Sharing and Being Communion

After a recent column about the appropriate age and skills required for Ministers of the Word, I received a request to write something along the same lines concerning ‘Ministers of the Eucharist’.
I could be blunt and say that Ministers of the Eucharist must be male, celibate, and ordained! The person who presides over the entire four-fold action of the Eucharist (take, bless, break, share) – the priest celebrant - is the only true ‘Minister of the Eucharist’.
Those who assist with the distribution of communion are officially designated as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion because their ministry is related only to the final action of the Eucharist, the sharing of the consecrated elements with the faithful.
Using the correct terminology matters because it is vital that people understand the difference between communion and Eucharist. If sharing communion was the same as celebrating Eucharist, we could be satisfied with ‘communion services’ and not worry about the shortage of priests for Mass.
So that explains the ‘Holy Communion’ part of their title, but why are these ministers labelled ‘extraordinary’ when other liturgical ministers aren’t?
The ordinary ministers of communion are bishops, priests and deacons. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion only carry out their role if there are insufficient ordinary ministers present.
Usually there is only one priest at Mass and special ministers are needed so that the time taken for communion is not disproportionately long and sharing communion is a genuine experience of the assembly eating and drinking together.
As with readers, it is difficult to make a definitive ruling about a minimum age for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Suitability for the role is not so much a matter of age as it is of faith, maturity and commitment.
Communion ministers are people who have a caring approach inside and outside the liturgy; who are comfortable making contact with others using their 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”.
Ministers of Holy Communion should be as willing to serve Christ in the poor as they are to serve at the table of the Eucharist. In the same way that people who live by God’s word make authentic Ministers of the Word, those who ‘practise’ communion in their lives during the week bring integrity to their role as Ministers of Communion at Sunday Mass.
As with all liturgical ministries, formation and on-going training are vital. Prior to their designation, Communion Ministers are required to undertake preparation consisting of liturgical and spiritual formation as well as practical training. They are then commissioned in a public rite celebrated in the community where they will function.
Finally, reiterating what was said in the earlier article, the age, dress, manner and so on of a Communion Ministers is only an issue if that age, dress, manner, etc draws attention to the individual and away from the ministry being performed.


Elizabeth Harrington