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Liturgical Questions Answered #1
What is the difference between an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and a Eucharistic Minister?
First and foremost, a distinction must be made between Holy Communion and the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Holy Communion is the act of receiving the Eucharist at Mass.
With certain sacraments, there are extraordinary and ordinary ministers of the sacrament. For Baptism, a deacon, priest, or bishop is the ordinary minister, while a layperson (or even an unbaptized person) can baptize in extraordinary circumstances, like a proximate danger to death. However, with the Eucharist, there are only ordinary ministers: priests and bishops. Redemptionis Sacramentum makes this clear: “As has already been recalled, the only minister who can connect the sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi is a validly ordained priest. Hence the name ‘minister of the Eucharist’ belongs properly to the priest.” (RS, 154) Therefore, it is incorrect to say that a deacon or a layman is a Eucharistic minister.
While there are no extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, there are both ordinary and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. The ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are bishops, priests, and deacons. Once again, Redemptionis Sacramentum states: “Moreover, also by reason of their sacred Ordination, the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are the Bishop, the Priest and the Deacon, to whom it belongs, therefore, to administer Holy Communion to the lay members of Christ’s faithful during the celebration of Mass.” (RS, 154)
Continuing, Redemptionis Sacramentum also states that the diocesan bishop may appoint lay faithful to become extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. If, however, there are a sufficient number of “sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed.” (RS, 157)
This rule is often abused in the United States. Many appoint extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to “save time” during Mass. The great liturgist, Bishop Elliott said that “Haste is the perennial enemy of the liturgy.” Redemptionis Sacramentum does say that if Mass were to be “unduly prolonged,” or for some other good reason, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may be appointed. It is quick to say, however, that “This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason.” (RS, 158)
The liturgy is about God, not us. Therefore, we should take our time when receiving our Lord and not race through it, like it were some chore, by abusing the use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.
This is the first in a series of essays on answering liturgical questions. If you have a question about the liturgy, please feel free to put it in the comments section and I will try to answer it to the best of my abilities.