From a reader:
What makes a Deacon an “ordinary” minister of the Eucharist?
Is it simply that he is ordained? I tried to ask our local Deacon, and
was expecting a more theological treatment, but maybe I was expecting too much. I wanted to be able to explain to our entourage of EMHC’s that what they did was different than what the Deacon does/represents.
Why isn’t the Deacon simply a glorified EMHC with a title?
Sadly, many permanent deacons I have known in times past were little more than glorified EMHC’s (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion) because they were lacking in good theological preparation before ordination. I am glad to hear far and wide that programs of formation for the permanent diaconate are being overhauled and vastly improved.
That said, a deacon is an ordinary minister of Communion, not merely an Extraordinary Minister of Communion, because of their ordination. Diaconate, after all, is a step of Holy Orders, which conforms their souls for the tasks to which Holy Church sets them.
We make a distinction between Ministers of the Eucharist and of Communion. The former confect the Eucharist. The latter distribute the Eucharist. Deacons don’t confect the Eucharist. Cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum 154.
This has roots, of course, in Scripture.
Whereas it is hard in to decipher the difference in Scripture between priests and bishops, it is pretty clear that deacons were something else. They were ordained to assist or serve the priesthood in concrete ways. The very word “deacon” comes from the Greek word for “servant”. In Acts 6 we get the story of how the Apostles, obviously overwhelmed with tasks, needed help so that people, for example, widows, in need of works of mercy were not neglected. In order to bee freer for prayer and the ministry of the word, the Apostles chose men to assist them.
Their earliest duties would have extended to distribution of food, probably during the earliest Eucharistic contexts. We have a pretty clear idea that deacons distributed the Eucharist Itself in the first centuries, because at the Council of Nicea it was debated whether or not they should be allowed to do so. Nevertheless, they retained a special relationship with the sacred vessels, and were allowed to touch them even though their hands were not consecrated. This probably harks to the distribution of food and goods, as well as the Eucharist. Some say that they are particularly conformed to see to the “kingly” dimension of the three-fold ministry of Priest, Prophet and King, which the Church receives from Christ, who is all three perfectly. The kingly office would pertain especially to the administration of goods, which clearly flows from their earliest purpose in the minds of the Apostles. That involves concrete tasks such as distribution of something tangible, even as the Eucharist at Communion is tangible, consumable.
Also, consider that the Church’s legislation concerning EMHC’s indicates that, in most circumstances, they probably shouldn’t be their at all. Make it clear – delicately – they don’t have a right to do what they do and not to get their back up if they aren’t called upon to do it. This isn’t a way to “get lay people involved in active participation”. EMHCs, even those deputed for a time, have only an ad hoc role, a temporary deputation, a momentary task depending on circumstances and the will of the priest. Deacons have a stable task for the Church, not just for the moment. True, they will usually and properly give way in the presence of other priests, but, nevertheless, when deacons are present they should be the first to fill the role the Church designates for them, namely to proclaim the Gospel in liturgical worship, assist with the sacred vessels and distributed the Eucharist. Occasionally also to preach (though my heart still shudders at what I have in the past heard for a few… but I digress).
“But Father! But Father!”, I can hear the Reverend Messers exclaiming out there. “What about…? … And what about…? And then there’s this…! And!!! ….” They are nearly elbowing me off my own keyboard as I type, so eager they are to get in here.
I will let them, since it is part of their ministry to assist and serve, they can assist and serve in this thread and serve out the very best of their insights as food for thought and soul.