How Ordinary is Extra-Ordinary With Ministers of Holy Communion?
By Father Kenneth Doyle
Question: In “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” issued by Pope John Paul II in 2004, it says that an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion should only be used if real necessity prompts it. I’m struggling to see how saving a few extra minutes during Mass is a “real necessity” and why extraordinary ministers are needed at all, especially in small parishes like my own.
And if a parish does find it temporarily necessary, shouldn’t that parish be praying fervently and urgently for the Lord to send them an additional priest? Please help me understand why extraordinary ministers are being used so ordinarily today.
Answer: The ordinary minister of Holy Communion is a bishop, priest or deacon. When circumstances warrant it, laypeople may be delegated to assist. “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments in 2004, addresses those circumstances as follows:
“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. 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” (No. 158).
The term “unduly prolonged” is nowhere quantitatively defined, and it obviously invites a judgment call. When Communion is offered under both species (a practice that has largely been suspended during the current pandemic) this may require the help of extraordinary ministers; likewise, an elderly priest might need assistance, a tight Mass schedule could be a factor and a weekday Mass might include congregants on their way to work.
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