eucharist. Ministers of Communion are described as extra-ordinary or special because the ordinary ministers of communion are bishops, priests and deacons, that is, those who have been admitted to holy orders.
At most celebrations of Mass there is only one priest and no deacon. Now that the majority of people receive communion every time they come to Mass and communion is usually under both kinds, special ministers are needed so that the time taken for communion is not disproportionately long in comparison with other elements of the liturgy
The bishop, as chief pastor of the diocese, is responsible for approving people as ministers of communion. These ministers are carefully selected by the parish priest. Prior to their designation to the ministry they are required to undertake preparation consisting of liturgical and spiritual formation as well as practical training. They are then commissioned by a public rite of designation celebrated in the community where they will function.
Communion ministers need to be those who respect all people and have a caring approach inside and outside the liturgy; who are comfortable making contact with people with eyes, words and hands; who are willing to forget themselves in order to serve others.
Communion ministers need to develop the art of dignified movement and be able to hold the plate and cup and share the consecrated bread and wine with reverence. Above all, they need the capacity to be truly present to the other in that special moment of communion together as members of “The Body of Christ”.
While accidents seldom occur, Communion Ministers need to know how to handle unusual situations that occasionally arise, for example:
· A host is dropped - the minister calmly picks up the host, places it on the altar or holds it with a thumb on the side of the paten, and gives a new host to the communicant. The minister or celebrant quietly and reverently consumes the dropped host after communion is completed.
· Some of the precious Blood is spilled – the minister places a purifier over the precious Blood, moves away from the area, takes a new purifier and continues distributing the consecrated wine. The spill can be dealt with after Mass.
· A communicant dips the host in the precious Blood –there is nothing that a minister can or should do at the time. If many people are doing this, then parish education about the practice of intinction might be called for.
In all these situations, the basic principles of hospitality and common sense apply. We would never make a guest in our home feel uncomfortable if a spill or other accident happened; likewise for Extraordinary Ministers of Communion who are hosts at the table of the Eucharist.