From a reader:
In our large parish, I serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Yes, I know, there are preferred ways of approaching the distribution of the Eucharist, and this is not ideal. However, I feel as long as our parish is going to have them, I can do the service of treating the role as respectfully and reverently as possible. As you know, in many parishes it is not unusual for someone to approach with their arms folded, apparently seeking a blessing. I clearly do not feel it is my lay role to administer a blessing in this situation, and after prayer and consultation with informed experts, decided the best I could do would be to quietly say, "May the Lord bless us, protect us from evil, and bring us to everlasting life." This is the same prayer I close with when praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and it is satisfying while not crossing the line of me offering a blessing. I do not touch them, I do not extend a hand over them, I do not make the sign of the cross over them. I view the blessing and those actions as the role of the priest. Well this weekend, a woman approached with her arms folded and the most hopeful, expectant look one could imagine seeing. I proceeded as I normally do and still she stood in front of me, with this expectant look on her face. Staring back, my hand suddenly went out to her shoulder, and once I removed it she went on her way. I didn’t say anything else or even pray anything else at that time; in fact, it almost felt involuntary. So the question is, what should I have done? By no means do I think I need to go to the confessional with this, and yet I feel somehow…perhaps as if I betrayed her. As if she thinks I offered her something I did not offer. If we are to serve as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, how do you suggest we deal with the case of the arm-folded un-communicant? And how do we respond to the persistent ones like I faced?
It sounds as if you handled this well. You clearly recognize your role in the distribution of Holy Communion as an extraordinary lay minister.
What can you do? Ask your priests to preach about blessings, the differences between ordained ministry, and who EMCHs are.
This could be a good opportunity to do some catechesis. If the priest won’t do it, be prepared to talk about it with others when the topics come up.
I am sure this comes up in parishes. This gets into the question of blessings at Communion time, of course. I think that practice ought to be phased out through instruction.
UPDATE 2231 GMT:
Someone posted in a comment below that there is a letter from the CDW which deals with the issue of hands. This might not be an official response of the Congregation, but it is a guideline:
[Protocol 930/08/L] 3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands — which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here — by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.
I added this because the questioner mentions putting a hand on someone’s shoulder. Note: shoulder, not head.