Recently Bishop Burbidge instituted “Norms for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion”. The norms state: “Although it has been a common pastoral practice in the Diocese of Raleigh for Ministers of Communion to impart a blessing to those who come forward with hands crossed in the communion procession and who are not receiving Holy Communion, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are commissioned only to distribute the Body and Blood of Christ to the faithful.” Please note all present are blessed at the end of the mass when the priest imparts the final blessing.
In my opinion that is pretty awesome. This is certainly something that greatly annoys me as it flattens the difference between the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of the faithful. We have enough confusion in this regard, so we don’t need a new practice that further blurs the difference.
The secondary problem as the Bishop notes is that everybody receives a blessing at the end of the Mass. So this going up for a blessing diminishes the importance of this.
I can totally understand how this practice evolved as a pastoral response to make people feel included when they can not receive the Eucharist. It is certainly nothing specified by any liturgical documents and also has not been something that the Vatican has addressed. In the future it is possible that the Vatican might specifically allow this at least in regards to receiving a blessing from somebody with Holy Orders. I would greatly doubt this being extended to Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.
I would certainly like the Vatican to issue guidance regarding this, but I know how slow the Vatican responds to these issues. Another area where this comes up is I have seen joint blessings where at the end of Mass the priest with the people bless an object like blankets for the poor. Besides the retina-burning image of people doing an apparent Nazi salute with this joint blessing, I don’t believe the Church’s theology supports this. As far as I know there are no examples of joint blessings like this in the Book of Blessings (De Benedictionibus). Although the reason I want the Vatican to weigh in on this is that my opinion on this is not what matters.
I have specific experience with the feeling of being left out during Communion. When I decided to come into the Church I was told I would have to wait for the following RCIA which meant it would be over a year and a half before I could enter the Church at Easter. Going to daily Mass with my wife tmeant that I remained in the pew while she went up to receive. It is somewhat uncomfortable as you imagine people wondering what prevents you from receiving. In fact after I had been going to Mass for awhile I was introduced to my pastor as someone going through RCIA. He told me he thought I must have been divorced or something since I never came up. Although remaining behind was uncomfortable it was also fruitful in perseverance. My desire to receive the Eucharist only grew and never left me.
You can also find Bishop Burbidge on Twitter.