QUAERITUR: A lay person asked me to be an Extraordinary Minister for a Mass

From a reader:

This evening during Mass a man I casually know came up to me and asked me to fill-in for a no-show as an extraordinary minister of the Precious Blood. I am not and have never been an EME. I told him so. He said that’s okay. I asked him, “Is that allowed?” He nodded yes. I agreed.

First, I believe that diocesan bishops are the proper authority for permitting lay people to act as Extraordinary Ministers. Bishops can establish the conditions under which priests can, in case of real necessity, ask someone to help ad hoc, for this or that occasion. In that case, there is even a blessing for the person to function ad hoc.

If I am correct, some diocesan bishops have not allowed for such ad hoc appointments. We should get a few priests involved in this discussion.

However, in the case above, it was neither the diocesan bishop nor the parish priest who made the request. It seems to me that that was not correctly handled. A better solution would have been simply to function with a smaller number of Extraordinary Ministers (or none).

What all this reflects, to my mind, is a lack of clarity not just about the regulations governing liturgy and sacraments, but more fundamentally the difference between lay and clerical roles.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I agree with you totally, Father. One thing to add is that the reader can decline to be an EMHC when so requested. It might be hard to resist a personal invitation from a bishop, but there is no obligation to accept. I’ve declined when asked, except for one time when I was asked by a priest who happened to be my boss at the time, but I did it against my inclinations. I’ve also declined when asked to bring up the gifts, much to the astonishment of the person who asked me. I guess people are normally flattered to be asked. Just more reasons to find and stick with an EF Mass as much as possible… and to sit in as inconvenient a place (for people asking for volunteers) as possible when going to the OF is unavoidable, provided that you end up on the priest’s line for Holy Communion.

  2. acardnal says:

    I am not a clergyman but my understanding is that a properly trained EMHC is ONLY allowed to function as such in his home parish.

  3. Christopher Mc Camley says:

    Gosh, more extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion bashing on this site. What a surprise! Do you ever think of the shut-ins who have Holy Communion brought to them every week by EMHC and what a valuable role they play, while priests are off blogging and photographing their dinner. [I am supposing that you are fatigued from some corporal works of mercy you have been performing and therefore have today a weakened ability to read what I wrote critically. What I pointed out was that the employment of EMHCs is actually regulated by law and that, when they are employed, the law should be followed. Good luck with your recovery! Get some rest.]

  4. frjim4321 says:

    I think the reason EM’s should be recruited by pastors only is because there are canonical requirements that a non-ordained might not know about. For example, if married the EM should be married in accord with church law.

  5. frjim4321 says:

    Chris – – –

    That is perhaps a bit harsh.

    Even if a priest works 6o hours a week (probably a good average) there are still other hours in the week during which to pursue other healthy interests. For example, I find that caring for the birds on my property is very important for emotional health, and clearly puts me in a better frame of mind for ministry.

    Also, what is wrong about enjoying a fine dinner and sharing the good news?

    Sorry, Chris, I don’t like the EM bashing either but I think your post gravitated toward another form of bashing that is equally unkind.

    – – – Fr. Jim

  6. Tom Esteban says:

    In my humble opinion, until the crisis in the Church is over (and for those who didn’t notice, there is a major crisis in the Church) they need to do away with EMHC.

  7. Hidden One says:

    @Christopher Mc Camley

    EMHCs have a valuable role and can provide a real service to the Church. I think (and hope) that Fr. Z agrees with me on this.

    However, like well-designed sniper rifles, their proper use is limited and their overuse is tempting.

  8. randomcatholic says:


    I don’t think the purpose was to bash EMHCs, and nowhere did the question touch on delivering communion to the sick and shut ins, which is a very important function of EMHCs. This was an entry around a specific issue: the fact that a lay person asked another lay person to “fill in” as an EMHC without that person being installed by the Bishop (or the parish priest if the local ordinary allows).

    I have no problem receiving from EMHCs, but I prefer going to the altar rail during an EF Mass. My children accompany up and cross their arms, and this lets them get a blessing from the priest. Lay people can’t bless this way. But I think its clear that we should not have people who have not been trained and not been installed giving out Holy Communion. And this is all that this post is addressing.

    Let me give one example as to why:

    Many years ago when I first returned to the faith, I was installed as an EMHC. I was very honored. In any event, there was a big push for people to bow before receiving. So there I am, just a lay guy, and people are bowing at “me” before receiving. (Of course, they were bowing to the Blessed Sacrament, but despite some training, I didn’t quite get that….) What is the normal response when someone who is your equal in every way bows to you? Well… to bow back…. But this is very wrong liturgically. You don’t bow when you are dispensing Holy Communion. I did this once, and was gently corrected, and fixed it, but just never felt comfortable with the whole thing after that. There are things a priest’s hands have been CONSECRATED FOR. What was I DOING up there? Its not like I was needed or anything. It was just that I was a guy who was “on board” with the Church’s teaching, and the priest felt obligated to get guys like me up on the altar for some reason…. Why?

    I don’t understand why we are busy blurring the roles between priests and laity. I am perfectly happy just receiving communion from the priest at the altar rail. Why introduce all this confusion?

    That said, I think it is WONDERFUL that folks are bringing communion to the home-bound and ill….

    Why the attack on Fr. Z’s apostolate by the way? That seems a little unfair.

  9. Lurker 59 says:

    I am not sure if it is so much as a lack of clarity in the regulations governing the liturgy in so much as it has become akin to a game of telephone that by the time Rome’s regulations get to the parish level, things have become rather confused, muddled, and rather extraneous bits and pieces thrown in for good measure.

    In regards to an EMHC asking another lay person to fill in, things are quite clear.

    Redemptionis sacramentum [159.] It is never allowed for the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion to delegate anyone else to administer the Eucharist.

    In regards to Doc Angelicus’ point we find this:

    Redemptionis sacramentum [157.] If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it.

    As we see here, the laity who function as EMHC have a certain obligation to enforce the conditions when it is appropriate to use EMHC which are, per RS 158, which follows 1.) lack of a priest AND deacon 2.) when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason 3.) when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged.

    The laity cannot simply fall back on “the priest told me to do it”. Clericalism and “clericalization” of the laity will end only when the laity understand their authentic roles and identity in the liturgy.

  10. B Knotts says:

    This is why people should avoid parishes where the abuse of regular EMHC use is in place, if they are unable to convince the pastor that it is a problem. I mean it; it is clearly a liturgical abuse (as well as causing other problems). We should refuse to participate in it, to the degree possible.

  11. JohnE says:

    I have been an EMHC for several years, but have decided not to become re-mandated. We are a large parish though and I think the priest assumes that those who are EMHCs are always EMHCs and I will be called upon even though I’m no longer mandated. I’m usually only called upon at daily Mass when there’s only a dozen or so attending, but occasionally the ushers encourage me to sign up on weekend Masses so they can have the sign-up sheet filled as much beforehand as possible. This will surely be seen as further backsliding on my part since I have also stopped leading daily communion services when there is no priest.

  12. Elizabeth D says:

    I am not an EMHC and have declined when spontaneously recruited by lay people to fill in as an EMHC.

    Fr Jim said: “I think the reason EM’s should be recruited by pastors only is because there are canonical requirements that a non-ordained might not know about.”

    This is a good reason, but very obviously not the only reason for the rule.

    A related issue is readers at Mass. They are meant to be trained, very competent and well prepared. At my parish there is a reader training program but at daily Masses the sacristans just ask someone, who may or may not be trained or suitable. I am a sacristan myself and I know that I do not keep to any strict standard about this even though I strongly believe in having good and suitable readers.

  13. jhayes says:

    It may vary by diocese but the person who asked was probably the coordinator of EMHCs.

    In the Archdiocese of Boston, pastors have been granted the habitual faculty to appoint extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in their respective parishes, as well as for institutions within their parish boundaries. In addition, any priest celebrant may designate suitable persons to distribute Communion for a specific occasion when the need arises. …

    To assure sufficient ministers and orderly distribution, one extraordinary minister may be designated at each Mass as “coordinator.” This person should ensure that scheduled extraordinary ministers have arrived and notify the priest celebrant if additional extraordinary ministers need to be invited from the assembly. For example, when Holy Communion is to be given under both kinds and most people in the assembly receive from the cup, there should be two ministers of the chalice scheduled for each minister of the consecrated host noting that, if a deacon is present at the celebration, he traditionally is a minister of the chalice.

    If the coordinator told the priest that an EMHC was missing, the priest probably told her/him to find another EMHC in the church or, failing that, to recruit any suitable person to fill the role for that one mass.

    The priest might also have given standing instructions to coordinators to do that whenever an EMHC was missing, without waiting to consult the priest.

    Sounds normal to me.

  14. frjim4321 says:

    Hmmm, that’s what we have here, the suggestion of two cups for each host station; but that is way too much. Here we have four host stations (two on each side) and two cups (one on each side). That is more than adequate. I guess we just don’t have that many people who continue on to receive from the cup.

  15. AnAmericanMother says:

    I just got caught that way at daily Mass – when the priest kind of looks over the congregation and then catches your eye! But at least I have some experience as a cantor and in radio, and I know enough not to give a “dramatic interpretation”, so I figured I was less likely to make a hash of it than some. Better that than lots of embarrassed shuffling of feet and the priest having to pull somebody out of the (very small) congregation by the collar . . . .
    (I figured out why everybody else was staring at the ground or admiring the stained glass windows. 2nd Timothy 4:9 et seq. Lots of difficult-to-pronounce names. Thank goodness for a classical education, even just a couple of years’ worth. The only one who got me was Tychicus, as I paused to consider whether the “ch” was hard or soft. Chose wrong, too. :-D )

  16. jhayes,
    I’d be interested in knowing the source of your citation…. kinda curious about the deacon being “traditionally” the minister of the chalice… just wondering about what tradition that might be. Prior to the permission to distribute Communion under both species, as far as I can tell, there was no “minister of the chalice” in the Roman Rite for a very long time if at all, and there has never been a separate distribution of Communion from the chalice in the Byzantine Rite.

    Could just be a colloquial rather than technical use of the word “traditional,” I suppose.

  17. jhayes says:

    @Doc Angelicus, see here for the source:


    The first quoted paragraph starts on page 1 and the second quoted paragraph starts on page 3.

  18. James Joseph says:

    I am not an expert; not even smart; just a guy who kills cows, pigs, and sheep for a living and turns them into tasty-chops. I hope my perspective might help.

    I have only read that Pope Paul VI letter thing about sub-deacons and all once. I think I read another one pertaining to something like it somewhere; so either I know too little to comment or I know just little enough to comment.

    It appears to me that whole extra-ordinary thing was supposed to go down like this:
    1. Sub-deacons are no longer subject to Canon Law sorta’ kinda’ but well maybe cuz he’s still Catholic.
    2. A Joe-blow guy of demonstrated moral character is formerly instituted into the role by Bishop, like in a dignified ceremony.
    3. Joe-blow is now called a may-also-be-called-subdeacon/lector/and whatever else.
    4. Joe-blow guy is still a Mister, but he now gets to read/chant the Epistle/Readings and Graduals/Responsorials.
    5. Joe-blow guy is allowed to help out in extreme neccessity in distributing God’s Flesh because of his being vouched for by the Chancery Mafia as being demonstrably beyond reproach.
    6. Joe-boy guy/has his nifty subdeacon-like vestments he wears when reading/chanting/sometimes-helping-out in extreme neccessity.
    7. No regular folks are man-handling the fancy gold-plated brass altar things… and certainly not the sacred Chalice or good-heavens the Ciborium or Paten or corporals or anything else… except maybe Joe-blow but again only in extreme neccessity like during a Nuclear War.

    -Me, dumb ox.

  19. Supertradmum says:

    Hi jhayes,

    Recently, I have been doing research on the diaconate, both transitional and permanent. I have come across the same statement. In fact, if a Deacon is present, he is the EM before all the others.”…serves as an ordinary minister of Communion”. http://nccbuscc.org/deacon/DeaconDirectory.pdf among other references

  20. jesusthroughmary says:

    Supertradmum –

    So then the deacon is not “the EM before all the others”. EM = extraordinary minister, i.e. outside the ordinary. A deacon is an ordinary minister of Holy Communion, because it is among the prerogatives of the deacon by virtue of his ordination. He needs no outside authority to deputize him for that task.

  21. Supertradmum says:

    You are misunderstanding the text and EM means Eucharistic Minister. The Ordinary Minister is the first Eucharistic Minister, in so far, as the laity are the Extraordinary. Yes, it means that he will always be the first “asked” to help the priest distribute Communion, not a lay person. EM is used in other texts to mean Eucharistic Minister, not Extraordinary.

  22. jesusthroughmary says:

    Not properly, to my knowledge, although I am always happy to be corrected.

  23. mike cliffson says:

    @Christopher Mc Camley
    I have personally on Fr’s combox more than once praised the this St Tartesuslike labour of extraordinary ministers. I believe theytake communion to prisons too. I have no cause to beliitle the priestly labours with the sick the extraordinary ministers Ive known and know of complement.There is no way, barring A gift from God of turning 48 hours into 480, that the priests could get round at weekends. Not till vocations come way up again!
    The way their presence at mass has become ordinary instead of extraordinary is another matter, very different at St X’ s than at StY’s as it may well be. I hope you have taken no cues from me.
    At work At others’ work, and in public life, thereis too widespread your idea of making Person A look good, by knocking person B. I have even known workers going round undoing another’s work so as to shine.
    That may be their only way to shine. In this case, it’s not necessary,it’s not necessary at all.

  24. jhayes says:

    @mike cliffson, in some dioceses EHMCs also perform other services such as distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday and blessing throats on the Feast of St. Blaise.

  25. Supertradmum says:

    Lay people can’t bless anyone, unless they are parents and are blessing their children.

  26. jesusthroughmary says:

    Or godparents blessing their godchildren, as I understand.

  27. jhayes says:

    Here’s what the bishop says:

    VIII.            Other Functions of Extraordinary Ministers
    a.            Ash Wednesday
    i.        EMHCs may distribute ashes on Ash Wednesday according to the “Order for the Blessing and Distribution of Ashes” found in chapter 32 of the Book of Blessings.
    b.            Saint Blaise
    i.        EMHCs may also bless throats on the feast of St. Blaise (Feb. 3) according to the “Order for the Blessing of Throats on the Feast of Saint Blaise” found in chapter 51 of the Book of Blessings.



  28. Centristian says:


    “Why the attack on Fr. Z’s apostolate by the way? That seems a little unfair.”

    A little unfair? I’ll tell you what is unfair, o random one: sitting at my desk at work at lunch time eating a pitiful baloney sandwhich or a bag of Fritos obtained from a vending machine that didn’t have Salt & Vinegar chips while that EMHC-bashing, red letter response-posting, Latin and bird-loving, cook book-thumping, whisk-wielding liturgical adventurer who runs this blog tortures me with image after image after image of gastronomical decadence the sort of which would cause Wolfgang Puck to quit his job and Chef Ramsay to cancel his numerous idiotic television shows in despair.

    Behold, posted regularly on this blog without mercy, photo after photo of the most improbable entrees, feasts which certainly bear no resemblance whatsoever to anything that I could ever hope to reasonably imitate in my own kitchen when I get home, much less discover within a styrofoam takeout box from the office cafeteria! It’s downright indecent that the man doesn’t just once take a photo of the frozen box that his Swanson’s salisbury steak dinner came in before he microwaved it!

    So, the next time you’re reading this blog while eating like one of the birds in Chef Z’s feeders as that incorrigible sadist posts a string of seductively mouthwatering photos of his latest solemn high supper (the next to be served under a restored baldacchino, no doubt), you ask yourself what’s fair as you drown in the tears of your own self-pity while eating the last bite of your Zagnut.

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