What Can Eucharistic Ministers Do?
Please clarify the rules governing the duties of the extraordinary ministers of holy Communion at Mass. Is it correct to say that, when the priest distributes communion with the help of one or more other priests or deacons, it is not permitted for extraordinary ministers to do so at the same time? I do not think our parish, and perhaps other parishes, have been given enough explanation about what these ministers may and may not do.
This means that when there are enough priests or deacons present at Mass, it is their duty to distribute Communion. It is not the duty of other ministers, and it would be incorrect for these ministers to distribute. More especially, the Church disapproves of priests or deacons who are able to distribute Communion but who do not do so, rather letting laypersons do this instead.
These norms appear in Redemptionis sacramentum, the instruction issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2004. This clarifies that the services of extraordinary ministers of holy Communion are required only for reasons of real necessity, and must not be regarded as the norm.
When there is only one priest and possibly one deacon, as happens often during well attended Sunday Masses, the Instruction allows the extraordinary ministers to assist in the distribution. Also, if the priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age from giving Communion at Mass, the services of the extraordinary ministers will be necessary.
In the parish liturgy there is generally no problem because both priest and people appreciate that if only one or two are giving out Communion to large numbers of communicants, it can prolong the Mass unduly.
In unforeseen circumstances, the Instruction says the priest may depute a person who is not a commissioned extraordinary minister to administer Communion for that single occasion.
These are some of the things the extraordinary ministers are expected to do.
What they may not do is to ask other persons who are not extraordinary ministers to take over from them and distribute Communion. The Instruction specifically will not allow an extraordinary minister permit a family member of a sick person to give Communion to that person, unless, naturally, the family member has been commissioned by the Church as an extraordinary minister. Updated from 2011