Are Extraordinary Ministers the Norm?

ROME, OCT. 14, 2003 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

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Q: Are extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist for extraordinary circumstances or may they serve at every Mass? — W.B., Dallas, Texas

A: Bishops, priests and deacons are the only ordinary ministers of the Eucharist and, unless impaired by a grave reason such as a serious health problem, they should always give out communion at Mass before any supplementary ministers are used. Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist are just that, extraordinary, and their function remains a supplementary one. If the celebrant can easily distribute Communion to all without causing excessive delay, then extraordinary ministers should not be used.

At times however, factors other than numbers can play a part in justifying seeking help such as a very elderly priest, or, in the cases where it is approved, to administer the Precious Blood, or those daily Masses where people sacrifice their time in order to attend Mass before work and even a couple of minutes delay can make a difference.

Those who serve as eucharistic ministers should always be aware that it is a privilege and can never be considered a right. Even when a parish roster exists, nobody can rightly say “It’s my turn” as if claiming something due to them, but should always be grateful for the blessing of being called to service as a minister of Christ’s body and blood.

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Follow-up: Inappropriately Dressed Lectors

Some readers, mostly from the United States, requested more explicit details as to what constituted “improper dress” (see (Sept. 30).

As ZENIT is an international agency, I think that our readers can appreciate the difficulty, not to say temerity, of dictating norms that are valid from Walla Walla to Wagga Wagga, especially in an area where there are few prescribed norms. Therefore I tried to indicate principles to guide the prudential judgment of priests and other ministers.

The principle of maintaining a certain formality is especially hard to nail down and may even vary with the time of year. Thus, it has to be settled at the local level. One possible rule of thumb could be what most people in the region would wear to meet someone constituted in authority.

Unlike formality, the perception of a lack of modesty crosses cultural barriers more easily. Any style that is likely to distract attention away from the reading and toward the reader, or other minister, should not be permitted. This would include garments which are too short, too low, or too clingy. It would also include other aspects of personal apparel such as jewelery, hairstyles, piercings and, especially for extraordinary eucharistic ministers, the length and decoration of fingernails.

Serving divine worship as a liturgical minister is a privilege and the willingness to sacrifice one’s personal tastes, and at times, one’s personal comfort, in order to serve the Lord with due reverence falls under the heading of submission to God that the ministry requires.

One reader suggested that everybody who carries out a liturgical function should wear an alb. Liturgical law certainly allows for this possibility (see the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 339). For those functions that require only a brief entrance into the sanctuary the most common custom is that the minister wear lay clothing; a pastor, however, may opt for having some or all ministers wear an alb if it enhances the dignity of the celebration. It certainly eliminates most problems of formality and modesty.

One priest asked what I meant in saying that a priest should attend to what he wears “under the alb.” Because readers and other ministers are often the only ones who see the priest before vesting, he will be better positioned to demand that they observe certain norms of modesty and formality, if he does so himself. Moreover, his shoes and trouser hems are readily visible to all. Above all, he should don the prevailing clerical garb of his region and attend to its cleanliness and neatness.

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Follow-up: Consecrating Wine in a Flask, Continued

In my reply to a correspondent last week who suggested that I follow the Holy Father’s example in consecrating flagons of wine at youth gatherings, I observed that if memory served me well the only papal Mass where Communion had been distributed under both species was at St. Louis.

Father Thomas Keller, the archdiocesan master of ceremonies of St Louis, who assisted then Bishop Piero Marini, papal master of liturgical celebrations, in organizing the event, has kindly pointed out to me that the wine was consecrated in chalices and not in flagons and that the entire celebration was conducted according to the instructions received by the Holy See.

Another priest correspondent who assisted at the Mass informed me that in fact Communion was not distributed under both species to the entire congregation. I am very glad to be able to rectify any misunderstanding.

Likewise, in mentioning that some bishops had forbidden the distribution of Communion in the hand during outdoor papal masses, I was not referring to St. Louis, which did not make any such disposition. Communion-in-the-hand was barred, for example, by the cardinal archbishop of Bologna, Italy, when the Holy Father celebrated the concluding Mass of a national Eucharistic Congress in an open field attended by several hundred thousand people.

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Readers may send liturgical questions to Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country.

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