Mass Layoffs

EMHC1

I would like to propose significant Catholic downsizing at every Mass. No, I am not talking about fewer faithful in the pews. As discussed previously here at Liturgy Guy, we already have far too many Catholics missing Sunday Mass. What I am advocating for is Mass layoffs in the Catholic “workforce” known as the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

The Original Intent

In January, 1973, the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments (now called the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) issued the document Immensae Caritatis, which established Special Ministers of the Eucharist to assist with distribution of Holy Communion, particular at masses when other priests or deacons were not available, when either ill-health or old age impeded the celebrant from distributing communion alone, or most notably, whenever the number of faithful wishing to receive communion was so great that the Mass would take too long.

What has of course happened in the ensuing decades since this provision was made is a long history of liturgical excesses and abuses. As is often the case, the exception has now become the norm.

The most obvious abuse that we have all witnessed is the sheer number of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion typically used at any given Mass. A liturgical exception meant to be reserved for special emergency situations has become standard operating procedure in far too many parishes.

To address this ongoing problem, in August 1997 the Vatican issued the instruction On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest. In Section 2 Article 8 the Church once again clarified that the use of these Extraordinary Ministers should only be utilized “where there are particularly large numbers of the faithful and which (the Mass) would be excessively prolonged because of an insufficient number of ordained ministers to distribute Holy Communion.”

In addition, the Church stressed the avoidance and elimination of certain practices which had emerged in certain dioceses and parishes and were creating confusion. One such practice? The habitual use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Mass thus arbitrarily extending the concept of “a great number of the faithful”.

There is a very immediate and traditional way to largely correct this abuse of the current practice; an approach that has already been implemented by many parishes. Stop distributing Holy Communion under both kinds at the Mass.

Communion Under Both Kinds

If more parishes chose to return to the traditional practice of distributing only the consecrated host to the faithful at Mass we would immediately remove the need for half of the Extraordinary Ministers currently assisting at communion.

For nearly a millennium the Latin rite of the Catholic Church did not offer the chalice to the faithful. The Doctrine of Concomitance , the belief of our Lord’s entire presence in either element of the Eucharist (bread or wine), was reaffirmed at the Council of Trent when the Church declared:

If anyone denies that Christ, the fountain and author of all graces, is received whole and entire under the one species of bread…let him be anathema. (Session XXI, Canon III)

If we the faithful receive our Lord entirely (body, blood, soul and divinity) when we receive the consecrated host, then why do we feel it necessary to stand in line for the Extraordinary Minister to give us our Lord entirely (again) in the chalice? The Church further stated at Trent that “those who receive one species only are not deprived of any grace necessary to salvation.” That being the case, why do so many parishes unnecessarily create a need for Extraordinary Ministers by offering Communion under both kinds?

Liturgical Consistency

A common theme I often write about is the need to reestablish consistency between the two forms of the Mass, as well as recovering continuity with our liturgical heritage. The suggestion offered here, I believe, successfully continues taking us down that path.

Many parishes are already incorporating this approach. Since the Traditional Latin Mass does not permit for either the use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, or the offering of the chalice to the faithful at communion, the implementation of this suggested reform would create further visible consistency between the two forms of the Mass.

Posted on August 26, 2013, in liturgy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Love the post and it needed to be said. I went through the EM training and that only served to exemplify the issue you have illustrated, and it turned me away from performing the duty. It has gone so far in many parishes that the vessels that should only be cleaned by the ordained are in fact being cleaned by the EM’s after mass. This is inconsistent with the teachings of the Church.

    On another note, I have seen in rural Alaska instances of a single priest with a geographical area to cover of over 400 square miles. In these situations the EM is indispensable for the faithful to receive communion on any given Sunday. This of course is a perfect example of those situations that the post of EM was designed for, not a crutch for complacency.

    • Well said Steve! Those are great examples of when we should AND shouldn’t utilize EMs.

      God bless!

      • EM (if you mean Eucharistic Ministers) are only Bishops, Priests and Deacons. As Redemptionis Sacramentum clarifies, lay people (even instituted Acolytes like me) are EMHC- Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

      • Correct. I was abbreviating EMHC to simply EM (extraordinary ministers), but probably better to clearly state EMHCs.

        Good comment. To often we hear all of these terms used interchangeably.

        God bless!

      • Yes sorry…I knew you knew that I was directing it at a different comment. I almost never comment so the process is still difficult for me.

    • Upon realization, I to had to give up this duty. I was overwhelmed with the realization that I am simply not worthy to embrace the sacred chalice, nor hold our Lord in my hands and “distribute” Him.

      • 20 people to distribute our LORD = 1 person for every 15 attendee.

        Today 1/3/2016 the first Sunday of the year, again with my family attending a latten rite out of necessity, due to time conflict with the eastern rite I belong to.

        Just prior to the third elevation the usual suspects prance up on the alter, only this time what caught my attention is that they kept coming, and coming, and coming, so I counted 18 people, they were actually competing for a location behind the priest. With the deacon & priest that made it 20.
        so out of curiosity I did a quick head count in the church & I estimated about 200, even if I was off quite a bit, lets say it was 250 or 300, well at 300 this makes it 1 server for every 15 recipient, now this is about as close as one can get to abuse ????.
        .
        coming from the cry room we are usually have to line up at the end of the main pew side to receive from the hand of the priest, the sad part is that by the time we make it back to our seat in one minute at the most, communion is done & usually both priest & deacon are back up on the alter to conclude mass, so the billion dollar question is WHO took care of the vessels that were just used ?, I don’t think the priest or the deacon, at least not right away & I don’t think they are supposed to do it later in the sacristy.

  2. Sorry, but your priorities are completely backward. You’re suggesting eliminating a species of the Eucharist to reduce the number of extraordinary ministers. If the Vatican had even envisioned that, they would have said “excessively prolonged when distributed in both species”. They didn’t, because they have their priorities straight.

    • Thank you for your comment Daniel. I believe my assessment is consistent with what Rome has instructed regarding these matters.

      From Redemptionis Sacramentum: On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided
      regarding the Most Holy Eucharist, CONGREGATION FOR DIVINE WORSHIP
      AND THE DISCIPLINE OF THE SACRAMENT, March 2004

      4. Communion under Both Kinds

      [100.] So that the fullness of the sign may be made more clearly evident to the faithful in the course of the Eucharistic banquet, lay members of Christ’s faithful, too, are admitted to Communion under both kinds, in the cases set forth in the liturgical books, preceded and continually accompanied by proper catechesis regarding the dogmatic principles on this matter laid down by the Ecumenical Council of Trent.[186]

      [101.] In order for Holy Communion under both kinds to be administered to the lay members of Christ’s faithful, due consideration should be given to the circumstances, as judged first of all by the diocesan Bishop. It is to be completely excluded where even a small danger exists of the sacred species being profaned.[187] With a view to wider co-ordination, the Bishops’ Conferences should issue norms, once their decisions have received the recognitio of the Apostolic See through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, especially as regards “the manner of distributing Holy Communion to the faithful under both kinds, and the faculty for its extension”.[188]

      [102.] The chalice should not be ministered to lay members of Christ’s faithful where there is such a large number of communicants[189]that it is difficult to gauge the amount of wine for the Eucharist and there is a danger that “more than a reasonable quantity of the Blood of Christ remain to be consumed at the end of the celebration”.[190] The same is true wherever access to the chalice would be difficult to arrange, or where such a large amount of wine would be required that its certain provenance and quality could only be known with difficulty, or wherever there is not an adequate number of sacred ministers or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion with proper formation, or where a notable part of the people continues to prefer not to approach the chalice for various reasons, so that the sign of unity would in some sense be negated.

      1. The Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion

      [154.] As has already been recalled, “the only minister who can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi is a validly ordained Priest”.[254] Hence the name “minister of the Eucharist” belongs properly to the Priest alone. Moreover, also by reason of their sacred Ordination, the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are the Bishop, the Priest and the Deacon,[255] to whom it belongs therefore to administer Holy Communion to the lay members of Christ’s faithful during the celebration of Mass. In this way their ministerial office in the Church is fully and accurately brought to light, and the sign value of the Sacrament is made complete.

      [155.] In addition to the ordinary ministers there is the formally instituted acolyte, who by virtue of his institution is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion even outside the celebration of Mass. If, moreover, reasons of real necessity prompt it, another lay member of Christ’s faithful may also be delegated by the diocesan Bishop, in accordance with the norm of law,[256] for one occasion or for a specified time, and an appropriate formula of blessing may be used for the occasion. This act of appointment, however, does not necessarily take a liturgical form, nor, if it does take a liturgical form, should it resemble sacred Ordination in any way. Finally, in special cases of an unforeseen nature, permission can be given for a single occasion by the Priest who presides at the celebration of the Eucharist.[257]

      [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.

      [157.] If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it. The practice of those Priests is reprobated who, even though present at the celebration, abstain from distributing Communion and hand this function over to laypersons.[258]

      [158.] Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged.[259] 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.

  3. https://t.co/JEv0PYihXQ

    Dear Liturgy Guy,
    I attached a link to a USCCB video reflection on the Gospel for August 27, 2013. It is only a couple minutes long. The USCCB and I don’t usually agree, but in this case I fully support the reflection.

    I ask you to keep an open heart on this matter because it was clearly the Holy Spirit who guided me to read your post and reminded me of the reflection. It can be perceived as a critical review, but I only want to ask you to think about a few questions. I have been wanting to ask these questions for a long time.

    Do you ever get the feeling that by rejecting Eucharisitic Ministers it is like paying tithes of mint, dill and cummin but is neglecting judgement, mercy and fidelity? How do you interpret this reading in light of the blog post? MT 23:23-24

    Do you ever worry that all the warnings to the Pharisees in the Gospels can apply to modern day Catholics? All the business of following the rituals to the letter but missing the bigger picture? As an example Mark 7:5 has the Pharisees asking why the Disciples have broken from tradition and in Mark 7:15 Jesus answers that nothing from outside can defile a person. This seems as though Jesus could have been speaking about modern day Eucharistic Ministers. They represent a break from tradition, as you have aptly pointed out, and the concern seems to be about perceived abuses.

    Anyway, God bless,

    • Thank you for your feedback and sincere concern Neo. I think we always need to be aware of our behavior and motivations. For someone like myself, I always want to ensure that I do not become uncharitably pious or legalistic. Take a look at my previous post “Mea culpa, Mea culpa, Mea maxima Culpa” where I discuss this.

      With regards to the liturgy, it’s sacredness and the need to have enough love for our Lord to humble ourselves and to offer the Mass properly for Him and neighbor, here is an excerpt from the Jubilee year 2,000 from the Vatican document “Encountering Jesus Christ in the Liturgy”:

      2. To improve the quality of our celebrations

      The comprehension of the prayers, gestures, hymns, liturgical signs allows us to perceive the knowledge-experience which the Church at prayer has of the company of Christ. And we know that the celebration does not regenerate the Word only for the theological hearing or saying, it regenerates it in the life of those who pray, renewing it. The event of the Word who took flesh and blood through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the believing Virgin, lives again in the mystery of the Eucharist: from the table of the Word to the table of the Body-Blood of the Lord, so that the participants become the Body of Christ working in the world, prolonging his redeeming incarnation.

      While the praying people listen, sing, acclaim and invoke Christ the Lord and the Father through Him, they are not representing a scene like actors at the theatre, they are telling, celebrating, living, their involvement in that event: they are experiencing the mystery of the redemption as it becomes present, with its fruits, in their lives taking part in it personally.

      Hence the importance of interior participation in the liturgy, before exterior participation. In this way we understand how mistaken is the insinuation of a false conviction that greater exterior “activity” during a celebration corresponds to better participation. There comes to light also the importance of the “truth” of signs: the altar, a sign of Christ, cannot be transformed into somewhere to put things, as if it were a shelf, nor can the sanctuary, where the priest acts “in persona Christi” be mistaken for a stage, nor can the baptismal font be reduced to a basin and jug, nor the gift of the white robe be minimised by placing on the newly baptised person a small piece of material which cannot be worn, nor can the paschal candle, sign of Christ risen and living forever, be a tube of plastic which never burns down while it shines, brighter than “the morning star”…

      If the liturgy is an encounter with Jesus Christ, it follows that the themes indicated for this first year of preparation for the year 2000 should be an opportunity to examine the quality of our celebrations, to see if they are beautiful, incisive, fruitful, highlighting what is helpful for prayer and reducing what is disturbing to prayer in all its dimensions. This is a task which falls first of all to those responsible for the arrangement of the celebrations: bishops, priests, deacons, readers, acolytes, cantors, organists, animators and liturgical groups, sacristans … But we must not forget that the liturgy involves personally all the baptised, adults and children, the elderly and the young, the healthy and the sick. Each one should be able to exclaim with Saint Ambrose: “In your sacraments O Christ, I meet you face to face” (De Apologia Prophetae David 12,58; PL 14,916).

      • This is an awesome response to the comment. The concept of – if a little is good a lot is better – does not always hold true. I laughed when I considered this thought. The logical extension of this would lead to all Catholics on their Confirmation would also become EME. This would be the most you could have during a Mass. Thank you and God bless.

    • The Holy Spirit may have prompted me to say this (need to discern it further)

      Agree with your initial thought and video. Some corrections. A lay person CANNOT be a Eucharistic Minister. I don’t know how many times the Church has to clarify this…a lay person can be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. It is a huge and dangeroous theological statement to say a lap person is an EM. I am an EMHC (Acolyte)

      I do believe that the Church never had it in mind to have the Eucharist in one form only but the Church clearly (if you read ALL the text not jsut this blog) did not intend for a unievrsal practice for the entire year wherrever Mass may be. This is seen in the practice for one form being used more often in parishes for weekdays and for some parishes ordinary time and some dioceses have adopted this. One year there were five diocese in this country that offered changes to their practices.

      Your connection with Mark 7 is not the greatest. I actually hear it more often from people arguing for abortion, gay marriage etc. but it doesnt work and could easily be turned around to what you said but that could be turned around and the process would repeat for ever! People’s objection to any notion of correcting these little things as wrong is not consistent with the life of the Church. If thats the problem then it is not with this blogger but the source of liturgical documents on norms.

      Once again you would be surprised how much I agree with points in the video and the essence of your comment but its application to the issue is bad and again…EMHC!

      Anyway, God bless.

      • My comment was for neodecaussade (sorry Liturgy Guy if I am confusing)

      • Nope, your fine. It’s clear that you were replying to him. I appreciate the conversation and thoughtfulness that these posts are generating both here and on various FB walls. It’s great that people are discovering how truly reverent and sacred liturgy more fully expresses our love for Christ than improv worship “services”. Your blog is very good as well in highlighting this connection between the Mass and the faith life of the Church.

      • Thank you for the comment response. I am guilty of short cutting the EME to EM and I have only excuses for being sloppy. I will do better next time.

      • Hey…it wasn’t intentional. No guilt needed. All that matters is that we try for perfection. The Lord will take care of the rest at the Beatific Vision. Have a good day. God bless.

  4. You are spot on. I have found it necessary to attend mass from time-to-time where no less than 8-10 EMHC are present. This excess of EMHC absolutely takes away from the sacredness of the liturgy. In addition, my son was once refused Holy Communion on the tongue by a EMHC. It only happened once, as I immediately spoke with the pastor after mass to bring it to his attention. If there is a need for EMHC at all, they need to be properly trained. This incident was very upsetting to my son and me. My son and I are exceptions to the rule at this particular church with receiving on the tongue, but it is something we will not do differently.
    I have also seen the EMHC bless children who do not receive the Eucharist. Isn’t that the responsibility of the priest?

    • Thank you for your comment Rosemary. Yes, only the priest should be blessing children, not the EMHC.

      Also, you should see if others may feel the same way you do about the excessive use of these ministers. Let your pastor know that you do not mind if Holy Communion takes a bit longer by not utilizing the extra EMHC’s.

      God bless!

  5. If you will permit an outsiders opinion. I was raised Roman Catholic, now I’m Eastern Orthodox.

    The Orthodox give the Eucharist, Body and Blood, from the Chalice with a spoon. Bishops, priests, and deacons are the only ones who may distribute it. One of our priests has hands that shake due to exposure to Agent Orange, so one of the servers, usually a subdeacon, will steady his hand, but not touch the spoon.

    If it takes half an hour, well, it takes half an hour. What is more important than the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Gifts?

  6. I love your post. The only problem I see is, that priests, kind of don’t care much about this problem. At my parish, I am afraid they are not even trained properly. The way they dress, the way they behave and talk outside the parish, and many times you can see them fighting at the altar, because the place or the side they want to “serve”. Our priest has told them they can dress as comfortable as they want. Many times when purifying they are laughing and talking about somebody else, or other things. Silence is not observed during this time. It is very sad.
    I have stopped doing so, because I see too many abuses committed against this Great Sacrament.

    Priests are the ones to be strongly remind of it! I think.

    • I’m sorry to hear about the irreverence at your parish Roma. Pray for your priest. Out of curiosity, is there another parish nearby that may demonstrate more love for our Lord in the Holy Eucharist that you could go to? Sometimes all we can do is go where the faith is truly and visibly lived and taught.

      God bless.

  7. Heresy during consecration

    There is something more sinister going on, in one parish I reluctantly frequent out of necessities, and this has been observed by several priests as in a parish norm, just prior to the last elevation we see a spectacle of 16 lay people (I counted them on several occasion) prance up on the alter and stand right behind the priest as he conclude the consecration prayers, becoming defacto co-celebrant of the mass, completely unnecessary & not needed, and this last Sunday the deacon held up the chalice all by himself and the priest finished off the consecration as if he was another priest next to him.
    .
    All of this stems from the lack of belief in the real presence of our lord in the consecrated host by priest & men alike.

    • Scandalous. Truly a shame. Do you know if the bishop is aware of these abuses?

      • The body & blood, soul & divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ should be touched by consecrated hands only & No one ells, it is meant to be consumed NOT handled !!!.
        In the times of the temple of Jerusalem, when the high priest enters the holy of holies (= our altar & tabernacle) to make an offering once a year, it was out of fear that he may be struck dead by the Lord for NOT being worthy to be in His presence a rope would be tied to the waste so he can be pulled out.

  8. EMHC’s should only be used in non Mass situations such as going to a hospital. THe priest can’t be everywhere at once…for Mass they are not necessary

    • Hi Joe. You won’t get push back from me on this, but as you know, the Traditional Latin Mass (which I primarily attend) does not even permit for EMHC’s. Of course, Rome allows for them in the OF Mass, but as I noted in the post:

      Extraordinary Ministers should only be utilized “where there are particularly large numbers of the faithful and which (the Mass) would be excessively prolonged because of an insufficient number of ordained ministers to distribute Holy Communion.”
      On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest (1997)

  9. Jonathan Smith

    If the intent was to speed things up at Mass, extraordinary Eucharistic ministers were a silly idea. It only speeds up distribution, but ***any time saved is lost again*** during the purification of the sacred vessels (if done properly and not hastily). It’s simple:

    More ministers distributing = more sacred vessels = longer to purify sacred vessels.

    I like the idea of reserving the chalice for the priest, as it was in the usus antiquoir. It promotes liturgical continuity, reduces both the time to administer AND purify, re-enforces that we are NOT utraquists, and reduces the risk of sacrilege by spilling.

    Actually, the fact that less ministers means less likelihood of a spill should be reason enough to limit distribution to priests and deacons. I experienced this recently when an extraordinary minister at Midnight Mass this Christmas fainted or tripped (not sure), dropping her ciborium and spilling Hosts all over the floor.

    • well funny that you mention this, a church (not my rite) I attend out of necessity of time & location, I don’t see all 16 to 18 vessels purified, I think they are gathered on a side table to be purified later, usually I am making my way back to the cry room with my family so I don’t see exactly how it happens, I will pay close attention next time I go & post it.
      .
      either way there are so many improper things during the celebration, we go out of our area just to be in a holy celebration, which is sadly not always possible.

  10. My church uses the Communion rail, no EMHC, only our priest and the deacon. The Communion ritual moves along very smoothly and takes less time.

    Bring back the Communion rail to all parishes!

  11. 20 people to distribute our LORD = 1 person for every 15 attendee.

    Today 1/3/2016 the first Sunday of the year, again with my family attending a latten rite out of necessity, due to time conflict with the eastern rite I belong to.

    Just prior to the third elevation the usual suspects prance up on the alter, only this time what caught my attention is that they kept coming, and coming, and coming, so I counted 18 people, they were actually competing for a location behind the priest. With the deacon & priest that made it 20.
    so out of curiosity I did a quick head count in the church & I estimated about 200, even if I was off quite a bit, lets say it was 250 or 300, well at 300 this makes it 1 server for every 15 recipient, now this is about as close as one can get to abuse ????.
    .
    coming from the cry room we are usually have to line up at the end of the main pew side to receive from the hand of the priest, the sad part is that by the time we make it back to our seat in one minute at the most, communion is done & usually both priest & deacon are back up on the alter to conclude mass, so the billion dollar question is WHO took care of the vessels that were just used ?, I don’t think the priest or the deacon, at least not right away & I don’t think they are supposed to do it later in the sacristy.

  12. I concur entirely with this post and wish more priests would both read it and act on its recommendations. There are few things less edifying at Holy Mass than an “army” of Extraordinary Ministers descending in droves upon the sanctuary to “serve” or “hand out” Holy Communion (as if they were wait staff at a restaurant, or Santa Claus passing out Christmas gifts). Having experienced first-hand what passes for “formation” for EMHCs, it is not surprising that many haven’t the first clue of what they are really doing, or Who it is that they are “passing out” to the faithful at Mass. A former parish I attended, more than a dozen EMHCs would storm the sanctuary during the Agnus Dei and then rush into the nave to distribute the “bread” and “wine”. There is a profound lack of reverence and respect, as the faithful join the “cattle lines” to receive Holy Communion.

    The return of the reception of Holy Communion under the Species of the Host would be a great boon: not only would it mean a profound reduction in the need for and use of the EMHCs, but it would also lead to a greater reverence and respect for the Eucharistic Lord. Even better, a return to the altar rail and kneeling during reception of Holy Communion. But, one step at a time.

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