QUAERITUR: confusion of roles

From a distressed reader:

I need your help as I am not sure where else to turn. I cannot find the correct answer for this.

The Parish we attend has undergone some changes and not for the good. The first abuse is the EMHC walking right up and standing behind the priest before he receives communion.

Today though I nearly fell out of my pew. The announcement was that several adults who have joined the church and been baptized as adults will assist our Pastor in the sprinkling rite.

These 3 people all gathered around the font and I thought they would hold the (?) basin for the Priest so he wouldn’t have to refill. All four of them split off into different directions sparkling the parishioners. Fortunately, the priest came to my section. I am sure, however, my gaping jaw allowed some holy water to splash upon my tongue.

This has to be wrong. Lay people cannot do this, can they? I nearly left I was so shocked by this turn of events.

Later after we renewed our baptismal vows, he asked everyone to turn to the person next to them and make the sign of the cross on their foreheads, as “when the Priest claimed you for Christ.” No one touched me and my 7yo looked hurt that I would not allow it to happen to him. I told him, he was already claimed and marked for Christ. He already stays in the pew during Communion lest one of the EMHC tries to “bless” him.

I’ll let the readers here help with this. 

Pull this apart systematically.

Start with the EMCH’s and their role in relation to the role of the priest and his Communion.

Move to issue of the sprinkling rite: what does it mean and, therefore, what lay people should be involved.

Then, the sign of the Cross business.

What is at the basis of these problems?  What error is at work in the background to these choices?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Hugo says:

    I just witnessed something for the first time a couple hrs ago.

    A family of four goes up one by one to the Unnecessary Minister and takes it in the hand. THEN when each is holding our Lord they consumed together. Played out too well not to have been planned.

    Only thing I’ve seen like it had been with the Unnecessary Ministers themselves up in the sanctuary.

    Another reason to do away with Communion in the Hand.

    And why do I need an usher to tell me when I can leave my pew (assuming I am free to receive)??

  2. Jenny Z says:

    Ugh. This makes me so angry, to go along with my anger at a Mass I attended earlier today, complete with wines glasses and ushers telling me to stand in line before the Agnus Dei was even completed (did I mention there were no kneelers, only wooden chairs surrounding the altar?)….

    It’s just a bunch of people who think they know better than Holy Mother Church, and therefore God.

    I know Papa Benny is rebuilding brick by brick, but I wish there were some way he could bring in a bulldozer and full construction crew.

  3. Let’s start at the beginning. The Priest offers the Mass as another Christ, and the (legitimate) role of the EMHC is to assist the priest in the distribution of the Eucharist when it would be impractical to do so alone. I do prefer to not see the EMHC enter the sanctuary until after the priest has received, though I don’t think I see too much trouble with them entering the sanctuary during the fractioning rite, for instance, as long as they are somehow in the background or off to the side, not as equals to the priest.

    I have seen places where the EMHC are given the Blessed Sacrament before the priest receives, but they then consume as or after the priest does, in the same sense that concelebrating priests might. This goes too far to blur the lines between priest and EMHC, and doesn’t make clear the role of the EMHC being sent by the priest to assist in the distribution of communion.

  4. GH good boy says:

    I can help you with the first abuse. This is a direct quotation from the GIRM:

    “If extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are required by pastoral need, they should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion. After the priest has concluded his own Communion, he distributes Communion to the extraordinary ministers, assisted by the deacon, and then hands the sacred vessels to them for distribution of Holy Communion to the people.”

  5. Rancher says:

    To approach this sytematically as you request one needs to answer your last question first. Correctly answered it answers them all. The error at work here is the mistaken belief/effort to create the impression that we are all equals in terms of our authority, responsibility, and faculties. Totally false. Christ chose 12 Apostles to lead the Church. They were selected above all others. They, as does Church leadership today, had certain authorty that the laity did not. For the Church to accomplish its mission, the salvation of souls, there must be a hierarchy as Christ created it. Placing the laity in roles, and giving them duties which are beyond their staion and training, beyond their responsibility, and beyond what Christ intended waters down the meaning of our sacraments and sacramentals.

    One of the biggest of many big mistakes made, particularly in the U S Catholic Church over the past 40 years, has been to not only allow but contribute to the errosion of authority. It has led to both disrespect and disobedience and, ultimately as in cases such as the one cited, to scandal. Sad to say this is not an uncommon occurance.

  6. Central Valley Catholic says:

    Is the writer from the Dioces of Fresno CA? This happens in many parishes here. When adddressed to the bishop he is silent, even though all parishes are reviewing section of the GIRM in parish bulletins, the directives are ignored. Fortunately, I am able to attend the extraordinary form ofte. Why be ordinary when you can be EXTRAORDINARY?

  7. According to Dr. Pius Parsch, a famous liturgist, “The blessing holy water and the srpinkling of the people on Sundays before the principal MAss, arose from the Church’s solicitude that the soul should be purified before the celebration of the Mass. Holy water is a symbol of the water of baptism by which we were freed from sin and made children of God. Conscious that they have stained their baptismal innocence by sin, priest and people sing the penitential psalm 50 (Miserere) and are sprinkled with holy water.” (Parsch, The Liturgy of the Mass.)

    This passage refers to the EF, but I think it could equally apply to the NO. The priest is the one that sprinkles the people and not anyone else. But this is as far as I know.

  8. Victor says:

    Im am pretty sure the patriarch Isaac was not an ordained Priest of Christ; still, he blessed his children. When I was young, every morning before going to school my father made the sign of the cross on my forehead to bless me. If I remember correctly, Pope Benedict tells a similar story of his childhood. So, I think lay people blessing other lay people is o.k. – as long as a certain hierarchy is contained, i.e. the father blessing his children, the elder blessing the younger a.s.o. But I think of blessings out of the context of liturgy; probably during Holy Mass, or when a priest is available, lay people shouldn’t give blessings.

  9. I will attempt to deal with the issues seratim:

    1. With regard to Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion: they are called Extraordinary for a reason; precisely, they are not the ordinary ministers. Ordinary and extraordinary here have two distinct, but related meanings. “Ordinary” is derived from the Latin ordo, ordinis, from which we also have the English, “order”. The bishop of a diocese is called Ordinarius loci, “Local Ordinary”, because he is responsible for the order of Christian life in that place. The clergy attached to the diocese have their “orders” in the local Ordinary. Therefore, Extra-ordinary is something that is outside the ordinary dispositions. Ordinary also means something like, “everyday” or “quotidian” or (my personal favorite as far as synonyms for ‘ordinary’) “normal”. Therefore, in extraordinary circumstances, it is licit to have people who are not the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion give Holy Communion to the faithful who approach the sacrament. Extraordinary circumstances could be very large numbers of faithful, or an invalids’ Mass, or just about anything that is not your regular Sunday Mass at your local parish. They have no special inherent authority.

    The priest-celebrant receives Communion in completion of his priestly sacrifice. The presence of the EMHC is worse than simply abusive – it is scandalous, insofar as it tends to confuse the faithful; it suggests either that the EMHC is somehow involved in the priestly office, or that the priest’s sacrifice is something that is somehow less than an official act to be conducted by one ORDAINED to do it within properly and ritually prepared sacred precincts.

    2. Regarding the Rite of Aspersion: this is an ancient rite that, in the EF, was not part of the Mass. It is a ritual purification and a reminder of baptism. It serves to prepare the gathered faithful for the sacrifice that the priest is about to make on the altar. It is an expression of the relationship of the priest to the congregation for whom, i.e. in the place of whom, he is about to offer the sacrifice. The priest who involved the newly baptized in the sprinkling rite, actually letting them hold the aspergilium and sprinkle, was probably trying to emphasize the “reminder of baptism” to the exclusion of all else. Sadly, he may not even be fully cognizant of his role in relation to the congregation, or may even have a faulty understanding thereof. Ultimately, however, the abuse must betray in insufficiently developed understanding of baptism, itself, through which we are incorporated into the body of Christ, and participate in the royal priesthood. By divine positive law, however, this priesthood of all the baptized is exercised by ministers, i.e. the apostles and their successors, who have been ordained, i.e. prepared, marked, anointed and given faculties, to offer the sacrifice for the whole people of God.

    3. As regards the sign of the cross, the problems with it are already largely addressed in the remarks I have made regarding the distinction, the real, sacramental difference between the laity and the sacred ministers of Divine grace, the ordained clergy. Laity are not priests and priests are not laity. Bishops and priests have the power to bind and loose: when a priest or a Bishop invokes God’s blessing, he is doing so on the authority of the Apostles themselves, and therefore ultimately with the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself. This is qualitatively different from a pious father signing his son before he sleeps.

  10. Roland de Chanson says:

    Fr. Z: What error is at work in the background to these choices?

    The error is the heresy of the priesthood of all believers. It is the poisoned fruit of oecumenism run amok.

  11. opey124 says:

    We are all part of that royal priesthood…..just not that way during the mass.
    We watched with the children, The Cat In The Hat, newer one with Mike Myers. I do NOT recommend this for everyone.
    But one thing that stood out, and I wanted to stand up and say “That perfectly depicts the way our church is now!” is the part in the car (SLOW) where they ALL have steering wheel. And they do end up crashing.
    When our priests are fed this, we are all one, but without the distinct rolls of what is pecularily theirs, boundaries are gone and we have everyone driving and we crash and get no where. It would be ok if we were out to have a “fun” time…..but this isn’t disney world.

  12. flabellum says:

    The rubrics for the \’Commendation of the Dying\’ in the OF state that a minister if a priest or deacon may sprinkle the body with holy water. If only a priest or deacon can sprinkle a dead body as part of the liturgy, surely the same would apply to a living one.

  13. Patricia Gonzalez says:

    Reminds me of the Gilbert & Sullivan line: “When everybody’s Somebody, then no one’s anybody” (from HMS Pinafore, I think). It’s what I call the “American Idol” mentality, when everyone is a “star”… and hierarchy has become a dirty word. Sad situation which interferes sometimes with a prayerful attitude at Mass. Hard to maintain this attitude in the face of irreverence and flippancy, and the view of many that “We’re supposed to enjoy church”, as if it’s a TV show or something. Calls for much patience and forbearance, which is what I pray for every time on the way to Mass.

  14. gary-ite says:

    “If extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are required by pastoral need, they should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion. After the priest has concluded his own Communion, he distributes Communion to the extraordinary ministers, assisted by the deacon, and then hands the sacred vessels to them for distribution of Holy Communion to the people.”

    unless they are in the gary diocese, where the office of liturgy says that all the eucharistic ministers should gather in the sanctuary while the lamb of God is singing, that just because the girm says they cannot approach the altar yet it doesn’t mean they can\’t enter the sanctuary yet.
    I cant figure out where they’ve been standing that entering the sanctuary isn’t approaching the altar.
    they’d have to be sitting on the altar i guess.
    An we do the sprinkling rite during the Glory to God in the Highest.

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