Practical Issues for Extra Ordinary Ministers of Communion


Those lay people who help with the distribution of Holy Communion during Mass and to the housebound are call Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. They are extra-ordinary because the ordinary ministers of communion are bishops, priests and deacons, that is, those who have been admitted to holy orders. Special ministers are used only when there are insufficient ordinary ministers present to ensure that sharing communion is a genuine experience of eating and drinking together.
Also, when the ordinary ministers are unable to take communion frequently to the sick and aged, special ministers are needed ‘so that the faithful may not be deprived of this sacramental help and consolation’.
The role of special ministers is to serve the assembly by distributing the elements during the Communion Rite, so they are Special 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.

I have had several requests to write about what Ministers of Communion should do when accidents happen or unusual situations arise in the course of performing their ministry. I have been reluctant to do so, firstly because I sure that such instruction is included in training for the ministry, and secondly because focussing on mishaps and awkward situations might suggest, quite wrongly, that they arise frequently.

Here are my suggestions for coping with some of the situations that have been mentioned to me:

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 purificator over the precious Blood, moves away from the area, takes a new purificator and continues distributing the consecrated wine. The spill can be dealt with after Mass.
You run out of consecrated hosts or wine – if most in your line have already received, gesture to those remaining to move to another minister. If many people are still to be served, indicate to them to wait while you get more of the sacred elements from another minister.
Somebody drinks the whole chalice of precious Blood – fortunately this is extremely rare, but it has been known to happen. There is nothing you can do about it except to get more consecrated wine if possible. It might be necessary for the celebrant to speak to the offender after Mass, particularly if the incident reoccurs.
A communicant dips the host in the precious Blood – again, 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. Extraordinary ministers of Communion, as hosts at the table of the Eucharist, do likewise.

Elizabeth Harrington