Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I serve in a large parish in pastoral care for the sick, to journey with the elderly, sick and terminally ill. In this ministry, we perform a pastoral function including sharing of the word, praying, listening and being present with the sick, and we administer Communion. We were recently informed that for us to continue to administer Communion during our visits, we must serve at distributing Communion during Mass. I understand that, ideally, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should perform the pastoral function during their visits, but taking on both roles can be very taxing and there are few who feel able to sustain this. I refer to the article “Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest,” where it is stated that “A non-ordained member of the faithful, in cases of true necessity, may be deputed by the diocesan bishop, using the appropriate form of blessing for these situations, to act as an extraordinary minister to distribute Holy Communion outside of liturgical celebrations ad actum vel ad tempus or for a more stable period.” Is it correct to understand from this note, that the lay faithful may be deputed to act in the capacity of an extraordinary minister to administer Holy Communion outside of Mass, that is, specifically deputed for distributing Communion outside of Mass only, and not during Mass? — E.T., Singapore
A: Effectively, this number and other norms would allow for an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion to be appointed above all for attention to the sick and some other situations. The expression “outside of liturgical celebrations” is not the best expression, as distribution of Communion is usually within the context of a liturgical celebration albeit not always of a Eucharistic celebration.
Indeed, it is possible to envision some pastoral situations where this is their only function. For example, there could be a parish where the number of people attending Mass makes their use unnecessary, whereas a large number of house-bound and elderly make it very difficult for the priest to reach all.
I do not know the reason why the parish has established this norm, and I am unaware of any rule that would require it. I am sure that the priest has some good pastoral reason, perhaps to show that the extraordinary ministers are fully part of the parish community.
I would not see it as excessively burdensome if the extraordinary ministers are only required to serve at the Sunday Mass that they attend anyway.
I think that with good will on all sides this situation could be resolved so that the generous offering that the extraordinary ministers make of their time can be fully appreciated.
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Follow-up: Prayer at the Purification
A reader from Ontario asked for further clarifications on the prayer that accompanies purification of sacred vessels (see September 26 column). He asked: “If the purification is done after Mass, should it be done by a priest deacon or acolyte, or could it be done by another person, say a sacristan or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion? Also, if the purification is done after Mass, should the prayer still be said then?”
To the first question I would say yes. Purification is reserved to these ministers. In the United States there was a period when a temporary indult (an official derogation from the law) existed that permitted extraordinary ministers to carry out the purification. The Holy See explicitly declined to renew the indult, however, and this faculty is no longer available.
A sacristan, or other worthy person, can, of course, help to wash and clean sacred vessels in other moments so as to assure their general upkeep and beauty.
With respect to the prayer: As we say in the original article on this subject, the text of this prayer is more in line with a general thanksgiving after communion than with the action of the purification itself. Therefore, whenever the purification is deferred until after Mass, as is often done when there are multiple vessels, it would seem that the prescribed prayer could be omitted.
That said, however, it would be recommended that the minister doing the purification after Mass maintain a climate of prayer and attention until the task has been completed with all due diligence and reverence.
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Readers may send questions to [email protected] 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.