QUAERITUR: Lay people decide on their own to have a Communion service, help themselves.

From a reader:

At Mass yesterday morning, the substitute priest forgot to show up.
Several members of the congregation took it upon themselves to have a “Communion Service” with all the readings, etc. One of the EMHCs
opened the Tabernacle and got the Consecrated Hosts out and proceeded to distribute them, along with another EMHC.

QUESTION: Are EMHCs allowed to open the Tabernacle and distribute
Consecrated Hosts when no priest or deacon is present?

I think your diocesan bishop would like the chance to answer that question.

Ask him.

Sounds sort of like a Little Rascals movie, doesn’t it?

Hey! Let’s have a communion service! Mom can sew the costumes and we can use Mr. Feltcher’s barn!

I have a sneaking suspicion that a few women were involved in this caper.

Ah… the hijinx just gets better and better these days.

But wait!

While the show… errrr…. service is going on the priest and the deacon finally show up… better late than never.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Supertradmum says:

    What happened is the natural consequence of the Age of the Laity. People honestly do not see the difference between the priesthood and lay involvement. I have seen this happen in the past as well, as found the attitude chilling.

  2. DavidJ says:

    At our parish, we have a fairly standard core of people who attend daily Mass. Is it possible that the priest left standing instructions for one of the “regular” EMHCs to do this in case a priest didn’t show up? Or is even that not allowed?

    I’m trying to make the most charitable assumptions on this.

  3. Katherine says:

    I once attended daily Mass at a military base chapel where for legitimate reasons the Chaplain might suddenly be unable to be present. In such circumstances, several laypersons who regularly attended were pre-authorized by the Chaplain to lead those assembled in Morning Prayer. One individual was also pre-authorized to lead a service of Holy Communion outside of Mass , should he be present and spiritually prepared for such. I become aware of this second-hand as there was never any particular announcement to those looking for some liturgical irregularity.

  4. priests wife says:

    Hey Father! The Little Rascals would never, ever do something so disrespectful. Remember Alfalfa signing “The Barber of Seville”- genius

  5. benedetta says:

    So we’re to just go the Huxley route and, lock up the last of our priests in some, perma-chapel (24/7) where they can churn out consecrated hosts to be trucked to the closest mega-parish where they can be duly and forthwith, distributed? Is that really where we want to go? Not me. Count me out on that dream.

    Oh well. I can’t cite chapter and verse as why this maybe isn’t the best idea. I leave that to those who can. Wouldn’t the respectful thing be to, say a few prayers, perhaps a reading and intentions, and, pray that Father isn’t ill or in a car accident, and, leave it at that.

  6. pbewig says:

    It may be correct to notify the Bishop. But perhaps it would be wise to notify the Pastor first? He may not be aware of what happened.

  7. Jbuntin says:

    I have lots to say on this subject and none of it good. Needless to say this is ONE of the reasons I drive 45 minutes to an EF Mass that is in a terrible part of town and it’s at night, when the parish I used to attend is only 5 miles from my home.
    I will say this in defence of the laity who make these decisions… They have been left on their own to make these decisons and it’s not totaly all their fault. They have been mislead.
    On occasion when I have to attend the old NO parish, people like to ask me where I have been… That’s when I sing the praises of the FSSP and the EF Mass; that’s when they look at me like I came from Mars.

  8. Lucas says:

    Wow. Just wow.

    If that happened when I was there, I would have flipped my lid.

  9. Shellynna says:

    Is there some reason for the entirely unnecessary throwaway line about “a few women” being involved in the “caper,” Father? Wasn’t it possible to express disapproval and suggest recourse to the bishop without speculating that women are supposedly more capable of this kind of thing than men?

  10. GirlCanChant says:

    I also didn’t like the comment about women in this post. Father, the women who read this blog are just as horrified by this as anyone else. We don’t know the details of this case, so we have no way of knowing if the EMHCs were male or female.

    That being said, I can’t believe that people would take it upon themselves to have a Communion Service on their own. Did they even try to get a hold of the priest? I went to a Jesuit college, and our priests were late for Mass all the time. One time when the priest was particularly late (I believe the excuse was “I was grading papers.”), we started praying the Rosary. Yep, college students, on their own, and that’s what we did. Meanwhile, one time on a Sunday, the Sister (not saying which order) in charge of liturgy decided to hold a Communion Service when the celebrant didn’t show. This on a campus with an entire community of priests. I wasn’t there for this, as if I had been, I would have run over to the residence and banged on the door until someone answered (no phone in the chapel, as far as I knew).

  11. Mrs. O says:

    If you live in a place that has very few priests, communion services are natural unfortunately. Luckily, the bishop has just made the effort to catechize more especially everyones obligation to attend mass not just receive communion. I think the usccb just updated info regarding communion services too. Sad reality in some places. We just had a priest who was over 3 parishes die from heart complications. I don’t like communion services and would rather pray the loth. But that is just me.

  12. Philangelus says:

    If that were to happen in my parish, it would be a guarantee that “a few women” were involved because only two of the 40 or so regular attendees of daily Mass are men.

  13. JohnE says:

    Sounds like standard operating procedure at our parish where we usually have at least one or two Communion services during the week. As DavidJ alluded to though, this is approved by the pastor (I know because I used to be one of the handful of EMOHCs who led Communion services). So it shouldn’t be assumed that a group just decided to “do this on their own”.

    Only after another parishioner unassumingly asked me if this was all approved by the bishop did I do more reading on the topic (particularly Redemptionis Sacramentum) and become uncomfortable doing it further. When I informed our pastor about it, he replied: “The archbishop always defers to a Pastors judgment on these matters and the Pastor has ‘full competency’ to make these decisions for pastoral reasons, which is granted by Canon law.”

    I think some of the other EMOHCs who lead the Communion services are a little irritated that I am no longer helping out, but Redemptionis Sacramentum (Particular Celebrations carried out in the Absence of a Priest, #162-167) was enough to convince me that I didn’t want to be involved leading Communion services any longer.

  14. salve95 says:

    This is ridiculous. This is just another reason the use of EMHCs should be eliminated, or at least, reduced to EXTRAORDINARY circumstances, as the very name declares.

    I have a question: I’m a freshman in high school (Probably the only you’ll ever meet who cares the least bit about this stuff) and last year at Mass with both the lower age school and the high school they used a (very immodestly dressed, for the record) freshman girl as an EMHC, and this occurred on multiple occassions. Now completely ignoring the obvious issues with this it’s made me wonder, can the restriction that all EMHC’s must be at least be 16 be dispensed? There’s no way this person was 16 at the time and it made me wonder if a dispensation can be granted or if it was just the people who run the school playing Magisterium, does anyone know? This is no longer occurring, for the record.

  15. Tradster says:

    You gotta love the unintentional irony of GirlCanChant getting her dander up about assuming women are the culprits, then in the next breath telling how a Sister (read: female) at her college did the same thing.

  16. kittenchan says:

    As a 23 year old woman, I agree with Father’s “throwaway” line about women’s involvement. It’s as old as Genesis – when boundaries are disregarded, there is a strong tendency for women to do wacky things and men to go along with it. We’re wired to be caring, emotive, and community-minded, and have a strong desire to make things meaningful. Sometimes it goes off the rails. I strongly suggest reading Donna Steinchen’s “Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism” which traces the Catholic Feminist movement from its inception till the 1990s. Those women, hordes of them, whole orders of nuns as well as lay women, laid waste to the Church in ways even the most steely-eyed male heretic of the darkest of the Dark Ages could not imagine.

    On another note, the people involved in this… exercise… remind me of that particular kind of college student who, when the professor does not show up, does not merely leave and figure out what to do later, but rather stays and tries to run the class “for” the professor in his absence. It is generally done out of an unrealized desire to either suck up to the teacher by showing off what a dedicated, take-charge student they are, or to prove to themselves that they are just as good or perhaps even better than the teacher. Either way, that sort of person strikes me as an annoying, snobbish busybody.

  17. GirlCanChant says:

    Tradster, I was only saying that I felt it was a cheap shot. And just because one woman did it somewhere doesn’t mean it’s always a woman. That particular Sister and I butted heads on numerous occasions, and had I been there that night, I probably never would have been able to come back.

  18. Supertradmum says:

    In Medieval times, an excellent historian told me in England, the priest would consecrate the Sacred Hosts and the Abbess would distribute these to her convent as needed. There were priest shortages in ancient times as well. Some of these women are canonized saints. We need to be careful and not jump on the feminist nun bandwagon, especially as the situations where I have been present and the laity took giving out Communion in their own hands, both literally and figuratively, men were the ones doing this, not ladies. It is still disconcerting, whether male or female. The laicization of the Church does involve feminist radicals, but there are also plenty of men who disdain the traditional hierarchy. Oddly enough, some of the most radical men who were anti-clerical whom I have known were brothers and monks of various orders.

  19. JaneC says:

    This sort of thing is, indeed, most disturbing. I have seen in happen in half a dozen places, including my current parish. I would also like to point out that in my current parish, it is always the “professional liturgist” who takes matters into his own hands, and that said liturgist is a man. I have often wondered why, if he wanted liturgical matters to be his profession, he has not studied for the diaconate, which would give him better right to be in charge of such things.

  20. GirlCanChant was perfectly right. Sometimes women are involved in these things; very often they are not. You can’t blame everything on the Medicis, either, even though they often were to blame.

  21. papaefidelis says:

    CIC 938, §5: Were’d they get the key to the tabernacle? Obviously, it was not guarded with the utmost diligence!

  22. Clinton says:

    I have no idea what a ‘Communion Service’ is. Wouldn’t the situation the reader described call
    for the congregation to recite/chant the appropriate Liturgy of the Hour in lieu of the Mass?

  23. chironomo says:

    This happened once at a daily Mass when there was an approaching hurricane… the priest was unable to make it due to bad weather conditions. There wer about a dozen or so people there. One of the ‘prominent” parishioners… also a “Eucharistic Minister” decided that “they” could do a communion service. “They” did the readings and even….a homily…. then distributed comunion from the tabernacle. Aghh….

  24. chironomo says:

    Oddly enough, some of the most radical men who were anti-clerical whom I have known were brothers and monks of various orders.

    I would say “many” of those whom I know are so described…

  25. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    Regarding “Self-Service Eucharist:” The poster’s unfortunate situation reminds me of something that happened to me a few weeks ago that makes me wonder whether the laypeople involved originated this idea… or if it came from the priest at that parish… Sadly, even a Priest could have been pro – “self service.” I’m an organist who plays in the choir loft. I’ve got instructions to start playing immediately after the Priest receives Communion. I asked for Communion after Mass, and Father told me, “Next time, leave a note on the altar before Mass, and I’ll leave a Host on the altar for you.” (!) Self-Service… Hmmmm…. [Just for the record, I won’t be leaving any notes on altars so that Priests who should know better can leave Jesus on the altar unattended while I postlude and then put Him into my own mouth…. I’d rather be deprived of Communion.]

    But… my point is… you never know what kind of example the Priest is setting for the laypeople who did this… I’m sure that my “self service” Priest wouldn’t think what these laypeople did was untoward in any way…

    Pray, pray, pray!!!!

  26. JARay says:

    I have been involved in conducting a “Liturgy of the Word” service for quite a number of years now. I must confess to some misgivings.
    I am an Instituted Acolyte and so are those who stand in and conduct these Liturgy of the Words.
    One matter which concerned me was the situation in which I, as the one conducting the “service” gave MYSELF the Blessed Sacrament. This is something which all of us, who are in fact NOT “ORDINARY” MINISTERS OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT, are not permitted to do.
    It was in fact our Assistant Bishop who accepted our Parish Priest’s request for us to be allowed to conduct these services when he, for whatever reason, would not be available to say Mass (please note that Mass is ALWAYS SPELLED WITH A CAPITAL “M”).
    I wrote to our Archbishop asking if I was allowed to give myself Holy Communion when I was conducting such a “Service” and I also asked if it was appropriate for me to make some comment on the Readings, given that this was not a Mass, when, of course, laymen may never “preach”.
    I received a reply in the affirmative to both my questions.
    I thus have permission to carry on giving my self Holy Communion and I also make comments on the Readings whenever I have to conduct such a “Liturgy of the Word”. I have the Catena Aurea to turn to, to find out what the Fathers of the Church have said about any and every Gospel reading.

  27. Precentrix says:


    But in your case, you have explicit permission from your Ordinary to do these things, which makes a big difference.

    (Oh, and see arguments about instituted acolytes and subdiaconate…)

  28. Anne M. says:

    The last time this happened at our Cathedral I just got up and left. Considering that I sit in the front pew my exit was rather conspicuous. I received a few puzzled looks as I left. The former rector of the Cathedral apparently had given instructions to one of the EMHCs to do a Communion service if a priest wasn’t available for weekday Mass. I imagine the new rector has stopped that.

  29. irishgirl says:

    Ugh. There are several parishes in my area who have ‘Communion Services’, usually once a week when the priest has his day off.
    In this particular case, the Bishop SHOULD be informed!
    Like the Little Rascals clips, Father Z-I remember watching them on TV as a kid. Buckwheat, Froggy, Darla, Alfalfa, Spanky…funny memories!

  30. benedictgal says:

    This is what Redemptionisonis Sacramentum states:

    [165.] It is necessary to avoid any sort of confusion between this type of gathering and the celebration of theEucharist.271 The diocesan Bishops, therefore, should prudently discern whether Holy Communion ought to be distributed in these gatherings. The matter would appropriately be determined in view of a more ample co-ordination in the Bishops’ Conference, to be put into effect after the recognitio of the acts by the Apostolic See through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. It will be preferable, moreover, when both a Priest and a Deacon are absent, that the various parts be distributed among several faithful rather than having a single lay member of the faithful direct the whole celebration alone. Nor is it ever appropriate to refer to any member of the lay faithful as “presiding” over the celebration.

    [166.] Likewise, especially if Holy Communion is distributed during such celebrations, the diocesan Bishop, to whose exclusive competence this matter pertains, must not easily grant permission for such celebrations to be held on weekdays, especially in places where it was possible or would be possible to have the celebration of Mass on the preceding or the following Sunday. Priests are therefore earnestly requested to celebrate Mass daily for the people in one of the churches entrusted to their care.

    Unfortunately, in my diocese, these tend to happen rather frequently. Like one of the posters, I tend to walk away when I see that a Communion Service is fixing to start. At least in our parish, this has stopped.

    Why can we not have the Liturgy of the Hours instead?

  31. nanetteclaret says:

    To all the women who were upset at Fr. Z’s remark: “I have a sneaking suspicion that a few women were involved in this caper,” it wasn’t a sneaking suspicion. There WERE women involved. Trust me.

  32. benedictgal says:

    The folks who did this had no right to take the matter into their own hands, so to speak. They are not the authority. The Church is.

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