Last Saturday at our Cathedral, Bishop Pat Lynch commissioned 64 people as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. These commissions take place three times a year. Some people don’t like the idea of receiving the Precious Body and Blood from a lay person. Others are uncomfortable about receiving Our Lord in the hand. In the early church lay people not only received communion on Sunday but took communion home with them to receive it every day. Fr Joseph Champlin writes “it is very evident from historical research that lay persons ordinarily received the Lord directly into their hands for the first nine centuries. Writings, pictures and documentation speak of or illustrate this practice”. After the early centuries this changed. The reason for the change was most probably the changing attitude to the Eucharist. More emphasis was put on the divine aspect of the Eucharist. Stress was put on the real, holy, tremendous, awesome presence of Christ in the sacrament. The host was to be adored more than to be eaten. The feeling of unworthiness in the face of this wonderful gift led to less frequent reception of Communion and a greater distance between the altar and the pew. Also at this time laity were more and more excluded from the liturgy. Singing was done by a choir, the general intercessions disappeared, the faithful could not see what was happening at the altar, the Canon of the Mass was said quietly, everything took place in silence and in a language less understood by the people. “Those medieval concepts obviously were handed down very carefully to us from our forefathers in the faith. They had value, respected one aspect of the mystery which is the Eucharist, and should not be casually disregarded.” The emphasis on great participation in the liturgy began at the beginning of the twentieth century.
In 1947 Pius XII wrote: “By the waters of Baptism, as common right, Christians are made members of the mystical body of Christ the Priest and by the character which is imprinted on their souls their are appointed to give worship to God, thus they participate according to their condition, in the priesthood of Christ.” In the Document on the Liturgy, at the Second Vatican Council, the Council Fathers reminded us of the key role of the laity, “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4–5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.”
It was in 1973 that Pope Paul VI issued the instruction “Immensae Caritatis” in which he wrote:“First of all, provision must be made, less reception of Communion becomes impossible or difficult because of insufficient ministers” Thus there are a number of occasions when the priest will need assistance of the laity in helping with Holy Communion. During Mass when there is Holy Communion under both kinds and when the size of the congregation is such that without their assistance the Communion Rite would be unduly long. Outside Mass help is needed to bring communion to the sick and housebound and a lay minister can expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament.
I would like to thank all those who are Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in our parish. This is a tremendous service you are undertaking. Please note that our reflection Day for Eucharistic ministers is on Saturday 2nd March from 10am till 1pm in St Thomas Hall.