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?