More Liturgical Q & A - 20th July 2014

Q. Recently I read an article in a the Catholic Leader dated November 2006 which stated that “At the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion will no longer be permitted to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels at Masses in the United States”.

I know that statement was made some time ago but I would welcome your thoughts and comments on what is being done in the parishes of the Brisbane Archdiocese today about this matter.

In my parish at present, the sacred vessels are cleansed after Mass in the Sacristy. Father has indicated that he would like the ministers of Holy Communion to purify the vessels at the credence table but so far the ministers have not received the necessary instruction.

A. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says:

When the distribution of Communion is over, the Priest himself immediately and completely consumes at the altar any consecrated wine that happens to remain; as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist.

Upon returning to the altar, the Priest collects the fragments and purifies the paten or ciborium over the chalice, and purifies and dries the chalice. If the vessels are purified at the altar, they are carried to the credence table by a minister. Nevertheless, it is also permitted to leave vessels needing to be purified on a corporal, suitably covered, either on the altar or on the credence table, and to purify them immediately after Mass. (#163)

There is a difference between “purifying” the vessels and “cleaning” them. The latter should be done in the sacristy after Mass, as is your current practice.

The video clips on the Liturgy Brisbane website (under Documents) showing how aspects of the Communion Rite are performed correctly include one on purifying the vessels. The direct link to it is

Q. A question came up at our parish council meeting last night that I thought you may be able to help with. We were wondering if Eucharist Ministers are reviewed every three years.

A. At the risk of sounding pedantic, I will begin my response by pointing out that lay people who assist with the distribution of the elements during the Communion Rite 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.

The document Guidelines for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion for the Archdiocese of Brisbane ( ) says:

“Their designation (as ministers of communion) is valid for a limited time only, the length of which is to be determined by the priest.”

So lay people are commissioned as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion for a limited period. It is for the Parish Priest to decide how long that is, but in most parishes it is two to three years. Having this turnover gives parishes the opportunity to remove people who prove unsuitable, to bring new people into the ministry and to provide pre- and in-service formation for the ministry.


Elizabeth Harrington