Extraordinary Ministers "Extraordinary ministers" are to be employed only in extraordinary circumstances
For close to two thousand years a multitude of Church apologists believed that only those fortunate few who were ordained had the right to touch the Body of Christ. Roughly eleven centuries ago the practice of communion-in-the-hand was forbidden, and for a thousand years the Real Presence was received exclusively on the tongue.
In the 1960’s the Catholic Church in Belgium and Holland accepted the Protestant idea that anyone could touch communion. These early adopters of communion-in-the-hand failed to realize that Protestants had nothing to lose: only those ordained in the Catholic Church are capable of turning bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Savior – transubstantiation.
Protestants don’t believe in the Real Presence and have nothing to lose by touching “communion.” It is merely bread and wine. On the other hand, Catholics have everything to lose by treating the Real Presence carelessly or irreverently. Roman Catholicism is the cradle of the Holy Eucharist, a gift from Jesus Christ Himself at the Last Supper – an incalculable treasure available to all those who believe in and adore the Real Presence, which is God Himself.
From Belgium and Holland the practice of laypeople receiving communion-in-the-hand soon spread to other countries. Desiring not to correct a bishop of the Church, Pope Paul VI concurred and – in 1969 – issued Memoriale Domini, allowing communion-in-the-hand under specific circumstances.
By 1977 the practice of communion-in-the-hand in the U.S. was successfully sponsored by then-Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. By then Rome had introduced and allowed “extraordinary ministers,” laypeople who could distribute Holy Communion under “extraordinary” limited circumstances. The document authorizing the introduction of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist is an Instruction of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, issued on January 29, 1973, entitled Immensae caritatis. It authorizes the use of extraordinary ministers in “case of genuine necessity.”
What are those circumstances of genuine necessity? They are listed as whenever…
- there is no priest, deacon, or acolyte;
- these are prevented from administering Holy Communion because of another pastoral ministry or because of ill health or advanced age;
- the number of the faithful requesting Holy Communion is such that the celebration of Mass or the distribution of the Eucharist outside Mass would be unduly prolonged.
The Instruction stipulates that:
Since these faculties are granted only for the spiritual good of the faithful and for cases of genuine necessity priests are to remember that they are not thereby excused from the task of distributing the Eucharist to the faithful who legitimately request it, and especially from taking and giving it to the sick.
The problem is the wording in Immensae caritatis – “unduly prolonged,” which could be 5 minutes or 55 minutes, and is completely arbitrary. Latching onto this excuse, some clergy flooded churches worldwide with volunteer extraordinary ministers. To shield the error, “extraordinary minister” was eventually dropped in favor of the more acceptable term “eucharistic minister.”
Yet even this euphemism cannot hide the simple fact that the practice is reserved for “extraordinary circumstances,” and not for everyday usage. Thus the abuse of communion-in-the-hand was mirrored by laypeople who – in the vast majority of cases – should never be allowed to touch the Real Presence for the simple reason that circumstances seldom demand it.