Let's review where
we've arrived in the liturgy: The Communion antiphon or hymn has begun.
The priest has turned from the altar to distribute holy Communion. After
those designated to distribute holy Communion have received, the celebrant,
possibly with the assistance of the deacon, hands each of them a vessel
from the altar.
Note that the
ordained hands the laity the vessels from the altar. It's
a small gesture. We may not think twice about it.
But, as in every
other liturgical action, this handing-over has significance. The priest
and deacon, ordained to service at the altar, are the ordinary
ministers of holy Communion. Ordinary does not mean "commonplace"
here. Rather, the priest and deacon are the usual persons, by virtue
of their ordination, to distribute holy Communion.
On the other hand,
an extraordinary minister of holy Communion is a member of the
laity, man or woman, whom the local bishop mandates to extend the ministry
of the ordained in the particular task of distributing holy Communion.
Any kind of service
at or near the altar of God is a sacred matter. This is why pastors
must attest to the integrity of those parishioners who assist them as
extraordinary ministers, and a ceremony must commission them before
they begin their service. In our archdiocese, extraordinary ministers
may function for up to three years in one parish before being remandated.
In fact, Advent 2003 will conclude our current mandation cycle.
should never be taken lightly. Extraordinary ministers of holy Communion
commit themselves to distribute reverently the body and blood of our
Lord either in a parish setting or to bring Him to those who cannot
join the parish community. They also agree to protect the Blessed Sacrament
while they are assisting the priest. They see to it that the body and
blood of Christ are consumed properly and not profaned. If an accidental
dropping or spillage of the precious body or blood occurs, they are
responsible to cleanse the area and properly care for the elements.
If the priest or deacon is not able to purify the vessels for good reasons,
they are permitted to do so. Thus, this is a role only for the fully
initiated, mature Catholic.
Service as an
extraordinary minister is not meant to be a long-term commitment, but
one that is deliberately chosen at every mandation period. It is a privilege
for any of us, ordinary or extraordinary ministers, to be the one to
nourish another with the bread of life.
Sometimes a friend
will say that, "I'll never receive Communion from an extraordinary
minister, only from the priest!" But this approach obviously violates
the spirit of collaboration I've outlined here. All the faithful should
realize that extraordinary ministers are a recognized ministry within
the Church, called upon when not enough ordinary ministers are available.
When you see the handing over of a vessel to an extraordinary minister,
the priest is acknowledging and reminding everyone in the congregation
of the extraordinary minister's commission into the sacred action he
or she is about to perform.
Of course, because
of their frequent presence at Mass, we should take care not to confuse
extraordinary ministers of holy Communion with ordinary ministers. They
should always be ready to step back when, for example, unexpected concelebrating
priests or ministering deacons are present.
As those distributing
holy Communion come forward, the Communion procession forms. We've seen
before how singing is a unifying force within the assembly. The faithful
now come forward as a body to receive the body of Christ.