Week 15: The Pastor's View - Common Areas of Confusion

Holy Communion
Another area where pastors see confusion today is in those matters that pertain to Holy Communion.  Specifically there is a lack of clarity regarding roles in distribution, purification of vessels and the principle of concomitance. 

Regarding roles in distribution, employing the proper terminology can be clarifying.  The proper titles of those who may distribute Holy Communion are as follows.

Ordinary Minister of the Holy Eucharist:  A validly ordained priest is an Ordinary Minister of the Holy Eucharist.  This includes bishops, as they are the fullness of the Ministerial Priesthood. Notice they are referred to as an ordinary minister of the Eucharistic Species itself.  This is because by virtue of sacred ordination the Most Holy Eucharist flows from their celebration of the sacred rites. For this and other reasons the priest is described as acting in persona Christi Capitis, which means in the person of Christ the Head.  The Holy Father described this function of the priest as one “who acts in persona Christi Capitis and representing the Lord, never acts in the name of someone who is absent but, rather, in the very Person of the Risen Christ, who makes himself present with his truly effective action.  He really acts today and brings about what the priest would be incapable of: the consecration of the wine and the bread so that they may really be the Lord's presence.”  For this reason, in the distribution of Holy Communion the priest is referred as an Ordinary Minister of the Holy Eucharist and an Ordinary Minister of the Holy Communion.

Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion:  A validly ordained deacon is an Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion.  Among other things a deacon is ordained to assist in the distribution of Holy Communion.  According to ancient tradition he does so especially to the sick and homebound.  See Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7.  Notice that the deacon is an Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion and not an Ordinary Minister of the Eucharist.  This means that the deacon is an ordinary minister of an action, but not the Sacred Species itself.  The terms highlight a real distinction between the ordained priest and deacon.  An ordained deacon does not act in persona Christi Capitis.  Rather, in the body of Christ’s Church his ordination is more properly connected to the body than the head.  For this reason it is not possible for a deacon to consecrate the Holy Eucharist or forgive sins, which are proper functions of the Headship of Christ.

Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion:  These are lay faithful who assist Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (priests and deacons) when there are an insufficient number of ministers present. As such they assist as extraordinary ministers of the act of distributing Holy Communion.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states, "the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, i.e., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose. In case of necessity, the priest may also depute suitable faithful for this single occasion (GIRM 162)." 

In the above terminology it is important to note that there is no such thing as a Eucharistic Minister.  Nor is there an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist.  These are common but erroneously used terms that have contributed to confusion.  The proper terms and their meanings do much to clarify who distributes Holy Communion and in what circumstances.


Letters from the Pastor

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