Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: The deacon is the minister of the cup at Mass. When there are extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion serving at a Mass where both species are offered, does the deacon still minister the cup while the EM’s serve the Host? Or does the deacon minister the Host and the EM’s minister the cup? Or does it really matter who serves which species? — J.S., Mastic Beach, New York
A: The relevant norms are found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM):
“161. If Communion is given only under the species of bread, the priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying, Corpus Christi (The Body of Christ). The communicant replies, Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed and if the communicant so chooses, in the hand. As soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes it entirely.
“If, however, Communion is given under both kinds, the rite prescribed in nos. 284-287 is followed.
“180. At the concluding doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Deacon stands next to the Priest and holds the chalice elevated while the Priest elevates the paten with the host until the people have acclaimed, Amen.
“182. After the Priest’s Communion, the Deacon receives Communion under both kinds from the Priest himself and then assists the Priest in distributing Communion to the people. If Communion is given under both kinds, the Deacon himself administers the chalice to the communicants; and, when the distribution is over, standing at the altar, he immediately and reverently consumes all of the Blood of Christ that remains, assisted, if the case requires, by other Deacons and Priests.
“286. If Communion of the Blood of Christ is carried out by c0ommunicants’ drinking from the chalice, each communicant, after receiving the Body of Christ, moves, and stands facing the minister of the chalice. The minister says, Sanguis Christi (The Blood of Christ), the communicant responds, Amen, and the minister hands over the chalice, which the communicant raises to his or her mouth. Each communicant drinks a little from the chalice, hands it back to the minister, and then withdraws; the minister wipes the rim of the chalice with the purificator.
“287. If Communion from the chalice is carried out by intinction, each communicant, holding a communion-plate under the chin, approaches the priest, who holds a vessel with the sacred particles, a minister standing at his side and holding the chalice. The priest takes a host, dips it partly into the chalice and, showing it, says, Corpus et Sanguis Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ). The communicant responds, Amen, receives the Sacrament in the mouth from the priest, and then withdraws.”
To these may be added the specific “Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America.”
“39. All receive Holy Communion in the manner described by the General Instruction to the Roman Missal, whether Priest concelebrants (cf. GIRM, nos. 159, 242, 243, 246), Deacons (cf. GIRM, nos. 182, 244, 246), or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (cf. GIRM, no. 284). Neither Deacons nor lay ministers may ever receive Holy Communion in the manner of a concelebrating Priest. The practice of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion waiting to receive Holy Communion until after the distribution of Holy Communion is not in accord with liturgical law.
“40. After all eucharistic ministers have received Communion, the bishop or Priest celebrant reverently hands vessels containing the Body or the Blood of the Lord to the Deacons or extraordinary ministers who will assist with the distribution of Holy Communion. The Deacon may assist the Priest in handing the vessels containing the Body and Blood of the Lord to the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.”
These norms reflect the deacon’s traditional role as minister of the chalice, even though this role was effectively eliminated for many centuries during which distribution of Communion under both species was practically nonexistent.
We must also take into account that, while documents such as the GIRM are truly liturgical law, they are often more descriptive than prescriptive.
This means that they regulate how a celebration should be carried out in normal circumstances, but they do not attempt to foresee and determine all the possible variations in every instance.
Thus, in the case above, the law describes the normal role of the deacon but does not contemplate the need for extraordinary ministers. This has a certain logic since if the norms legislate what is to be done in each case when extraordinary ministers are present, these, in a way, cease being so extraordinary.
As the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum reminds us:
“[156.] This function is to be understood strictly according to the name by which it is known, that is to say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not ‘special minister of Holy Communion’ nor ‘extraordinary minister of the Eucharist’ nor ‘special minister of the Eucharist,’ by which names the meaning of this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened.”
The language of the GIRM, therefore, although it recalls the special relationship of the deacon with the ministry of the chalice, does not restrict him to this ministry. As circumstances require it, the deacon, as an ordinary minister of Holy Communion, can distribute either species.
There are some circumstances when the deacon should be the proper minister of the chalice, such as when a bishop administers Communion under both species by intinction. This is because it is part of the deacon’s ministry to accompany and assist the bishop.
* * *
Readers may send questions to email@example.com. 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.