Jimmy Akin discusses Ministers of Holy Communion (also known as Eucharistic Ministers), and explains the difference between Ordinary and Extraordinary Ministers and when the latter should or should not be used in mass.
Host: We will go now to Steve in Presque Isle, Maine, listening on WEGP. Steve, thank you so much for being with us here on Catholic Answers Live.
Caller: Thank you Cy, and Jimmy, good to talk to you again, I haven’t talked to you in months. My question is: I’m looking over an obituary of a person here in Presque Isle—or Lewiston, Maine, actually—who was a devout Roman Catholic. “In his lifetime, he was a Eucharistic Minister. Now he has nine children and twenty-five grandchildren.” What is a Eucharistic Minister? What kind of position is that in the Church?
Jimmy: Well, actually, there—it’s a misnomer. That’s not actually a term that the Church uses in its official documents. The proper term is “Minister of Holy Communion,” and that’s a person who distributes Communion at mass.
And there are two types of Ministers of Holy Communion. The first type are “Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion,” and that would be people like a priest or a deacon or a formally instituted acolyte, of which there are not very many—not these days, anyway, in the Latin rite. Then there are what are known as “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion,” and that’s—unless this guy was a deacon, then that’s probably what they mean. They probably mean that he was an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.
And Extraordinary Ministers are people who are typically laypeople…I mean, they would be laypeople, but typically they’re just ordinary laypeople, they’re not, like, in religious orders, for example. And they also distribute Holy Communion at mass. The reason they’re called “Extraordinary” is because they’re used, and are meant to be used, on a somewhat extraordinary basis; that is, they shouldn’t be used in preference to the Ordinary Ministers, like priests and deacons.
So if your parish has enough priests and deacons to distribute Holy Communion in a reasonable amount of time to the people coming for Communion, then you should use the priests and deacons first. But if there are so many people—and, frankly, this is true in a lot of American Catholic parishes—if there’s so many people coming that it would unduly prolong the distribution of Communion, then laypeople can be deputized to serve Holy Communion on what’s known as an extraordinary basis. “Extraordinary,” in this case, doesn’t mean that they don’t do it regularly, because if you’ve got, you know, a lot of people coming to a mass, then they may need Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion on a regular basis; but it does mean that they’re not used—not to be used in preference to the Ordinary Ministers who may be available.
Host: Okay, Steve?
Caller: Thank you, Jimmy.
Jimmy: Sure thing.