Liturgy Series Part 15

Reviewing roles
of ordinary, extraordinary ministers

January 29, 2003
Denver Catholic Register


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.

This ministry 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.