Extraordinary Ministers and Both Species of Communion

And More on Paraliturgies

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ROME, DEC. 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I understand that the use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion is to be just that, «extraordinary.» I also understand that the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament under both species to all the faithful has been allowed by the U.S. bishops’ conference, given its fuller sign value. Thus my question is this: Which trumps which? It is almost unheard of for a parish to distribute Communion under both species without recourse to extraordinary ministers. Is it preferable to avoid using extraordinary ministers and distribute under one species only? Or is it preferable to distribute under both species and have recourse to extraordinary ministers on an ordinary basis? — V.D., New York

A: I would say that the word «extraordinary» has several shades of meaning and this probably leads to some confusion.

From the liturgical point of view, an extraordinary minister is one who performs a liturgical act in virtue of a special delegation and not as an ordinary minister. Thus, in the case of Holy Communion, the ordinary ministers are the bishop, priest and deacon. That is, it is a normal part of their ministry to distribute Communion.

Anyone else who distributes Communion does so as an extraordinary minister. That is, it is not a normal part of their liturgical functions, but they have received this mission in virtue of a delegation. The instituted acolyte receives this delegation ex officio, so to speak, in virtue of his institution. He may also purify the sacred vessels in the absence of the deacon as well as expose and reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a simple manner for a period of adoration.

All other ministers act in virtue of a habitual delegation from the local bishop, usually acting through the pastor, or an immediate ad hoc delegation from the priest celebrant to respond to difficult circumstances.

Therefore, the status of extraordinary minister is not dependent on the ministry’s frequency but rather pertains to the nature of the ministry itself. Even if one were to assist in administrating Communion every day for several years, one never becomes an ordinary minister in the canonical or liturgical sense.

Another case of the concept of extraordinary minister is the role of a priest with respect to the sacrament of confirmation in the Latin rite. Canon law Nos. 882-888 state that the bishop is the ordinary minister of confirmation, but the law foresees the possibility of priests administering this sacrament under certain conditions.

For most other sacraments, especially penance, Eucharist, holy orders and anointing of the sick, there is no possibility of extraordinary ministers.

However, the current use of the word extraordinary is not unknown in liturgical norms. For example, the 2004 instruction «Redemptionis Sacramentum» says: «It is the Priest celebrant’s responsibility to minister Communion, perhaps assisted by other Priests or Deacons; and he should not resume the Mass until after the Communion of the faithful is concluded. Only when there is a necessity may extraordinary ministers assist the Priest celebrant in accordance with the norm of law» (No. 88).

This same document refers to the practice of Communion under both species:

«[100.] So that the fullness of the sign may be made more clearly evident to the faithful in the course of the Eucharistic banquet, lay members of Christ’s faithful, too, are admitted to Communion under both kinds, in the cases set forth in the liturgical books, preceded and continually accompanied by proper catechesis regarding the dogmatic principles on this matter laid down by the Ecumenical Council of Trent.

«[101.] In order for Holy Communion under both kinds to be administered to the lay members of Christ’s faithful, due consideration should be given to the circumstances, as judged first of all by the diocesan Bishop. It is to be completely excluded where even a small danger exists of the sacred species being profaned ….»

Thus, while Communion under both species is praised there might be circumstances where prudence recommends forgoing it because of the practical difficulties entailed. Hence «Redemptionis Sacramentum» continues in No. 102:

«The chalice should not be ministered to lay members of Christ’s faithful where there is such a large number of communicants that it is difficult to gauge the amount of wine for the Eucharist and there is a danger that ‘more than a reasonable quantity of the Blood of Christ remain to be consumed at the end of the celebration.’ The same is true wherever access to the chalice would be difficult to arrange, or where such a large amount of wine would be required that its certain provenance and quality could only be known with difficulty, or wherever there is not an adequate number of sacred ministers or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion with proper formation, or where a notable part of the people continues to prefer not to approach the chalice for various reasons, so that the sign of unity would in some sense be negated.»

From this text we can adduce that, in principle at least, Church norms recognize the possibility of using well-formed extraordinary ministers to assist in distributing Communion under both species. Therefore, rather than one norm trumping the other, it is a question of evaluating all the pertinent circumstances before deciding what to do. The mere fact of having to use extraordinary ministers does not appear to be a sufficient reason not to proceed with Communion under both species, provided that the ministers are duly qualified.

While Communion under both species is graced with indubitable spiritual advantages, it is not an absolute value and, as the norms suggest, it should be omitted if there is any danger of profanation or due to serious practical difficulties.

Nobody is deprived of any grace by not receiving from the chalice, as Christ is received whole and entire under either species.

* * *

Follow-up: On Paraliturgies

In our column on the theology and status of paraliturgies (Dec. 2), we mentioned that we did not know of their figuring in any official documents.

An attentive reader has managed to find four mentions of paraliturgy in official documents published since 1975. The word was found in two papal documents: Paul VI’s exhortation on the missions «Evangelii Nuntiandi,» and John Paul II’s exhortation on penance «Reconciliatio et Paenitentia.» It also appeared in a document on migration from the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers and in the 1994 «Instrumentum laboris» of the special synod of bishops for Africa.

None of these documents can be classified as liturgical legislation, and the mention of paraliturgy merely acknowledged the existence of this category of celebration without attempting any definition.

From the response of some readers, it appears that there is widespread confusion between the two categories of liturgy and paraliturgy. It appears that for many, the concept of liturgy is reduced to the celebration of Mass, the other sacraments, and, for some, the Liturgy of the Hours, while all other rites are classed as paraliturgies.

This is not correct. In short, practically every celebration for which the Church has provided, or even outlined, an official rite can and should be legitimately classified as liturgical. This includes solemn ceremonies such as the Good Friday celebration of the Passion, practically all the blessings contained in the Book of Blessings, and most instances of community celebration of the Word.

It would also include all forms of official rites for the distribution of Communion outside of Mass, though the distribution of Communion in this manner to a parish community must be duly authorized by the local bishop (see instruction «Redemption
is Sacramentum,» Nos. 165-166).

The denomination of a celebration as liturgy does not always require the physical presence of an ordained minister — but, yes, it does require his virtual presence — as an assembly can act in a truly liturgical manner only if in hierarchical communion.

Thus a Sacramento, California, reader asked: «In the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, Nos. 85-89 gives a ‘Model for a Celebration of the Word of God.’ If an RCIA team composed entirely of laity perform one of these celebrations, choosing the readings ‘for their relevance to the formation of the catechumens’ (RCIA, No. 87), does this constitute a liturgy or a paraliturgy?»

Here a distinction must be observed due to the special condition of the Christian Initiation process.

From what we have said above, this rite would be objectively a liturgical act insofar as it is based on a model proposed by the Church.

From the subjective point of view, it would be liturgical only for those already baptized as only the baptized may act liturgically as members of Christ’s Mystical Body participating in his priesthood.

Although the candidates for baptism participating in this celebration cannot act liturgically, and consequently they do not receive a bolstering of sanctifying grace (one of baptism’s effects), it is an occasion of increase in actual graces that solidifies and deepens their intention of receiving the sacrament.

The celebration would not be paraliturgical because the fruitful celebration of a paraliturgy also requires the gift of baptism.

* * *

Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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