As most Catholics know there are apparently four levels of Holy Orders. Bishop, Priest, Deacon and of course Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.
Or at least that is the conclusion some Catholics might come to from experience at Mass. I went to a parish I had not gone to before where these four levels of Holy Orders seemed to be in practice. When the priest, altar boys and girl processed down the aisle at the start of Mass they were followed by eight other adults. These eight men and women were all dressed in albs and as the priest approached the altar they all stood just outside the sanctuary. It took a minute for me to realize that these must all be EMHCs. Now I don’t mind EMHCs wearing albs as this is a perfectly licit option and something that I would like to see more of.
I suspect that there is a liturgist/choreographer somehow involved in this parish as the Mass involved a lot of EMHC choreography along with some involving the Cross-Bearer involving the processional Cross. Though I appreciated the nice touch of the Cross-Bearer wearing white gloves, but they moved the cross around during the Mass with a ceremonial flourish. The altar boys and girl were also part of some extra choreography. After Communion the EMHCs then formed around the priest as he purified the sacred vessels and then were part of the final procession.
All of this was not really surprising to me as EMHCs have become more about involving laity directly in a physical aspect of the Mass than about assisting the distribution of Holy Communion. I say this based on a couple of things. The number of EMHCs assisting at Mass seems to bear no relationship to the number of people at Mass. For example if a specific Mass is more sparsely attended than normally they will never decide to reduce the number of EMHCs for that Mass. This can become so comical that in some cases that the ratio of EMHCs and attendees at Mass can approach a ratio of 1:1. There also never seems to be an ordinary situation since every situation seems to not only require Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, but a large number of them. Could you imagine if more than 30/35% of Catholics actually attended Mass? We would have platoons of EMHCs. You just have to wonder how the Church contended before EMHCs when a much larger part of the Catholic population attended Mass?
It must be remembered though the that Church allows for EMHCs, but the question is are they be prudently used? By my own personal experience I would say no. The example of the parish I registered in is the exception is that sometimes there are no EMHCs if for example a Deacon is present and when not they might have but one EMHC. Yet Mass is not significantly longer there due to this. For major feasts such as Easter Christmas and other occasions when Mass attendance is much heavier they do use more EMHCs and this seems to me to be a prudent reaction. In other parishes Mass attendance seems to bear no relationship to the number of EMHCs. It is worth noting that my preference would be for the return of the altar rail for receiving Holy Communion for multiple reasons. I would just like to see that when they are used that the usage of EMHCs be much more restrained than is currently the norm. Besides to me it has the feel of “processing” people for Communion to perhaps to shave off a little time from Mass. That those minutes as we prepare ourselves for receiving the Lord in the Eucharist and that time for reflection afterwards are something that need to be dealt with in the manner an efficacy expert might recommend.
So what have your experiences been and have you seen the use of EMHCs in the procession and elsewhere as I did today?
My husband and I were trained as EMHCs at our previous parish, and we’ve signed up to serve at our current parish. Neither parish has had the EMHCs be part of the processional, nor do we keep the same number of EMHCs when church attendance is much lower than usual. (Our parish seats 1000, and at most Masses we need everyone on our schedule to serve). For the most part, EMHCs have been very reverent and the liturgical ministers and priests have made sure that remains the case.
I appreciate your desire to return to the altar rail for Communion. There’s definitely a different feel at the parish my husband and I attend for daily Mass where they have only the priest and the deacon distributing the Eucharist at the altar from the sense you get when a team of laypeople comes forward to serve as EMHCs stationed around the church.
I’ve found it deeply moving to be an EMHC and be able to see Christ in each person who comes forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I try to look each person in the eyes and smile as I distribute Communion and thereby, convey that this is the most beautiful gift any one of us can receive.
I would add one addition misuse of EMHC: purification of the vessels. At most parishes I’ve attended with significant use of EMHC, it is common to have a “head” EMHC purify the vessels, collect the undistributed hosts, and take them to the tabernacle (wherever it happens to be). I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is almost always used as an opportunity for the priest to generate an appearance of not just some improper equality with the laity, but also improper notions of gender sameness.
Totally agree with you on that. I have seen this at two parishes where they act very sneaky while doing this. This of course is totally illicit and only a Priest, Deacon, and I believe an instituted lector can purify the sacred vessels. The experiment that was allowed under Pope John Paul the II was withdrawn by Pope Benedict close to the start of his papacy.
My experience is the same as yours, but I disagree on one point. EMHC are now the 5th Holy Order. Ahead of them are “Ministers of Parish Life” (apparently doubling for womyn priests). See Father Longenecker’s piece here.
There is a difference between acting reverent and being reverent. 99% of the EMHCs are acting (if they even make the attempt). Adding EMHCs has been a sure fire way of degrading the Mass into more of a community building exorcise instead of worshipping God.
The Ministry of Lector is the first of the ministries to which men are instituted in their formation and preparation for the diaconate, whether permanent or transitional. As this Ministry does not involve service at the altar, the instituted Lector does not purify the vessels. A man who has been instituted in the Ministry of Acolyte is authorized to purify the sacred vessels.
The comment from Trisha above, “I try to look each person in the eyes and smile as I distribute Communion and thereby, convey that this is the most beautiful gift any one of us can receive.” is beautifully intentioned but illustrates an issue concerning proper liturgical formation that I think is important. Any liturgical ministry (be it reading, serving at the altar or celebrating the holy mysteries) should be characterized by the individual becoming transparent so that the mysteries being celebrated (ultimately the glory and worship of God) become the focus. Attempts to engage the “audience” or “congregation” by conspicuous attempts at making eye contact, changing facial expression, voice intonation etc. take the focus from where it should be and puts it where it should not be (on the individual minister or the interpersonal interaction between the minister and the person(s)). I have functioned as an extraordinary minister of holy communion in the past but have come to believe (from reading Vatican guidelines on the subject) that their use today is often a form of liturgical abuse. Responsibility for this lies with the ordinary of the diocese and the local pastor. High quality spiritual, ascetical and liturgical formation of the faithful would go a long way toward correcting the situation and restoring greater reverence to the celebration of the liturgy. It would also deal a blow to the false understanding (infected with crypo-clericalism) of the vocation of holiness characteristic of the laity. A holiness nourished and formed by good liturgy but that functions not primarily by dwelling in the Church sanctuary but by integrating holiness throughout family, community and professional spheres. Again, no offence to Trisha who is no doubt very sincere of heart and acting out of love for Christ and the Church. I invite her (and the many like her) to delve more deeply into the mind/heart of the Church and her saints on this issue.
It is my understanding that EMHC’s are not supposed to approach the altar until the priest has received Communion. And I would disagee with those who want the EMHC’s in albs. I think it should be clear as day that they are not clerics.
First of all- why can’t you have a Greek Captcha? Except of course, I’d need a new keyboard!
Anyway, more to the point, the overuse of EMHC’s borders on the ridiculous almost anywhere I’ve been to mass. A friend of mine refers to them as UMHC’s (Unnecessary Ministers of Holy Communion), because in fact most of the time their presence does nothing to “speed up” the mass, because really, the priest has somewhere else more important to be, right?
On my own blog, I wrote a couple of months ago about behaviors I’ve witnessed in Mass at numerous parishes since entering the Church. I refrained in that one from going into any depth on the use of EMHC’s and their behaviors, but perhaps the time has come!
Many EMHC’s do think of themselves as entitled in some ways, and then down right irreverant almost immediately thereafter. In mass you can watch them chatting with each other as they flank the recesses of the church, making sure they’ve covered all possible avenues of approach. I see many very careful about how they keep their fingers over the ciborium right until they hit the sanctuary, only to then drop their hand, sometimes brushing it against their leg. Or the lady who runs her fingers through her hair just after distribution.
Is there a rule that EMHC’s cannot receive on the tongue? Almost to a person, I rarely see someone who shows any inclination to receiving via the tongue.
If you are going to distribute the Body and Blood of Christ, shouldn’t you dress up? How about at least dispensing with the tennis shoes and/or the jeans? I like the idea of EMHC’s vesting in albs and/or cassocks/surplices. It distinguishes them as different, set aside. Guess I”m nuetral on the procession part (only if in albs or cassocks/surplices), but in plainclothes no, lets keep the number distractions to a minimum, please and thank you.
Then the overuse- if you have a parish where for example, you might have two priests and two deacons, why aren’t they available for every mass on Sunday, even if only to assist in distribution? I would say I can understand during football season, but there is a such thing as DVR/Tivo.
I’ve also seen parishes where laypersons took consecrated hosts from the tabernacle and returned them, but I also returned there when they have moved the tabernacle into the sanctuary, and that process seems to have disappeared, but even an EMHC shouldn’t be performing that function. And as stated above, only instituted acolytes, deacons, priests (all ranks) should be purifying vessels.
At the TLM, this is not a problem. EMHC’s and girl altar servers, and sappy music is well too too festive for me.
With such a large amount of EMHC, wouldn”t the priest need a higher order of EMHC to give communion to the ordinary EMHC? 😉
At my parish the EMHC process to behind the altar during the Agnus Deit and then procede to revert back to the sign of peace. Each shake hands with those beside them and the Head honcho gives everyone in line a handshake, so those at the altar are saying, “Peace be with you” at the same time the rest of us are singing Lamb of God. Very annoying and distracting.
Part of the “processing the people through” is due to scheduling multiple Masses close together. When only 1:30 or even 1:15 is allowed between start times, then you have to get them out and the parking lot empty to let the next group in. Address that issue and you can do away with the EM’s altogether.
Years ago, before our daughter was born, my husband and I were asked to be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. The main reason was bringing Holy Communion to the sick at one of the local hospitals. This necessitated 7:30A.M. mass where we(usually 7 of us) did process out with the priest while we carried Christ in the Pyx next to our hearts. We then drove to the hospital and received our floor assignments. After meeting with each patient and praying and /or giving Holy Communion we drove back to church and placed any remaining Hosts in the tabernacle. This process usually took more than 3 hours. It was gratifying but grueling.
We were also used at mass although only one for each mass.
Now the only duty of EMHCs is hospital duty.
We now receive Holy Communion on our knees at the altar rail. Most receive on the tongue but a few receive in their hands.
We are truly blessed at our parish.
Better Question: Why would you ever attend such a parish?
I have never seen the EMHC as part of the procession, but I’ve seen lectors in the procession. I think it is a huge abuse of the liturgy to have hoards of EMHC or to have a ratio of almost 1:1. I am also under the understanding that they are only supposed to be used as needed. I think this is a correct understanding, as I found a good article about it: http://www.catholicapologetics.info/modernproblems/newmass/extmin.htm
I used to be a EMHC until I found that the practice was abused. In fact, Mass seems to drag on longer when lectors, EMHC’s and everyone else is on the altar receiving under both kinds. I have been to daily Masses that certainly did not require EMHC’s at all, but there they were. I also like to comment on “looking into the receiver’s eyes”. The receiver and the distributor should be focusing on the Eucharist not the other person. I don’t want to look in someone’s eyes at that moment. I also don’t agree with the albs. In my former parish EMHC’s used to wear them and people were constantly confusing them with priests. A lot of this stuff has just gotten way out of hand.
Just wondering if any of you have seen this by Pope JP II from the Vatican website:
Scroll down to Article 8 to read about EM’s and their proper place in the liturgy.
My wife and I have been EMHC’s for over 25 years, for the last eight years we have scheduled the EMHC’s for the Cathedral in Venice, Fl.
Currently we have 152 EMHC and use a hundred at seven Masses each weekend plus two for the daily Masses. These men and women are the most dedicated Christians that have only one thing in mind and that is to serve God and their fellow Catholic Christians. They don’t process in with the Priest or wear Albs they assist by serving the Host are the the Blood of Christ and return to their pews giving thanks to God to be able to serve and receive a wonderful blessing.
What a wonderful opportunity to know that you were permitted by God to be able to touch his Son’s body and distribute it to our Christian Brothers and Sisters. Thank God for these wonderful volunteeers.
Re: EMHCs and albs. The alb is the proper vestment for all the baptized. It’s actually appropriate for EMHCs to wear it.
In my parish liturgies, the EMs are used almost exclusively for distributing the Precious Blood. They also fill in as needed with the Host. But every ordinary minister of the Holy Communion in the parish — all the priests and the deacon — is expected to be present at all the Masses to help distribute communion. We have five weekend Masses, with 500-700 people at each mass, so it can be a handful.
Deacon Greg: Really? Really? It is appropriate for all the baptized to wear an alb when, exactly? As far as the EMHCs go, how problematic they are seems to vary from place to place. At my parish, for instance, I think we have too many — but they really don’t draw attention to themselves or do anything annoying that people here have complained about. And I can see that at some really big parishes — I can’t imagine 500-700 people at five different masses! — they are extremely practical. It seems to be one of those things that is difficult to generalize about. So much depends on the people, the parish, the training, the pastor, etc., etc., etc.
“There is a difference between acting reverent and being reverent. 99% of the EMHCs are acting (if they even make the attempt).”
Really? You have the supernatural ability to read the thoughts and intentions of large numbers of people that you have never met?
It’s one thing to comment on the overuse of laypeople at the altar. It’s quite another to sit in judgment regarding those laypeople’s attitudes.
At my parish, we have 4 masses in short succession (8, 9:30, 11:00, 12:30) every Sunday with an extremely crowded parking lot, so yes, we use them. Usually 3 at a given mass. It is also not unheard of for them to ask if the priest actually needs all of them if the crowd looks sparser than usual — they know they are there to assist the priest, not so they can feel self-actualized in their sacred selfitude.
At first I thought you were talking about the EMH from Star Trek Voyager. Please state the nature of your liturgical emergency.
I had an interesting conversation with my mom about girl altar servers (my sister and I both were part of the first set of girls to be trained at our parish), in which she noted that my sister mentioned you see mass differently when you are on the altar. I thought this was true, and unfortunate, because it is due to the lack of reverence that is perceived in the pews. This observation may also apply for the EMHCs because they feel as though they are participating at a greater degree than they would if they did not serve in such a way. I noticed I do not have trouble with my mind wondering in the TLM, and a person can truly tell when a Novus Ordo mass is conducted with the same level of reverence. In such cases, a person is so engulfed in the prayer of the mass that I doubt they do feel as though they are lacking in participation.
Also, I noticed in the TLM missal that the priest keeps his index finger and thumb connected after touching the Eucharist. I think it is sad that they threw that simple act of piety away with the Novus Ordo when the theology is supposed to be the same. I would like to see EMHCs, as well as priests in the Novus Ordo, rekindle this practice, as well as other practices that so enriched the meaning and beauty of the TLM. If the atmosphere of the mass is one of prayer in worship rather than praying for entertainment then people will not feel as though being in the pew is not enough.
Thank you, Julie E., for referencing an official document warning against causing confusion with the regular use of lay EMs regardless of the number attending mass.
I dislike the over-use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion simply because where I sit in Mass, I see the EMHC purifying the vessels instead of the deacon doing it; I see them line up behind the altar and receive there (some in sleeveless shirts) and the worst one is I cannot receive communion from the EMHC with my child in my arms because they will not stop playing priest and blessing my child– I do not want an EMHC blessing my child– you are neither priest nor deacon and should keep both hands to yourself and to the Blessed Sacrament– not wave the bowl of hosts around in one hand while waving the other one around in an attempt to bless my child when I am trying to avoid you!!
EMHC seems to lead to a lot of people forgetting their place as laity and starting to take on HOLY ORDERS type privileges– and as there is only ONE priest and HE doesn’t do the communion line for the cry room, to receive from him I have to go down outside the church back inside, past the lines of people going AWAY from the altar to the set of EMHC stationed near the doors, down the entire aisle, and sneak into line when I get there. Then go the whole way around again to get back to the cry room or go stand somewhere near the doors.
It is important that EMHC either know the EXACT limits of their duties and stay carefully within them, or they need to be removed from use– the abuses are offensive and I think the rest of us deserve to be able to go to Mass without the abuses. I don’t want fancy– just do the litergy as written and stop the abuses.
@GailF I don’t know if there’s a comprehensive answer to the question of when it’s appropriate for all the baptized to wear an alb, but as relevant here, GIRM 339 says that it’s appropriate for them to do so when serving in some capacity at the Mass.
The use of ELMHCs at my parish is low key & appropriate to the size of mass attendees. I always thought we could a bit fewer of them at Mass, but with recent experience at a hospital with a terminally ill family member, I realized we need more of them in hospitals. Only once in over a week did anyone visit to offer Holy Communion.
I remember the 40th anniversary mass for our former pastor. There were 6 additional priests concelebrating. When the time came for communion, the additional priests sat down and the “Eucharistic ministers” got up to distribute communion. I felt like going over to the priests and telling five of them (one was so elderly it was hard for him to walk) they they needed to get up and do their jobs.
We have a new bishop. Things are changing.
(As a side note, this last weekend I was commissioned as an EMHC so that I could bring communion to an old family friend and his designated caregiver.)