Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion
Brief Theology and History of Eucharist
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption and sanctification” (CCC 1360).
Catholics actively participate in the Eucharist as the source and summit of their Christian life. This active participation manifests itself by :
• Gathering with a community of believers each Sunday and holy day,
• Praying together at Mass in word, gesture and song,
• Listening together to God’s word,
• Giving thanks and praise to God together for the gifts of creation, and in a special way, for the gift of Jesus Christ – his life, death and resurrection, and
• Sharing in and becoming the Body of Christ through reception of Holy Eucharist at
Catholics believe that through active participation in the Mass and in a special way, through the reception of Holy Communion at Mass, they are filled with the real presence of Christ, and are therefore sent to be Christ’s presence in the world until he comes again in glory. St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, put it this way in the 5th century:
What you see...is bread and a cup. This is what your eyes report to you. But your faith has need to be taught that the bread is the body of Christ, the cup the blood of Christ...If then, you wish to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle as he says to the faithful, “You are the body of Christ and His members”...You reply “Amen” to that which you are, and by replying you consent... Be a member of the body of Christ so that your “Amen” may be true... Be what you see, and receive what you are”.
Centuries later St. Thomas Aquinas gave us an explanation of how this mystery happens. He called it transubstantiation. By that he meant that the “accidents” (the visible reality) of bread and wine remain, but the “substance” is changed into Christ’s Body and Blood. This has also come to be understood as what Catholics mean by the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist.
The Church has always celebrated and revered the Eucharist. In its early history the members of the Christian community did what Jesus told them to do - they took and ate and drank knowing in faith that this was indeed a sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ. The sacred bread was taken in hand and the Sacred Cup was shared by all.
As time went on and the Church no longer consisted of members who had actually seen and known the Lord, and for many cultural and historical reasons, Eucharistic practices slowly began to change. By the 9th century the language of the Mass was no longer that of the people, as it was in the early Church. The altar table was moved from the midst of the people to the back wall of the church. The presider no longer faced the people as he led them in prayer. The Eucharist became so removed from the people that the Christian community came to see themselves as unworthy of this precious gift, even though they were baptized and redeemed by the Lord. Few people received Holy Communion, and only then on the tongue. By the 13th century the cup was no longer shared with the people. As a result of these and other practices, the people’s main contact with the Eucharist was through the elevation of the Eucharistic species which was actually added to the Mass. For the people this elevation was their opportunity to “receive” for “seeing” became “receiving.” Jesus’ command to his followers to “take and eat, and take and drink” seemed to no longer apply to all believers.
In modern times, the event which began to change this approach to the Eucharist was the election of Pope Pius X in 1903. Pope Pius X knew the great importance of the command of Jesus that believers “take and eat” that he changed the practice of the Church. No longer did a person have to wait until the age of 14 or 15 to be eligible to share in Holy Communion. Children who reached the age of reason, usually about 7 years old, were now welcomed to the altar table of the Lord. By bringing the children to the altar table, Pope Pius X also brought with them their parents and grandparents. Through this action participation in Holy Communion began to be returned to all believers.
Pope John XXIII convened Vatican Council II in 1962. The Council’s first document was The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. This fundamental teaching of the Church opened even further the understanding of the Eucharist and many of the practices regarding it.
On May 29, 1969, in the document Memoriale Domini the Church gave permission for the faithful to return to the ancient ritual practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand and the practice went into effect in the United States on November 20, 1977. Lay people could now receive Holy Communion reverently, either on their tongue or in their hand. About this practice, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem wrote in the 4th century: “Make your left hand a throne for your right, because your right is going to receive the King; make a hollow of your palm and receive the body of Christ, saying after it: ‘Amen!’ ... Then, after you have partaken of the body of Christ, come forward to the chalice of His blood...”.
On January 29, 1973, the instruction Immensae caritatis was issued by Pope Paul VI. With this instruction, the diocesan bishop was given permission to designate lay men and women to distribute the Eucharist as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. It stated that “...this faculty may be used whenever there is no priest, deacon or instituted acolyte present, or when the ordinary minister is prevented from administering Communion because of other pastoral obligations, ill health, or advanced age, or when the number of the faithful is so great that, unless Extraordinary Ministers assist in the distribution, the celebration would be unduly prolonged.” It should also be noted that when Communion under Both Kinds is offered, the deacon, if present at Mass, is the ordinary minister of the Sacred Cup.
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion
Description, Selection Criteria, Formation and Training
Extraordinary Ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion are properly formed, instructed and commissioned lay persons. EMHCs may be male or female. They should reflect the cultural diversity of their parish community. These ministers are appointed for a given parish community to aid in the distribution of Holy Communion at Mass and to the sick and home bound when ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are unavailable. EMHCs are not to function apart from their parish community. Ordinarily, EMHCs do not perform any other liturgical ministry at the Mass at which they serve as an EMHC.
As the Church teaches, the bishop is the chief liturgist of his diocese. For this reason, the Archbishop of Santa Fe regulates this ministry and all other liturgical ministries in collaboration with the pastors of the parishes of the Archdiocese.
In order for a person to be appointed as an EMHC, the following conditions must be met:
Formation and Training
Prior to beginning their ministry, EMHCs should be formed and trained in the following:
• Theology of the Eucharist and understanding of the Mass
• Theology and spirituality of ministry
• Universal church, archdiocesan and parish guidelines and procedures for their ministry
EMHCs should participate in ongoing theological and ministerial formation at the parish and/or Archdiocesan level.
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion
Commissioning, Length of Service, Reverence and Attire
After preparation for this ministry is completed, a formal commissioning of EMHCs takes place, normally at a Sunday Eucharist, by the pastor or his delegate. EMHCs are to exercise their ministry only in their own parish or institution.
Length of Service
Since ministry is a call both from God and the community in which it is exercised, it is appropriate that the choice of ministry and renewal of the term of service be mutually agreed upon by the individual and the parish. EMHCs generally will serve for a period of at least two (2) years, after which time an evaluation should occur. This evaluation may lead to a determination that the minister
• be re-commissioned as an EMHC for another term,
• is being called to another ministry,
• leave ministry all together at this time.
The Parish, through the Commission keeps accurate records of each EMHC’s training, ongoing formation and their term(s) of service.
Reverence and Attire
EMHCs show utmost reverence for the Eucharist. This reverence is reflected in their demeanor at Mass, their full, active and conscious participation in the liturgy, their attire, and the manner in which they handle the Eucharist.
A neat and reverential appearance is in keeping with the minister’s role and belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The minister’s attire should be appropriate and should not detract from that role. EMHCs should refrain from using strong cologne, perfume or aftershave because some recipients of Holy Communion have sensitivities to these scents and because these fragrances often remain on one’s hands and can be transferred to the Eucharist.