Ecclesia de mysterio…. Ever heard of it?

In 1997 the Holy See issued an important document, unusual in its form and provenance in that it was signed by eight dicasteries, or departments of the Roman Curia.

  • Congregation for the Clergy
  • Pontifical Council for the Laity
  • Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
  • Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
  • Congregation for Bishops
  • Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
  • Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
  • Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts

Don’t for a moment think that, just because the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wasn’t at the top of the list, it isn’t the most important.

Ecclesia de mysterio approved by the Sovereign Pontiff who ordered that it be issued in forma specifica, which gives it even greater weight.  It contains legal provisions in order to correct abuses.

In the light of the aforementioned principles, remedies, based on the normative discipline of the Church, and deemed opportune to correct abuses which have been brought to the attention of our Dicasteries, are hereby set forth.

It is called in English, “Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests“.

You will have to look for this document on the website of the Holy See under the Pontifical Council for the Laity.  You won’t find it easily by looking on the website under the other dicasteries or by using their so-called “search” feature.

As this document itself states:

The scope of this present document is simply to provide a clear, authoritative response to the many pressing requests which have come to our Dicasteries from Bishops, Priests and Laity seeking clarification in the light of specific cases of new forms of “pastoral activity” of the non-ordained on both parochial and diocesan levels.

Though being born in very difficult and emergency situations and even initiated by those who sought to be genuinely helpful in the pastoral moment, certain practices have often been developed which have had very serious negative consequences and have caused the correct understanding of true ecclesial communion to be damaged. These practices tend to predominate in certain areas of the world and even within these, a great deal of variation can be found.

Remember, eight dicasteries of the Curia signed onto this document.

Ecclesia de mysterio, among other things, seeks to correct the abuses of the laity and of the priesthood, both, which have crept in over time because of  theological problems resulting from, for example, the terms “minister” and “ministry”.

Here the titles of the provisions:

  1. Need for an Appropriate Terminology
  2. The Ministry of the Word
  3. The Homily
  4. The Parish Priest and the Parish
  5. The Structures of Collaboration in the Particular Church
  6. Liturgical Celebrations
  7. Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest
  8. The Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion
  9. The Apostolate to the Sick
  10. Assistance at Marriages
  11. The Minister of Baptism
  12. Leading the Celebration at Funerals
  13. Necessary Selection and Adequate Formation

Let’s tease out one of these: 8. The Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion

I am not making this up.  Go look for yourselves.  My emphases.

Article 8

The Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion

The non-ordained faithful already collaborate with the sacred ministers in diverse pastoral situations since “This wonderful gift of the Eucharist, which is the greatest gift of all, demands that such an important mystery should be increasingly better known and its saving power more fully shared”.(95)

Such liturgical service is a response to the objective needs of the faithful especially those of the sick and to those liturgical assemblies in which there are particularly large numbers of the faithful who wish to receive Holy Communion.

§ 1. The canonical discipline concerning extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion must be correctly applied so as to avoid generating confusion. The same discipline establishes that the ordinary minister of Holy Communion is the Bishop, the Priest and the the Deacon.(96) Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are those instituted as acolytes and the faithful so deputed in accordance with Canon 230, § 3.(97)

A non-ordained member of the faithful, in cases of true necessity, may be deputed by the diocesan bishop, using the appropriate form of blessing for these situation, to act as an extraordinary minister to distribute Holy Communion outside of liturgical celebrations ad actum vel ad tempus or for a more stable period. In exceptional cases or in un foreseen circumstances, the priest presiding at the liturgy may authorize such ad actum.(98)

§ 2. Extraordinary ministers may distribute Holy Communion at eucharistic celebrations only when there are no ordained ministers present or when those ordained ministers present at a liturgical celebration are truly unable to distribute Holy Communion.(99) They may also exercise this function at eucharistic celebrations where there are particularly large numbers of the faithful and which would be excessively prolonged because of an insufficient number of ordained ministers to distribute Holy Communion. (100)

This function is supplementary and extraordinary (101) and must be exercised in accordance with the norm of law. It is thus useful for the diocesan bishop to issue particular norms concerning extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion which, in complete harmony with the universal law of the Church, should regulate the exercise of this function in his diocese. Such norms should provide, amongst other things, for matters such as the instruction in eucharistic doctrine of those chosen to be extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the meaning of the service they provide, the rubrics to be observed, the reverence to be shown for such an august Sacrament and instruction concerning the discipline on admission to Holy Communion.

To avoid creating confusion, certain practices are to be avoided and eliminated where such have emerged in particular Churches:

— extraordinary ministers receiving Holy Communion apart from the other faithful as though concelebrants;

— association with the renewal of promises made by priests at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, as well as other categories of faithful who renew religious vows or receive a mandate as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion;

— the habitual use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Mass thus arbitrarily extending the concept of “a great number of the faithful”.

(95) Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, Premiss of the Instruction Immensae caritatis (29 January 1973), AAS 65 (1973), p. 264.

(96) Cf. C.I.C., can. 910, § 1; cf. John Paul II, Letter Dominicae coenae (24 February 1980), n. 11; AAS 72 (1980), p. 142.

(97) Cf. C.I.C., can. 910, § 2.

(98) Cf. Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Immensae caritatis (29 January 1973), AAS 65 (1973), p. 264, n. 1; Missale Romanum, Appendix: Ritus ad deputandum ministrum S. Communionis ad actum distribuendae; Pontificale Romanum, De institutione lectorum et acolythorum.

(99) Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of The Code of Canon Law, Response (1 June 1998), AAS 80 (1988), p. 1373.

(100) Cf. Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Immensae caritatis (29 January 1973), n. 1; AAS 65 (1973), p. 264; Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, Instruction Inestimabile donum (3 April 1980), n. 10: AAS 72 (1980), p. 336.

(101) Can. 230, § 2 and § 3 C.I.C., affirms that the liturgical services can be assigned to non-ordained faithful only “ex temporanea deputatione” or for supply.

I have a few questions for you readers.

If you are a seminarian or fairly recently ordained priest, have you ever heard of this document?  Did you study it in seminary?

If you are an older priest, do you remember if this document was distributed to parish priests by your diocesan chancery?

If you are a lay person, and you have some kind of “ministry” in your parish or chapel, have you ever heard of this document?

Once you have read it, perhaps you might come back to this entry and comment on how you see “reality” on the ground where you are compared to the reality of what is required in this document, issued by eight dicasteries and in forma specifica.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Brick by Brick, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. carl b says:

    I am a seminarian, still studying philosophy, and haven’t heard of this document. However, our EMHC training at the sem. I believe incorporated well what it says. But the reality on the ground in surrounding parishes is way deficient. At Sunday Mass at the parish I live it, there are 4 persons distributing the Precious Blood. Most of the communicants bypass it, and the EMsHC have to consume rather a lot of the Blood. Given that we can’t just stop distributing under both kinds, [YES WE CAN!… repeat it with me… YES WE CAN!] this parish should only have 2 chalices, not 4.

    And what is meant by this: “extraordinary ministers receiving Holy Communion apart from the other faithful as though concelebrants”, exactly? How would they not receive Communion apart from the other faithful? It has to be prior to the other faithful, and that seems apart to me. For example, at my parish of residence the EMsHC come up and receive in the sanctuary after the servers. When there are non-seminarians, or a mix of seminarians and non-seminarians, they stand and receive behind the altar, versus populum. When its just seminarians, we stay off to the side, behind the servers. This feels like it limits the “as though concelebrants” nature of standing behind the altar.

  2. skeeton says:

    Fr. Z, the parish nearest my home flagrantly violates this Instruction with each and every Sunday Mass, and this type of disobedience was one reason my young and growing family recently departed for more peaceful environs. The use of EMHCs is absolutely habitual and excessive. It is not unusual for there to be 10-12 EMHCs for each Sunday Mass, and there are also two priests who distribute. Heck, there’s usually at least one EMHC for daily Mass! Now, it is a rather large suburban parish, so some may argue that it would unduly prolong Mass for everyone to receive Holy Communion from the priests. But I’m not sure that would be true if Holy Communion were distributed under only one species. This parish is AmChurch through and through, so unless real consequences are applied for continued disobedience I do not see it changing anytime soon.

  3. catholicmidwest says:

    Yes, I know about this document. But it wasn’t enforced and is seldom mentioned.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    I heard of this document when it came out, as I was working with university students and the name of the “lay chaplain” changed, as obviously this indicated some sort of equality with priests, which does not exist. I think in some universities and college chaplaincies, this name still is applied, incorrectly. However, in 1997, some people were aware of it.

    Our local hospital, which is a huge conglomerate of clinics, hospitals, etc. recently “fired” the priest chaplain in favor of only “lay chaplains”. This is an abuse against the above document. Money is supposedly the issue, but now the dying have no recourse to the the Sacraments, unless one can find a priest willing to come up to the hospitals. This problem started about thirty years ago, but at that time, the institution did not have the audacity to go completely without a priest.

  5. catholicmidwest says:

    Same thing here, Supertradmom. Our “catholic” hospital has protestant chaplains. That’s all you can get in fact, unless you call one of the priests from local parishes that can serve those in the hospital. A lot of people just don’t when there’s as much going on as there usually is when they have a health crisis or accident in their family.

  6. catholicmidwest says:

    This has been going on for a long time. If something really happens, you have to make sure somebody calls the church because otherwise, no one in the church will ever know. And those of us out here in the country wonder if we will see a priest when we are sick or dying, and think maybe not.

    PS, If they send me a layperson busybody, there will be a layperson busybody in the street in less than 30 seconds.

  7. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Catholicmidwest is right. That document was DOA, dead on arrival. It was a too little, too late. The practices which the document sought to correct were already firmly entrenched in the entire Church. I could see many bishops saying “now you tell us!!” and just shrugging their shoulders that it would be too difficult to implement and the Holy See was not prepared to do any follow up.

  8. catholicmidwest says:

    It’d surprise me if half of them said, “now you tell us,” if they even read it.
    I think a good portion of them think they own their dioceses, lock stock & barrel, and can do whatever the hell they want. Collegiality, dontcha know.

  9. catholicmidwest says:

    And even some of priests working under good bishops have the same attitude about their parishes. They know darned well they aren’t going to get punished or maybe even caught no matter what they do, and they know the bishop can’t discipline them all. So they do what they want.

  10. Father Flores says:

    As a recently ordained priest (going on two years) I have read and summarized the document for use in workshops I gave to our EMHC’s in the Fall, with plans for continuing in Spring, hoping to offer it at least twice a year to all EMHC’s. They have generally appreciated the information and glad to be reminded the extraordinary provision, privilege, and service they have been afforded.

    But….no we did not study it in seminary.

  11. Ed the Roman says:

    I am a lay cantor, and by the grace of God the insanity of cantors being told to come up and commune with the EMHCs behind the altar (insane enough in its own right) went away; possibly due to my having made it clear through ‘music channels’ that I would only do it if the pastor said I must.

    I’d never heard of Ecclesia de Mysterio.

  12. jpmulcahy says:

    I’ve been ordained 5 1/2 years and while we did not study this document outright, its principles were firmly entrenched in our classroom instruction and followed to the letter during the Seminary Masses.

  13. chironomo says:

    At our parish, and I’m certain at MOST parishes in the US, EMHC’s are scheduled at every Mass weeks in advance, thus making moot the idea of a “great number of the faithful”. At the 6:00PM Sunday Mass, we have 6 EMHC’s for about 50 or 60 faithful.

    On the rare occasions when an EMHC fails to show for their time, it is as though some great calamity has struck – “OH MY GOD!!! WE ONLY HAVE 7 LAY COMMUNION MINISTERS INSTEAD OF 8!! HOW WILL THEY AND 3 PRIESTS AND 2 DEACONS EVER GIVE COMMUNION TO 800 PEOPLE!! AGHHHH…”

    It is really one of those things that needs to stop now.

  14. TKS says:

    Father Flores: since I don’t dare ask at my parish, what do you think in reality constitutes the need for EMHC’s? In the last 5 years of daily Mass at my huge parish, 20-40 people attend per day, and there are 3 EMHC’s besides the Priest. No one ever mentions numbers. As an older person, 40 years ago we managed at Mass to have one Priest giving Holy Communion and we prayed while he did it. Plus the time it takes to get all the EMCH’s ready on the altar is substantial.

  15. donboyle says:

    The term “ministry” is widely used at my parish to refer to any group of the faithful doing any approved activity at the parish. Thus, SVDP is a ministry; Knights of Columbus is a ministry; the Ladies’ Guild is a ministry; the Cub Scouts (no kidding) is a ministry. We don’t call anyone a “minister,” though, except for the EMOHCs, and then only when exercising their approved functions. I believe that the thrust of the document is against the practice of having installed lay “ministers” who take on pastoral duties. Logically, though, if there’s a “ministry,” those carrying out the activity are “ministers.”

    What we have at my parish is lazy terminology, IMO, not bad theology. Still, it grates on the fastidious.

  16. jdscotus says:

    Fr. Z., you are rightly impressed that eight dicasteries signed on to this document, but this document reads like eight people wrote it. [So what? If you want prose, read Manzoni.]

    Firstly, the document contradicts the very reasoning of extending to laypeople some clerical functions when it quotes Vatican II: “The hierarchy entrusts the laity with certain charges more closely connected with the duties of pastors: in the teaching of Christian doctrine, for example, in certain liturgical actions in the care of souls”.(11) [When it comes to weighing whether jdscotus or 8 dicasteries and the Pope think there were reasons for this document, I’ll go with the later.] The justification for lay ministers, lay readers, etc. ad nausea is that there is a shortage of priests. But there was not a shortage of priests when Vatican II was held, so why was there a need to enlist the help of the laity in the first place? Later, the document acknowledges that the use of the laity to perform these functions was the result of “very difficult and emergency situations and even initiated by those who sought to be genuinely helpful in the pastoral moment…” When? Oh, after Vatican II. Perhaps the “reformers” were simply anticipating the dreadful consequences of a dreadful Council. [Perhaps.] I have never bought the argument that lay ministers were needed due to the shortage of priests, mainly because there has been a corresponding shortage of Catholics. And why is it even a problem if Communion takes an extra 15 minutes? Other than having that much more time listening to bad music, maybe people could pray, if they still do that in the Church of the Springtime. [Is it that you don’t really like anything having to do with the Council? Therefore, a step in the right direction is pointless?]

    Secondly, the document states explicitly that females may perform functions that are “more closely connected with the duties of pastors…” but then goes on to sniff that “certain practices have often been developed which have had very serious negative consequences and have caused the correct understanding of true ecclesial communion to be damaged.” Like, for example, having the faithful see women distribute Communion? No wonder so many Catholics take a pragmatic approach to solving the lack of priests in the Church (e.g., promoting women priests)—the Council has instructed them to do just that! The twisted “reasoning” throughout this document is simply appalling. [You seem to be all over the place.]

    Thirdly, the conclusion contains this whopper: “The Holy See entrusts this present document to the pastoral zeal of diocesan Bishops in the various particular Churches and to other Ordinaries in the hope that its application may produce abundant fruit for the growth, in communion, of sacred ministers and the non-ordained faithful.” Perhaps Article 1 (Need for an Appropriate Terminology) needs to be amended to include helpful advice on what “pastoral zeal” means. [Perhaps this points to the episcopate in 1997.]

    Fourthly, the document suffers from a repeated pattern of trying to claim that the exception proves the rule. The problem with this complaint is that the Council created the exception, which most reasonable people would infer that there is no more hard-and-fast rule. Sorry, but those horses bolted from the barn long, long ago—and at your invitation, no less. [My invitation?]

    Still, I would love to hear the bishops defend and explain how the habitual use of laypeople to perform clerical functions is either necessary or useful. [So would I. I have long argued that this is merely a particularly condescending form of clericalism.]

  17. We’ve heard of this document at my parish. At Sunday Mass we regularly commune 200+ congregants with just one Eucharistic minister (that is, the priest pastor).

    We’ve used extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion twice that I know of in the years I’ve been attending there, both times for Easter morning Masses, both times they were instituted acolytes.

  18. frobuaidhe says:

    I remember it well. It was mass-reproduced by ‘Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice’ in England, presumably for mass dissemination. As a young curate, my parish priest used to work himself into a froth over it. I, and other young priests, used to hide dozens of copies (suitably highlighted) inside the parish hymnbooks for the lay faithful to find since to dare to preach about it and hand them out openly would have brought about a fate worse than death in those dark days when you couldn’t count on being supported further up the chain of command.
    In present time: well, we have it here in black and white so, why are supposedly orthodox bishops tolerating the flagrant abuse of EHMCs? My bishop knows this is why I don’t have them and that’s fine by him, but he won’t hold the line himself in other parishes. Why do the same kind of bishops still appoint lay ‘chaplains’ and tolerate the same misleading terminology? For me, the greatest personal use of the document I have have is to remind me that I haven’t gone mad and that disobedience is still disobedience.

  19. asperges says:

    Because of the bad weather I have recently had to endure the NO twice at the local church.[I think you got this wrong. I think what you meant to say was, “I prefer the TLM, but thank God there was nearby a Mass in the Ordinary Form – too bad about the oddities – I could go to easily without all the work it would have taken to get to the TLM. I am sure that is what you meant.] Both this document (particularly the “habitual use” of EMHC which seems everywhere to be the norm) and the GIRM in general are simply ignored.

    It is in the nature of the new rite that it is beyond serious control and that its structure is infinitely variable. It was designed that way. Those who do strictly observe the rubrics are in the minority – and probably celebrate the EF when they can. God bless them.

  20. SimonDodd says:

    I’m familiar and have occasionally mentioned it in conversations with one of our priests. My experience, however, is that it is either unknown or ignored in almost every parish where I’ve attended Mass.

    Perhaps it should be incorporated as an appendix to the new English Missal. This is an ideal time to correct a number of things that aren’t changed in the new translation but which are routinely done wrong and may conveniently be reexamined.

  21. benedictgal says:

    I have posted this on my blog a few times, as well as in the Catholic Answers Liturgy and Sacraments forum. In fact, I make reference to it a lot when I post on CAF. I have given my parochial vicar a copy of it and I also reference it during liturgical committee meetings.

    Adoremus has this posted on its website. I have found it on the Holy See’s website in the Congregation for Clergy’s section on documents for priests.

    I am trying to compile an online liturgical library for my blog to help my fellow South Texans have easy access to the authoritative documents of the Church. I just have not yet figured out how to link stuff yet.

  22. benedictgal says:

    One thing to also note is that this document, in my opinion, appears to be the precursor to Redemptionis Sacramentum. Both of these documents should be read in tandem, along with the GIRM.

  23. Flambeaux says:

    I consider myself a well-read layman and I’d never heard of it. Thank you, Father, for drawing it to our attention.

  24. I have heard of this document and read it.

    We have a midwestern suburban megachurch in 1/2-round. Daily Mass with 100 people or so has a minimum of 3 EMHCs and sometimes up to 5. Weekend Masses are a mess with 16 Chalices scattered across the Sanctuary with Precious Blood for at each of 5 Masses and 4-5 extra EMHCs with Body of Christ in addition to the 3-4 true Ministers usually only on the main aisle. All rush the “stage” to be the pre-chosen (aka regularly scheduled) EMHCs, each receives out of special receipt.

    While there are too many and recruitment is a constant, at least they are not self communicating or wearing special vestments or talismen of their “stature” as I have seen in other places around the country.

    The problem seems to be around what is necessary and what justifies a large congregation and delay of the Mass v. proper ordering to the sacred event of the liturgy. This is mostly a “need” to pastorally rush Mass to never more than an hour (1/2-hour weekdays). Communion for a Sunday or holy day of obligation full house is usually shorter than the reading of First Eucharistic Prayer (Roman Canon) even optioned for shortest possiblee effect and always shorter than a Homily any day of the week. Hardly beeing treated as a sacrifice nor a source and summit.

  25. paxetbonum says:

    Never heard of it, and my interest in such matters is above average for an educated Catholic layman.

    I seriously doubt it was given any more than a brief mention, if that, in the official archdiocesan newpaper at the time. However, the outgoing archbishop’s personal philosophy and meditations, with doctrinal interpretations and directives for procedures and postures during Holy Mass were expressed in an episcopal document entitled “Gather Faithfully Together” and were trumpeted far and wide in publications, workshops, and religious education congresses. It didn’t seem to matter to most clerics and lay “liturgists” at the time that this document had multiple disconnects and contradictions with existing liturgical documents such as Redemptionis Sacramentum, the GIRM, guidance published in Notitiae, and common liturgical practice in the rest of the United States.

    There is hope for significant liturgical reform under the incoming archbishop. Time will tell.

  26. JimGB says:

    As a lay person, I have never heard of the document but have become aware of some of the principles articulated in the document. That said, they are not followed in my parish where there are four or five EMHCs used at every Mass, in additional to the celebrant. We have three priests on staff but they do not distribute Holy Communion at the Masses they do not celebrate, leaving that exclusively to the EMHCs. We have had situations where there was a priest concelebrant who, after receiving Communion, returned to his seat and let the EMHCs distribute Communion, which is clearly not permitted. In fairness, many of the EMHCs are very uncomfortable in that situation, and would rather defer to the priest.

  27. catholicmidwest says:

    Clearly your EMHCs are not uncomfortable enough or they’d quit.

  28. Father Flores says:


    In an attempt at a response: I would say there is a host of underlying assumptions and overt practices that make EMHC’s very practical, and since practical, through the eyes of many, necessary.

    First is the design of current churches that prevent a priest or deacon simply standing in the middle where two lines form to either side of him. (Some churches are designed in that ‘seashell’ or ‘in the round’ which make distributing Holy Communion a huge traffic jam)

    Secondly, the desire to be constantly singing during communion such that if communion takes more than ten minutes or ‘two songs’ people become generally impatient with the priest and/or choir.

    Thirdly, the mistaken notion that everyone at every Mass must receive under both species, thus rendering it almost impossible to NOT have EMHC’s.

    Fourthly, that ‘active participation’ means ‘playing clergy’

    Fifthly, the fact that almost everyone comes up in the Communion line to receive their Lord (or in some places a blessing) regardless of the state of their souls.

    There are other reasons which, off the top of my head I cannot think of now. Whenever EMHC’s are prevalent in a parish, there are usually a number of these at work. If we can begin by addressing the underlying philosophies and correcting the misinterpretations, we may begin to move in a direction the Church desires….more vocations to the priesthood. I tell my EMHC’s, you should be praying for the day that you are no longer needed as EMHC’s because there will be enough acolytes, deacons, and priests to distribute Our Lord to His faithful.

    However, your reluctance to ask your pastor for his reasons speaks of other things, I pray that he may be charitable in answering you if you could ask him.

  29. Geoffrey says:

    I too consider myself a well-informed layman, particularly in matters like this. I have NEVER heard of this document. It sounds massive. No wonder it was apparently “hushed up”.

  30. Dr. Eric says:

    As a layman, I have never heard of the document. There definitely is some ambiguity in the document. What constitutes a large group of people that would necessitate the need for extraneous Eucharistic Ministers? If there were some sort of guidelines it would be helpful. But these ambiguous documents just add fuel to the liturgical abuse fire.

  31. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Today is the first time I’ve seen this. While the content of the document is in keeping with other things I’ve read on the topic, it bears little resemblance to what I’ve seen – even when the celebrant has been a bishop or future bishop. I’ve been attending Mass regularly since late 1999 and was received into the Church in 2001. Most Masses have been in Denver, but others have been in dioceses of New York, Newark, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Santa Fe, Phoenix, St. Petersburg Florida, Rockville Center NY, Colorado Springs, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. I guess I simply haven’t been enough places as a Catholic yet.

  32. Paul says:

    Layperson, fairly well read, very interested in this sort of thing and have never heard of this document before. Oddly enough, I have just been asked to start teaching some classes for RCIA. Thanks to Father Z. for some “supplementary” materials. ;-)

  33. Joan M says:

    I have had a copy of this document since shortly after it was published, and used it at parish council meetings in my parish of residence (I no longer attend Mass there). Once, at a meeting of the parish council, I drew their attention that we do not have “Eucharistic Ministers” assisting the priest give Communion, but Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, the response from a priest (he was Vicar for something, not our pastor) that “we don’t use that term in Trinidad”!

    In the church I not attend, we have the priest and 11 EMHCs on Sundays!! And Communion is only being given under one species!

    At daily Mass – we usually have 100 – 120 people – Communion is under both species, so we have the priest and 7 EMHCs. All EMHCs are rostered, so each one knows where they will be “serving”.

  34. Catholicity says:

    I have been aware of this document since it first came out. I’ve brought it to the attention of a couple of pastors over the years. I believe that one laughed, and the other changed the subject. Laying the question of motives aside, priests who are aware of this document yet fail to put it into practice are doing no grand service to the Church (in that one regard). Any Catholic parish anywhere that publishes the names of the EMHCs for upcoming Masses in the weekly bulletin is simply advertising the fact that the prohibition is meaningless because it has never been enforced. Legislation without enforcement is akin to parents threatening their children but never following through with punishment. Those are some of the worst kind of parents. For educated laity, also, especially children, the bad example given by priests in what they allow in their Masses is a slap in the face to parents who are trying to raise their children properly. It is basically such children that in the real world, there are no consequences for disobedience.

  35. biberin says:

    I’ve known of this document practically since I’ve been Catholic, because I read CAF and benedictgal is very handy with her citations :)

    My parish uses EMHCs only on weekends, and good attention has been paid to the minimum number that can be used while still keeping the communicants from tripping over each other. At daily Mass, the priest ministers the Body of Christ and the deacon the Precious Blood.

  36. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Yes, I have heard of it and read it (some ten plus years ago).

    Sometimes I get depressed reading these things – because, as Fr. Sotelo said – it was DOA, just like the vast majority of *any* document that comes from the Vatican.

    I am a lay catechist with a particular interest in the liturgy because – as we have been taught so well on Fr. Z’s excellent blog – we are supposed to be praying what we believe (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, right?)

    Article 8 from this document is never – ever – followed at any of the parishes I attend (yes, I am truly a Roamin’ Catholic, in search of the least amount abuses at Holy Mass) – seven parishes, to be exact.

    Good grief, most laymen have never opened the catechism let alone read a document like this. The general attitude of most laymen (including catechists and EMoHC) is: “Well, if father says it is okay what is the problem?” or “If the diocese promotes our Masses to be celebrated in such fashion – the bishop must have okayed these (illicit) practices.”

    If we cannot worship the Lord according to the established authority of the Church – how can we expect to change the world in which we live?

    “Save the Liturgy, Save the World” indeed.


  37. pelerin says:

    carl b writes ‘Given that we can’t just stop distributing under both kinds…’
    And why not? In my own parish there are no longer any EMOHCs and Holy Communion is received under one kind as it was before ‘the changes.’ If I remember rightly I think it started during the flu scare and the Priest has continued. There used to be two EMOHCs. We now line up in front of the sanctuary ( where the altar rails used to be) to receive from the Priest alone and I have yet to hear anybody complain.

    Whereas years ago I dreaded each new innovation, now I am in a Parish where the Priest is bravely introducing welcome changes. And Midnight Mass was celebrated ad orientem with just a short explanation beforehand. Wonderful!

  38. carl b says:


    I meant that we can’t only in reference to that particular parish. I don’t think the pastor wants to put his foot down on these issues, and I’m in no position to tell him what to do. But should I ever become a pastor, there will be communion under one kind, except in the Easter Octave.

  39. catholicmidwest says:

    carl b, you said, “‘Given that we can’t just stop distributing under both kinds…’”

    I don’t know why not.

  40. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    I remember this document well. It’s the one Cardinal Hume said “does not apply in England”. [May His Eminence rest in peace… but he was wrong.]

  41. prairie says:

    I was not aware of this document specifically, but have heard the basic idea that EMHC’s are to be used only if actually needed. We generally have 2 EMHC’s at each daily mass and 6 or 7 at Sunday masses. Some of our EMHC’s are men I know are deacons, but many are women and men about whom I don’t know. We are in quite a large parish, and I could see the need for at least a couple extra people at Sunday masses. I don’t think the crowd is big enough at the daily masses to require extra help distributing, but the design of the building would make it difficult for everyone to get to the priest in an orderly and timely manner. (Round building.)

  42. templariidvm says:

    As a fairly well-read layman, I had not heard of this. Our parish is quite large, with the average Sunday liturgy having more than 400-500 people. We have 2 permanent deacons, a pastor, a parochial vicar, and a retired priest who remains associated with our parish. On many Sundays, only one priest +/- a permanent deacon are the ordinary ministers, with approximately 8-10 extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. It does seem to me, that it takes a bit of time to prepare for that many ministers. This seems to be composed mostly of apportioning the Precious Blood. Though I do “like” to receive Holy Communion under both species, I do not feel slighted or as if I have missed out if I do not receive of the Precious Blood. So . . . does our problem lie with distributing both species or is it a need for more ministers – period?

    I will be somewhat charitable and not comment on the less than devout attitudes (clothing, facial expressions, etc) which I routinely see in EMHC.

    Wouldn’t mind hearing more about the “why’s and wherefore’s” as to the change to distributing both species from the previous tradition of receiving the Body, alone.

  43. templariidvm says:

    The EMHC’s also DO receive separately/before the rest of the communicants, as they form a semi-circle behind the altar, with the altar servers as the Lamb of God begins.

  44. cyejbv says:

    Lay person, well informed comparatively speaking, huge library and I’ve never heard of this-nor any kind of reference to it – obliquely or otherwise. I am actually a little surprised considering as you mention Father Z it was//… issued by eight dicasteries and in forma specifica//
    We have a priest, deacon and 6 EMHC’s on Weekend Masses, Feasts, Holy Days etc. Only the priest and deacon during weekday masses.

    As Midwest St Michael aptly points out: “Good grief, most laymen have never opened the catechism let alone read a document like this” and after reading it Father Z, I understand completely why you remarked “I’m not making this up”.

  45. I have seen one situation in which you could say the EMHCs were necessary. At daily Mass, the 86-year-old priest (who, by the way, continued offering early-morning daily Mass up until the Monday before his death) became too weak to be able to cope with distributing Communion. This priest would show up to Mass in all kinds of weather, despite his infirmities. He was on blood thinners and oxygen (so the altar candles couldn’t be lit), and toward the end he had to have a walker that he could sit on during Mass. THAT would definitely qualify as a situation where it was necessary for EMHCs to step in.

    The legions of EMHCs will be hard to get rid of, short of priests and bishops just flatly refusing to use them except in accordance with church law, because many people consider it to be a means for laity to participate more fully in the liturgy (a view specifically repudiated in the documents), and because many people think they have a “right” to serve. But an important part of service is the willingness to stand down when one’s service is not required. If that is lacking, then you have to ask yourself, just whom am I serving?

    Miss A., O.P.

  46. I’m a layperson at a parish where there are 1000+ families. Most of them are large and growing families, so there are easily several thousand parishioners; our Church seats 1200, and is standing room only for the Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Easter Triduum and Midnight Mass. There are currently 3 Sunday masses, quite well attended, and we will usually have the Priest and Deacon distributing the Eucharist in the center aisle, with 1 EMHC serving the back half of the main rows, and another 2 EMHCs (all of them laypeople) serving the two sections to the side.

    I have no doubt we could make do with just the ordinary ministers; and there’s no stigma attached to filing through a pew that is going up to receive to do so from the Priest or Deacon. Our EMHCs are still reverent, are required to go through several training sessions, and don’t bat an eye at people wanting to receive on the tongue, or even kneeling. That being said, I would not miss them if they were not to be continued; the extra ten minutes people would have to spend at Mass, most of them kneeling, would do them some good IMO.

  47. albizzi says:

    I knew Redemptionis Sacramentum but not Ecclesia de Mysterio.
    Anyway, if the abuses during NO masses were the only motives I should complain, I would be very glad.
    The question isn’t : Is there a pilot in the aircraft? but rather: Does the pilot cares how his orders are enforced?

  48. FrJohn says:

    I am newly ordained and while I know this document, it was not discussed in the seminary. Also interesting is Article 6.2 pertaining to priestly gestures being forbidden to the non-ordained. Couple this with the SC directive that no one, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change any part of the Mass (this includes the Catholic in the pew) and I think there is ample evidence to direct the immediate discontinuation of the laity using the orans position, or holding hands, during the Pater Noster. It would be interesting to hear your take on this Fr. Z.

  49. Evanfardreamer,

    Your situation is similar to my parish although our church only holds about 1,000. A parish of this size is where EMHC are necessary because of the numbers. Take your parish for instance, if it was just the priest and deacon alone distributing at a good pace, Communion for 1,200 would take almost one hour.

    I think a good rule of thumb is one EMHC or priest/deacon for every 200 communicants. With this ratio the distribution of Holy Communion still takes 15 minutes or so, which seem about right. Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier if a bishop or even the Vatican would just issue some type of simple detailed guideline that could just be followed by the pastor.

  50. gambletrainman says:

    Back around 1972/73, our parish was assigned a pastor fresh from Ireland. I had been active in church activities, and within a week, I remember sitting in the pastor’s office when he flat out told me that while he was here, he was going to do only the necessary things, and leave the rest to others. At that time, I didn’t know exactly what he meant, but, as time went on, I found out what he meant. He would say the Mass, but at communion time, he would sit in front of the “old altar”, while lay people would distribute—2 at the center aisle with the “bread” (I am not trying to be disrespectful, but small chunks of bread were distributed, rather than the wafer) and one at each side aisle with the cup (and this was long before any “flu scare” had come up). Being as we are midway between summer and winter vacation spots, we would get a lot of out-of-towners at our Sunday masses. One of these out-of-towners reported this priest to our bishop, who basically did nothing (for about two months, the priest in question “straightened up”, but after that, he went back to his old ways). And, as an aside, one of the nuns at school who was a music director, asked him if, at one Christmas she could have the choir do “Adeste Fideles” (the Latin version), and his reply was that as long as he was at this parish there would be no Latin, either said or sung. He has since gone from this earth, and the bishop involved has retired.

  51. catholicmidwest says:

    The real question, Patrick Thornton, is how you got the only parish in the entire country where every single married member of the parish goes to Confession on Saturday and then doesn’t take a birth control pill on Saturday night before coming to mass the next morning.

    Yet, it must be true if 100% of the people in the parish are over first Holy Communion age, and if that same 100% of all the people in the parish are all getting in the Holy Communion line. I think that’s really odd. Don’t you?

  52. catholicmidwest says:

    Oh except maybe for the ones that aren’t practicing birth control. There are a precious few. And the ones who have disabled spouses and what not. But still! I’m amazed. You have one parish in a million!

  53. Gail F says:

    I have never heard of this document, but I do know about Redemptionis Sacramentum, which I only heard of thanks to Rich Leonari’s Ten Reasons blog. No one at my parish pays any attention to either. They like the things promulgated downtown in the Worship Office, which include the readers each coming up from the pews before the readings, and the people offering the gifts without bowing at the altar. We usually have 8 to 10 EMHC folk. I can see a case being made for a few but, as someone else commented, there are a lot of people with chalices and not many takers.

    A month or so ago I was talking to someone from a different parish who was an EMHC at daily mass. I asked him how many people came to daily mass and he said about 30, so I asked him why they had EMHC at all — couldn’t the priest do it? You would have thought that I shot him. And I was just being curious, I was not being snarky or superior.

    FrJohn: One answer to your question is that there aren’t any rubrics for what people in the pews are supposed to do (except in a few specific places), the rubrics are for the priests. Prohibitions against people making the same gestures as the priest are so that they don’t confuse their actions with the priest’s; but holding hands during the Our Father does not do that. I have heard several people competent in liturgy say that can be considered a local custom. The people I know who hold their hands in the “orans” position seem to have some history with the charismatic movement — again, nothing to do with adopting a priestly role. Now, when the PRIEST tells everyone to “extend their hands in blessing” over someone (the “Nazi salute”) then I think you have a case. That is certainly the laity attempting to take on a priestly role.

  54. Ef-lover says:

    Yes, I heard of it and read once or twice. I don’t think the last two pastors of my parish read it . For the past 16 years I lived in my parish every mass has 2 EEM’s and the Sunday 5pm mass has 3 EEM’s. No matter how many priest are assigned to the parish the number of EEM’s has never changed. When a priest is on vacation then there are 3 EEM’s a mass. This is a small parish 2 priest are enough to handel communion distribution

  55. Jayna says:

    My former parish has over 70 “ministries” and to be honest, I’m still not quite sure how drama is a ministry. The name “minister” is applied to everyone they can think of. My particular favorite is the “welcome minister.” As to EHMC’s, who are habitually referred to as Eucharistic Ministers, there are no less than 10 used at every Sunday Mass. I would say that on a normal basis the number is actually closer to 15. To be fair, the church does sit about 700, but it isn’t full on an average Sunday and so nowhere near that number is strictly necessary. In addition, there are 2 used at every daily Mass, at which there are maybe 20 people. I would also add that this particular parish has 7 (yes, 7) permanent deacons, though there is only one at each Mass on Sunday and usually none during the week. I know they aren’t full-time staff, but honestly.

  56. Jim Dorchak says:

    15 Ministresses at Christmas Day Mass in Myrtle Beach SC.

  57. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    I’m a layman.

    Know about it? I’ve practically got a reliquary with this document enshrined in it. I first encountered it because of a (now defunct) publication called “The Pope Speaks”. It drove me to tradition, which was the only place I could find its letter and spirit enforced: Communion isn’t rushed, and there’s no need for distribution under both species. We have time to talk with Our Lord, cor ad cor loquantur.

    Thank you, Father, for bringing this document back to the light of day. I’ve referred to it many times in many conversations, even going to the extent of producing copies of relevant passages so that people don’t confuse it with my own personal, private opinion.

    God bless you! Happy feast of Holy Innocents.

    Chris Garton-Zavesky

  58. Geoffrey says:

    While I think of it, this would have been right around the time that I was becoming a “Eucharistic Minister”–at that time I hadn’t even heard of the correct term “Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist”! (I am no longer one.)

    Is this document available in Latin anywhere? Perhaps in the ‘Acta Apostolicae Sedis’?

  59. Childermass says:

    Never heard of it. But not surprised it was DOA—along with most everything else coming from Rome.

    Surely all we need is another document. That will solve everything!

    At my church (in Boston), the priest-celebrant and a layman (man, never a woman) distribute the host, while four laypeople (usually 2 women and 2 men) distribute the chalice.

    At the local parish where I’m from (upstate New York), they have quite a system going:

    3 EMHCs (usually women) distribute hosts (chunks of leavened bread) with the priest. Upon receiving (in the hand), congregants then move to the sides to an additional 4 women holding glass chalices, at which point they dunk their hosts in the chalices and feed themselves.

  60. benedetta says:

    catholicmidwest: Also, apparently every member of the parish attends Mass faithfully without skipping any Sundays! Though no nfp programs are offered and confession time is abbreviated here is a place which is somehow managing to lead the way! A diamond in the suburban rough? Where is this mythical place?

    I am looking forward to reading up. Never heard of this but it is so right on the money and clearly clued in to what has been happening.

    It is bizarre how everyone seems to be deemed a minister and everything a ministration. It has created a certain church-y class of people, that is for sure, who have less (much, much less) training and formation than even the most liberal seminaries would provide. Interestingly during this time of year it is common to read bulletin special “thank yous” to the various ministers…with the long list and somewhere in there you might spy included a thank you to the gentleman (still a given) who is the “sacramental minister” which is code for, “he just swoops in and does his thing on the weekends but we are really running this place”. Maximum status for those with the least amount of training, and marginalization and begrudging reference to the one who at the end of the day remains essential. Since we no longer value the concept of humility as a general matter, those who are in charge and sometimes self-appointed, again with little or no training, theological, pastoral wear their status and wield it like tyrants or entitled royalty. Which leaves the little old lowly pew-sitter. You never get those words per se but that is still the message conveyed. The pew-sitter is treated as consumer and spectator, and of course, for their “active participation” never gets a shout out. And that is according to the current standards of business transaction or movie-going. So you get the many ministers of communion (so-called) who array themselves behind the altar and have a special moment as if concelebrating, no question about it. In the historical blink of an eye a new clerical class is formed.

    And if you question the content of what is being doled out in the various ministries then you are slapped down for criticizing what just a little old volunteer is doing for the church. And you are also then labelled as anti-Vatican II and dismissed and ostracized. It could be a parish blog that foments the alternate magisterium. It could be an invitation to a oneness in holistic peace retreat which refers to people in their literature as “earthlings” seeking to be as one with “Mother Earth”. It could be broadway show tunes offered by the choir with a movie night. Or a Halloween party in place of catechesis for youth. Or the communion bread baking ministry. Or human sexuality (and we’re not talking theology of the body). Or how about the Prayer Shawl Ministry. That is a coffee klatch of knitters who make booties and blankets. But it too is a ministry, how could one forget that.

    It’s all fun and nice and it gives the appearance that there is a lot going on, a lot on offer, and relevant too since it’s offered by The Laity. It’s all good and the big plus is no one has to be reminded of the bad old days (which we didn’t experience anyway but have heard plenty about) and we can all congratulate ourselves on our with-itness. We have officially arrived.

    Inevitably, you are asked, well, what are you doing, for the church, then, if all of this is not your cup of tea, what are you offering to the parish as a ministry of your own? How to even begin to explain that not “everything” is of value or worth promoting all in the name of putting more bodies up there front and center. What about a “ministry” to local Catholic homeschoolers. How about an NFP outreach ministry. Or, as some proposed, looking to start a schola. How about prolife ministry and acts of practical charity (not only writing the check or bringing in the canned goods for drop off). How about a consecrated virgin attached to the parish. What about a Holy Hour (or two) for confirmandi? What about advocacy for a little silence in the liturgy. Not all ministries are welcomed yet not all offered have broad appeal either.

    And for every officious presence there is not a corresponding exponential growth…and I would hazard a guess that for many of these little ventures plenty are also totally turned off and driven far away.

    And meanwhile, are families being asked to “help out,” as laity, with the vocation crisis, by encouraging their children to consider the priesthood, religious or consecrated life? What about that particular program and ministry? The ministry of the domestic church is much neglected. So to what extent is this vocations crisis merely a self-fulfilling prophecy…the prophecy of doom and gloom for our Church?

    If I am just the pew-sitting consumer, then, by all means, I am not buying.

  61. Dean says:

    Layman. Have heard about it, but not had access. After I asked my former pastor about it, soon I was asked to “distance” myself from the parish.
    On the other hand, while in the hospital a few years ago, a pentecostal minister entered my room and offered his services. I told him I was a minister in my church and he departed. Yeah, I was a Minister of Hospitality, you know, an usher.
    I really wish the EMs where I attend Mass now would not impart “blessings” and concentrate, if we must have EMs, on distributing Communion.

  62. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    If you are a lay person, and you have some kind of “ministry” in your parish or chapel, have you ever heard of this document?
    Yes, and once I read it, I began to “question” whether the “role” I was being asked to fill, was really a role for me to fill. After a prayerful discernment (on a Catholic Women of the Chapel Retreat) I discussed what I had read with the Installation Chaplain (and the Roman Catholic Parish Pastor) and was released from the position of EMHC.
    I noticed that after that, there were no “new” EMHC’s during the remainder of his tenure, but when he left, it resumed again. We left that post shortly after he did.
    In good conscience, I cannot go back to doing it.

  63. FrJohn says:

    Thank you “Gail F” for your take on my added comment. The comments thus far seem to be focusing on EMHC rather than on the document generally, so I won’t say anything more than: I trust you would agree that silence does not equate to licentiousness, if not for the priest (as SC clearly states) then certainly not for the laity either. Plus, and again I think you would agree, there are far more priestly gestures than the “Nazi salute” you mentioned. In fact, during the Pater Noster the orans position is mandated (for now) for the priest and forbidden to the deacons and by extension, one might argue, the laity – especially in light of article 6.2 of this document. And, given that nothing may be added, removed, or changed in the Mass (on one’s own authority – per SC) I would ask the question: on who’s authority do the laity assume the right to use the orans position or hold hands during the recitation of the Pater Noster? I do not claim to be the ultimately authority on this, which is why I would love to hear Fr. Z’s comments. PAX!

  64. FrJohn: I think we have to argue either a) that it makes no difference whatsoever what the laity do, since it is only the priest’s actions that count… and I don’t think many people want to do that, or… b) we have to argue that what they do does make a difference, and therefore they should avoid making gestures which confuse the roles of priest and laity.

  65. Geoffrey says:

    “Surely all we need is another document. That will solve everything!”

    Ha ha!

    I recall hearing either the current or the former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments that indeed everything that needs to be said has been said (in documents, rubrics, etc.), and that it just needs to be done. Perhaps all of the bishop’s conferences of the world should organize workshop-retreats for their priests where they can get a “refresher” on these things.

  66. Sixupman says:

    At the church which I attempt to attend, public transport permitting, a final year seminarian preached at Mass, the tenor being the usurpation of the ordained priesthood by the laity. I nearly collapsed.

    In my, to be avoided parish, I turned-up for a Holy Thursday Mass, to be met by a cacophany of chatter, promoted by the parish priest and, what I thought was another, walking up and down the aisle. The ‘another’ dressed in clerical suit complete with ‘dog-collar’, was a (lay – do not shout at me you deacons) deacon.

    However did we manage before and whatever happened to thanksgiving after Communion?

  67. pelerin says:

    Interested to see Fr Z’s comment when a commenter wrote that he had had to ‘endure a NO Mass.’ I have been guilty of using the same expression especially after the’happy clappy’ Christmas Mass last year which I attended when in another part of the country. The sight of a Priest in his 8Os clapping and swaying in front of the altar almost reduced me to tears. I kept on telling myself that this was indeed the Mass and that I had been lucky that there was a Catholic church in the very small town but oh the sadness when I came away. I felt empty and jealous of my fellow parishioners back home.

    This year I stayed at home and was able to attend Midnight Mass celebrated with great dignity ‘ad orientem’ . I shall try and avoid using the term ‘endure’ in future when I attend in other parishes but it is difficult.

  68. benedetta says:

    This document is only, what 12 or 13 years old? I guess in my part of the world we prefer to remain backward and behind the times! Perhaps the powers that be are still poring over this and studying it and readying themselves to implement it?

    Be that as it may I read in the first part that there are many areas of life, short of joining the new clerical class, that the laity may be actively engaged in their faith. But here you never hear of that! No one wants the laity taking their faith seriously and at face-value where I am. It is either, get involved in the “mynistry” or, shut up, I guess. These many real and needed opportunities for laity to be engaged in their faith, I read for the first time in this document. Does it not appear that the laity themselves have been manipulated and exploited to serve a certain political agenda? It seems, at least where I am, that the essential recommendation in this document has been intentionally turned upside down so that wherever possible, the roles of laity with ordained are deeply confused, laity take on roles of pastor, pastors are marginalized, the terminology and practice is stretched and distorted to express maximum clergy-like status upon the laity.

    In places like this where for many years one is required to go through the pretense that Pope, magisterium, Vatican documents simply do not exist, there is a vacuum. One would think the Catholic Church was “invented” in the 1970’s as the same select, incomplete sources are drawn on over and over by the authorities as valid to the exclusion of most all else. There is double-speak and Orwellian terminology everywhere. On occasion when you encounter, this or that saint, this or that piece of sacred music, this or that somewhat traditional liturgical practice, it is still minimized or disqualified as not being from our modern world and thus suspect. Never taken at face-value but like a bad English literature seminar, employing always the critical method. (Always the preface, the pointing out, obligatory, how we are so much more evolved today…though we give tacit approval to the mass slaughter of innocents, we are so much more evolved!) This critical-consumerist vantage of the laity is encouraged, and, exploited. Since no one takes the Real Presence, the magisterium, the vocations “crisis” at face value for what they are, no one is engaged in the faith as laity either, even by their own standards of what the “mission of discipleship” as it is deemed, warrants. And what are they so afraid of, that Catholics might truly believe?

    Profiled recently in the diocesan newspaper was a pastor who professes to enjoy listening to good music and reading the New York Times. I looked up his parish website. Like most places here it is run by non-trained, non-ordained, self-important lay folk. However, there is one spot where the good pastor takes the time to make a recommendation to his parishioners. And that recommendation is, to read, Catholic publications. Such as…The National Catholyc Reporter! And here we come to the source of the alternative reality, what feeds the delusion and dictates the strange vocabulary and half-baked “doctrine”. Oops, sorry, forgot…fishwrap. Would the laity, if fully apprised of their true dignity and rights, if given half the chance to peruse what is their authentic inheritance, choose, fishwrap over that? We’ll never know because it is not even given a fair debate.

  69. TNCath says:

    Yes, I was familiar with the document, but no, it does not represent what I see in most parishes. In fact, our bishop is quite adamant that Extraordinary Ministers be used because of his insistence that Holy Communion be given under both species as much as possible. Moreover, Extraordinary Ministers are still going to the tabernacle at Mass to retrieve extra hosts and are still purifying vessels after Communion. Sadly, the use of of Extraordinary Ministers is completely out of hand in our diocese, but nobody here seems to care to do anything about it.

  70. TNCath says:

    Has anyone seen today’s Bollettino? The Pope has appointed the following cardinals to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments:

    Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, Archbishop of Warsaw, Poland
    Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, Archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Cardinal Angelo Amato S.D.B.
    Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura
    Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy
    Cardinal Velasio De Paolis C.S., President of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.

    Perhaps these appointments will help address some of the abuses.

  71. benedetta says:

    TNCath: That is good news!

    We also have both here, lay people who are called Chaplain and priests who direct the faithful to drop the “Father” to say only his first name, as in, “Bob”.

  72. Dear Catholicmidwest and Benedetta,

    The issue of whether people who approach to receive Holy Communion are worthy to do so is not really what was being discussed. Of course, I would agree that many approach unworthily. The priest must distribute Holy Communion to those who approach (unless they are public sinners per can. 915).

    My point, which seems to have been missed, had to do with numbers and when EMHC’s are truly necessary. In a Mass where there are 800-1,000 communicants and only 1 priest (or perhaps a priest and a deacon), EMHC’s are needed. I agree that most of the time EMHC’s are not necessary, but there are times when they are needed. God-willing, as vocations increase, they will become truly rare.

    As for my parish, it is quite good. Confession is offered several hours per week, and the lines are long. There are quite a few large families. While I’m sure there are many who contracept and miss Mass, there are at least the basics of a strong Catholic culture, and for that I am grateful.

  73. RosaMystica says:

    I have heard of and read the document, but our bishop and priests either don’t know or don’t care about it. We have multiple EMHC’s at every Sunday mass in the area, regardless of attendance.

  74. benedetta says:

    PatrickThornton: That is fair enough and the document talks of necessity and emergency situations. Where I am, there is talk of a vocations “crisis” however the powers that be would not acknowledge as to a general situation of crisis in the American church brought about by a wholesale spirit of “making it up as we go along” which is neither necessary nor called for nor unifying.

    It sounds as if where you are there is use of the correct terminology whereas where I am they are deemed ministers of communion and no matter the size of the parish or Mass attendance, there scores of them who present for their special moment around the altar as if concelebrating. I wonder if this happens where you are. Perhaps another practice would be to have the EMHC receive after the faithful have received. Their reception ahead of the faithful and in the manner of ceremony certainly conveys the impression, at every Mass, that they are distinct and holier and singled out from the lay faithful. Whereas the priest himself receives the sacrament of Holy Orders that one time, the EMHC participate in some sort of faux authorization at every Mass which gives the message that they act in the place of the priest. Unfortunately they have no training or formation on a plane with a priest, even where the seminary is weak, and furthermore it is apparent, from the consensus here and in other places on the web that they in fact are not aware as to how to distribute communion to one who desires on the tongue or kneeling. If forced to distribute this way because one presents himself this way for communion, many seem to at least indulge in a broad smile, as if restraining outright laughter. It seems that in most places where EMHCs are utilized and over-utilized that not only is care not taken to prevent confusion as to roles but that they are intentionally held as alter-priests in many ways. Additionally, in places where the priest shortage is proffered as the excuse for this pseudo-doctrine, the initiatives to encourage vocations seem forced, desperate, or steadfast in a refusal to acknowledge the reasons for the success in places where vocations are growing.

  75. benedictgal says:


    I posted the happy news about the new appointments on my blog this morning! It seems that Cardinal Ranjith has come home!!! Cardinal Burke is also a great addition!

  76. pelerin says:

    Does anyone know why Cardinal Hume said that the document did not apply in Britain as mentioned by a commenter above? Surely the Church is worldwide – why should we have been an exception here? I am curious.

  77. B16generation says:

    What does “make the celebration of Mass excessively long (or prolonged)” mean? What’s the definition of “long” or “excessively long”? Our priest and liturgical advisor would consider anything to be long (relativism)! Why wasn’t that defined or clarified by the appropriate Vatican dicastry? Without an official document or statement from the Vatican, my defense seems a bit shaky… Help!

  78. KAS says:

    I recently finished an MA in Theological Studies–we were not assigned this document in any class I took, however, there were classes offered which I did not take. I did read it on my own more than once for my own education.

    My MA program shared the classrooms, classes and professors with the seminary of the diocese–for what it is worth.

    However, I had a class where we read a LOT of the social encyclicals, and a class on the Theologians who influenced Vatican II in which we read many of those documents. I suspect that our school did a good job over-all in covering documents. Other classes required this or that document, whichever pertained to the subject–Pentateuch required the reading of documents on the study of scripture as an example.

    As a Lay woman, I didn’t take the practical classes in parish ministry that the priests took and it would make sense that this would be a document included in one of those classes or the classes aimed at parish ministry which were taken by individuals working toward the MA in Pastoral Studies.

    University of St. Thomas School of Theology and St. Mary’s Seminary seem to have a strong commitment to making their students familiar with as many church documents as possible–we read a LOT of them for classes and were encouraged to read others on our own.

  79. Volanges says:

    I’m quite familiar with this document, which, when it comes to when EMHCs may be used, reiterates what was said in 1973’s Immensae Caritatis, the document that first allowed EMHCs, and also in 1980’s Inaestimabile Donum.

    Several years ago, in a liturgy committee meeting, I suggested to our pastor that when, as occasionally happened in my parish, there were 3 priest concelebrating, the number of EMHCs should be decreased from 3 to 1 or none. I suggested that because the practice was that two of the priests would sit down and 3 EMCHs would distribute Communion, 2 ministering the Precious Blood and one distributing the Body of Christ as the Pastor’s side. He refused to even consider this and ordered me to keep scheduling 3 EMHCs on Sundays. I commented that this practice flew in the face of Vatican documents. Thinking I was referring to Redemptionis Sacramentum, he replied “You know that document hasn’t been promulgated in our diocese.” [He really said something that stupid? A document from the Congregation in Rome needs a local bishops approval?]
    (Still hasn’t been, as of today.) Then I replied that there were three other documents that said the same thing about when EMHCs could be used. One of the other priests stood up and shook his finger at me and yelled “We’ve never paid attention to those documents and we’re not about to start now!” OK, fine. Sorry for actually reading what Rome wants from us.

  80. donboyle says:

    @pelerin: As I recall it, the interpretation on the ground was that the document was really meant for the extreme cases in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and other Continental churches, where there were lay people doing all sorts of liturgically priestly functions as “ministers”–notably, preaching. American bishops interviewed at the time in the secular media pointed to how extreme things were in Europe and said that the document wasn’t really aimed at the U.S., since we didn’t have such *widespread* abuse. Then, everyone forgot about it, and the USCCB started working on getting formal approval of lay ministries of various types:

  81. profcarlos says:

    I have a funny story about that document. When it was released, I prepared a PDF leaflet about it and offered it in my now-defunct web page. Countless copies were downloaded, as I already had several very popular leaflets on themes such as the need for Confession, why reincarnation does not exist, etc, that were often printed and distributed by good priests and laypeople.

    The “Extraordinary Ministers” leaflet explained when they can and when they cannot be used (basically, it is allowed if the priest is really sick or several busloads of unexpeted visitors show up in state of grace). At the end, in order to prevent abuses against priests from some well-meaning but unpolite readers, I added a section called “what to do about abuses”, saying that people could print the original Instruction and give it to the priest, addressing him respectfully, and basically avoid receiving the Most Holy Sacrament in an illicit manner (that is, avoiding Extraordinary Ministers unless their use was licit in that one Mass).

    Well, someone wrote the Archdiocese of São Paulo (then oppressed by the dean of Liberation Theology, Msgr. Arns), asking whether that leaflet faithfully represented Church law. Their answer was delicious: they said that, yes, it did represent faithfully Church law (after all, I told people to read the Instruction by themselves, so it would be hard to deny *that*), but… the “what to do” section was hateful and alien to the spirit of the Gospel! :D

    In those years, I have printed at least a few hundred hard copies of that instruction to givepriests and laypeople, and have sent electronic versions to thousands of people. As for the leaflet, there are still copies floating around, thanks be to God.


    Prof. Carlos Ramalhete

  82. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    I have a couple of things to say in response to Pelerin:

    First, that my own experience of the newer form of mass in typical parish contexts has something in common with that which he describes. It’s so hard sometimes to recall what is actually taking place.

    Secondly, that my recollection or understanding of the argument given or implied by Card. Hume and the English hierarchy in regard to their ignoring of the “Instruction” is that it was the same as Don Boyle’s description of the American bishops’ response – they contrasted conditions here with those on the continent, and did nothing about the explicit abuses which they countenanced: extraneous “eucharistic ministers” [sic], lay “chaplains”, etc.

  83. Jakub says:

    I have posted a link to this entry on two popular Catholic Forums and have found zero responses…hmm

  84. benedetta says:

    Here is the primary source for the FAQ that donboyle linked to.

    Note that this document begins by stating that it does not act to establish any norms or regulations at all governing lay ecclesial ministry.

    The text Fr. Z. supplies and cites to does in fact supply norms and describes actionable abuses with respect to lay ecclesial ministry generally and with respect to the Mass specifically.

    The U.S. Bishops’ document states a limitation in that “lay ecclesial ministry” is a “generic” term and goes on to draw some clear distinctions.

    It would seem that the document Fr. Z. cites is quite relevant at this time and even that some types of abuses experienced in Europe are at this point burgeoning in many places in the US. It is no secret that what has occurred in many parts of Europe acted as catalyst and encouragement to many here and was/is passed around in seminaries and schools of theology as best practice. It is not too difficult to find others repeat similar stunts, or cite to them as authority for what they are doing, or even reference to it with a certain admiration.

  85. catholicmidwest says:

    Patrick Thornton,
    What I said has everything to do with the number of EMCHs that some people perceive that we need. In a day an age when nothing is a sin, therefore everyone goes to Holy Communion every time they show up, you need more time to administer Holy Communion. However, this is in every way, a false account of the situation. And it’s historically unprecedented. And not in a good way.The use of birth control, abortion and other “reproductive technologies” is every bit as prevalent among Catholics as among the remainder of the general population. Our divorce rates are also indistinguishable from those present in the general population.
    And what’s really sickening is that our precious EMCHs in many cases have on average the same family size profiles as the general population. So do the other “lay ministers” in the parish. This is no accident, I can assure you. The whole thing is as BLOATED as a dead fish.

    You have described the local parish situation in many places absolutely perfectly, especially in your post on 12/28 at 9:29 PM. That’s it to a T.

    If you don’t sign on to dedicate yourself to “peace, justice & lay ministry” for their own sake alone, Catholic parish life doesn’t amount to much of anything (beyond the essential getting to mass on Sunday piece). I’m not sure it amounts to very much of anything except glorified PTA, even if you do (again, beyond the essential getting to mass on Sunday piece). Moreover, I don’t know if it ever did amount to anything more. (I’m a post-V2 convert.) I’m sort of doubting that now that I’ve seen the church for 25 years from the inside. Pretty sad when you think about it, so I try not to.

  86. benedetta says:

    catholicmidwest: I have a proposal for a Lay Ecclesial Ministry. How about an Apologetics Minister? Have an inkling that would go over like a lead balloon? And yet there is a tremendous need. What American Catholic doesn’t regularly encounter challenge from relativism, consumerism, secularism, atheists in workplaces, schools, social occasions, media, family life. The malaise of the faith and the take-over by the self-invested laity is in some aspects an occurrence which is happening under pressure of all of these. How many just assimilate their core values, concede rather than have a respectful or engaging debate. How many shrug, give up, or actively denigrate the faith when the opportunity arises for discussion. The various ministers seem to be ensconced in their circles of mutual support and somewhat tone-deaf to what families who are attempting to live out the faith are up against. While it may appear to them that families who show up at Mass week every week are merely there to spectate, their needs and the reality is quite different.

  87. catholicmidwest says:

    There are a lot of things that need doing, benedetta, but I wouldn’t call them “ministries,” just normal decent Christian behavior, if there still is such a thing.

    People need to be able to say simple prayers with each other just so they don’t feel alone. No fancy pontificating, no ideological crap–just someone to say a few simple Hail Marys and Our Fathers with a couple of times a week [at a time they can manage even if they do work for a living!!]

    People need to be able to read scripture in parallel for encouragement on getting through the whole thing. Again, no ideology, no fighting and no proof-texting. Just a scripture companion to share resources and page numbers with. Same thing with other Christian great books.

    People need to be able to get into a local catholic church to pray in front of the tabernacle once in a while. So there is a need for people to be around the church so it can be left unlocked long enough for people to get in for brief periods during the day.

    Old people need company. Sick people need cheering up. Kids need to be waved at with no agendas in mind. Somebody needs to play movies for fun & pop popcorn once in a while, just simply to have popcorn and fun. Just Christian joy and company.

    This is not too much to ask, I think. And this sort of thing is what the Catholic church really, really, really and truly needs. There actually is something holy and real about these simple things when done in God’s name.

  88. catholicmidwest says:

    AND, Benedetta,

    THIS is how you attract people long enough to hear the real Gospel, and how you keep them encouraged enough to keep coming. THIS is how it’s done.
    I’m a protestant minister’s grand-daughter, and I can tell you that regardless of the theology and all that (I’m 100% Catholic now), people need to know that they’re cared about, they can help & God is always present. Christian joy is real. Truth is real. Beauty is wonderful and comes from God. Because God is real. That’s the package. We’re NOT doing that now worth crap. People are falling through the cracks all over the place (whether they physically go apostate or not) and it’s not pretty.

    Fighting about position, lording it over people, making them feel like bystanders, abusing their sense of the Holy, shocking them for the sake of ideology, abusing their eardrums, yada yada yada, will consistently & incrementally drive people off. It always does. It always has.

  89. catholicmidwest says:

    BTW, someone in another thread said something about hard times coming, persecution and all that. If we don’t snap out of this funk we’re in and behave like decent Christians, and tough times come, I don’t know if we’d even be able to find each other. And if we did, I’m not sure we’d know how to behave with each other and put away our various instruments of torture long enough to get through a normal weekend, let alone a tough time. We’ve never done it before and hell, we don’t even know each other.

  90. Pingback: QUAERITUR: Can I continue to be an Extraordinary Minister of Communion? | Fr. Z's Blog – What Does The Prayer Really Say?

Comments are closed.