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Communion issues clarified in revised booklet

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Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion role explained; more

By Gail Finke

The need to reprint a decades-old handbook for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs) gave the archdiocese’s Office of Divine Worship and Sacraments the chance to clarify a few issues that have arisen in the 30 years since its production.

     The new booklet reaffirms basics, such as the norms for receiving communion in the United States (standing, although every communicant has the option to kneel, and offered under both species), and adds new information, such as that low-gluten hosts are permitted for communion in any parish but “gluten-free” hosts are not. It also addresses three situations that the office’s director, Karen Kane, wants every layperson and priest to know.  

     The first regards taking communion to the sick and homebound. While this important work has been taken up by many lay people, Kane said, over time many parishes began instructing EMHCs to give consecrated hosts to anyone who came forward with a pyx (the special carrier for consecrated hosts). In the worst case, this opens communion to abuse. But the problem parishes were seeing, Kane said, was not knowing who was sick and who was receiving communion outside Mass.

     The booklet now outlines a recent directive from the archbishop for parishes to ensure that pyxes are brought up to the altar before Mass and filled after the consecration. “After communion, a priest or deacon will call them forward,” Kane said. The addition takes only a few seconds and, as well as helping the pastor to keep track of the people being served, “it also reminds us all to pray for the sick and homebound, who are still members of our community even though we don’t see them.”

    The second issue is with the number of hosts, and the amount of wine, consecrated at Mass. In some parishes, Kane said, priests had gotten into the habit of consecrating too many hosts – so many that they provided all the hosts needed for a number of subsequent Masses. And while consecrated wine can’t be saved, many EMHCs have been reluctant to drink it, worried that doing so amounts to communing too often or treating the Precious Blood with too little reverence. The new guidelines remind priests and EHMCs that the hosts consumed at each Mass are to be consecrated at each Mass – “the sacrifice is for the people, not just for the priest,” Kane said – and that drinking any remaining Precious Blood is not abuse, but “the best way of caring for and showing reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.”

     The final issue is a purely pastoral one: providing EMHCs with guidance about what to do when people who are not Catholic approach them during Communion with their hands crossed over their chests, expecting a blessing or greeting. 

     “It’s a practice some people have picked up, and parishes don’t know how to respond,” Kane said. Rome hasn’t provided formal guidance, so dioceses have created their own responses. “What we have done is said that EMHCs can make a cross on the person’s foreheads, but without any words,” she said. “It’s based on a gesture that lay people can make – for instance, parents blessing their children – but it’s not a final answer. It’s a pastoral solution until there’s a definitive answer.”

     The 40-page booklet, “This Holy and Living Sacrifice: A Formation Resource for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion,” provides a wealth of other information about choosing and forming EMCHs, the tasks they can do before and after Mass, and more, as well as essays about the theology of the Eucharist. Copies are $4 (bulk pricing available). To order one, visit Catholiccincinnati.org/ministries-offices/worship/ and click on “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.”


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