Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Extraordinary ministers should not be ordinary

Recently, bishops showed a great zeal and meticulousness for regulations regarding the coronavirus. This ranged from closing down churches altogether to detailed protocols during the reopening phase. The goal is to benefit the physical health of the faithful. Likewise, such zeal to detail should be given to those norms that protect the spiritual lives of the faithful. After all, the spiritual life is the more valuable of the two. As scripture says, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28)

Woman Receiving the Eucharist by FĂ©lix-Joseph Barrias (ca 1840-65)

Meticulous attention is worth giving to spiritual norms. One such norm that is often not followed pertains to extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. It is not uncommon to see lay extraordinary ministers even in small congregations, or even when there is a priest and deacon present. This is contrary to the regulation.

Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) especially addresses proper use of extraordinary ministers. The document is subtitled On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist.  Here are three key paragraphs (emphasis mine):
#151 Only out of true necessity is there to be recourse to the assistance of extraordinary ministers in the celebration of the Liturgy. Such recourse is not intended for the sake of a fuller participation of the laity but rather, by its very nature, is supplementary and provisional.
We see here that recourse to extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist is not a "participation" mechanism for the laity. It is something to be availed only out of "true necessity." Many churches are not reflecting this.
#154 [B]y reason of their sacred Ordination, the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are the Bishop, the Priest and the Deacon, to whom it belongs therefore to administer Holy Communion to the lay members of Christ’s faithful during the celebration of Mass. In this way their ministerial office in the Church is fully and accurately brought to light, and the sign value of the Sacrament is made complete.
Recourse to extraordinary ministers is a concession that does not communicate the completeness of the sign that accompanies distribution of the Sacred Body and Blood by a bishop, priest, or deacon.
#157 If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it. The practice of those Priests is reprobated who, even though present at the celebration, abstain from distributing Communion and hand this function over to laypersons.
Many parishes by default avail extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist even for modest Sunday congregations or even for daily masses where there are a few dozen attendees, if that. Such unnecessary normalization of extraordinary ministers seems exactly the type of impropriety that Redemptionis Sacramentum warns against.
#158 Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason.
Even a priest by himself can get through a several dozen communicants in just a few minutes, particularly if a communion rail is availed. But what is, say, an extra five to ten minutes when such time can also be used for post-Communion prayer.  If one were to argue that the Liturgy is unduly prolonged, the very last part of the Liturgy that should be accelerated is the Eucharist. Christ's Body and Blood are the very "source and summit" of the one, true faith (CCC#1324). It would be easy to compensate, if necessary, to abstain, for example, from multiple verses of song that prolong the mass. Forgoing song altogether in favor of a cantor's Latin chant during processions would likewise award additional time that could be granted to the Holy Eucharist. A concise homily can also help. So could reciting, instead of singing, the Gloria. There are many other ways, if truly necessary, than trying to speed up Holy Communion.

If modern polls are accurate, upwards of two-thirds of Catholics don't even believe in the Real Presence. This is a tragedy. There is little excuse to avoid solutions that would better communicate the reality of the Real Presence. As Redemptionis Sacramentum (154) stated, the true value of the Eucharist is signally announced when distributed by an ordained minister. Limiting distribution of the Eucharist to bishops, priests, and deacons as much as possible is one simple remedy already prescribed by the Church.