QUAERITUR: Proportion of communicants and ministers

From a reader:

Today, in a rather large church, there was only 20 in attendance at mass with 17 of us going to Holy Communion. Father had 3 EMHC assist him. One with the Body of Christ and two with the Blood of Christ.

Is there a definite rule as to when the EMHC should be used? I am obviously not versed in the use of EMHC, but in the above mentioned mass in was obvious to me that there was an abuse.

There is not a definite rule which spells out numbers and proportions of communicants to ministers. However, it seems to me that if Holy Communion is offered under both kind to that small a group, the priest and one person should suffice. More than that would constitute a violation of what is laid down in Redemptionis Sacramentum, et al.

It is wrong to have more ministers simply to “get more people involved”. If there is no real necessity, then it is an abuse.

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  1. FrCharles says:

    Exactly. The issue of extraordinary ministers is that they are used not because of need, but because of a false ideas of ’empowerment’ and ‘active participation.’

  2. jesusthroughmary says:

    Isn’t it also an abuse to employ an extraordinary minister for the sole purpose of distributing under both kinds?

  3. AlexE says:

    Not saying that I agree, which to be clear I don’t, it seems to be common that for every person distributing the Host you have two distributing the Precious Blood, also it seems to make more “sense” to have at least two in a situation with one because it makes it “flow” smoother; no criss crossing back and forth from one side of the church to other. Now, I say this so we can give Father just a small benefit of the doubt. Hopefully soon thing like this won’t happen for any reason, period.

  4. homeschoolofthree says:

    In my parish the Precious Blood is not offered during weekend Masses as only my dear Priest distributes. (He has timed it both ways and it takes less time than having EMHC’s) At weekday Masses (small Masses) he distributes the Body of Christ and then offers the Cup to those who wish to wait at the foot of the altar for it. If he knows those in attendance well at small Masses he will give us Communion by Intinction. I think he only offers Intinction when he knows he will not have to give Catechism when they come up to receive about what he is doing to someone who is not familiar with it.

  5. introibo says:

    Raymond Arroyo on EWTN just did a 15 year anniversary of “The World Over ” show. On it was a clip of Cardinal Arinze and he discusses the use of EMHC. It’s great the way he explains it…he said EMHC’s are meant for when there are, say, 1000 people and one priest. To use his words “it doesn’t mean that if there are 50 people there, then sooner than you can say ‘Jack Robinson,’ 17 people show up on the altar, opening the tabernacle (which they should not be doing)” etc.

  6. I once attended a scheduled Saturday morning Mass at which, perhaps because of the weather, only four laymen showed up. One was the appointed EMHC. Of the other three, only one received both the Host from the priest and the Chalice from the EMHC. One of the remaining two received from the priest on the tongue, the other on the hands. (It’s a rather diverse parish.)

  7. Phil_NL says:

    @jesusthroughmary : I suspect it is. Regardless, Communion under both kinds should not be the default situation, so having EMCHs for that is dubious to say the least.

    Personally, I have yet to see a normal parish Church where more than a single EMCH would be needed (that already cuts communion time form say 8 minutes to 4, and it rarely would take that long anywhere outside a big cathedral). Most churches can do without one, plain and simple. And in a fair number of bigger parishes one deacon / instituted acolyte etc could be found, so that would negate any such role by a ‘complete layman’ (in the sense that he has no ordination or institution whatsoever).

    In fact, please stop the idea that people need jobs to do during Mass. The default should be the following list: Ushers: not needed. Half a dozen servers: not needed. EMCHs: not needed. Let the laity sit in the pews.

  8. GeekLady says:

    Don’t be so harsh as to assume this is a ‘get people involved’ scenario. Tunnel vision of ‘we need to offer both species on each side of the church, ergo we need three EMHCs’ is much more plausible. In my experience, lots of people have a deep desire to see things done right, they just have no idea what right really is confuse it with that to which they are accustomed.

  9. GeekLady says:

    *sigh*. Please mentally insert ‘and’ between the clauses of that last sentence.

  10. ndmom says:

    Churches come in all shapes and sizes. St. John the Beloved in McLean Virginia is a remarkably orthodox parish plagued with a “church in the round” built when people did those things. There are only about ten rows of pews, split into at least half a dozen sections. The pastors have always been careful to use EMHCs sparingly by making sure that every priest on the premises comes over to help distribute communion (only the host, btw) at each Mass, but it would be confusing and distracting to try to manage without them when the church is full, as it often is during the popular Mass times.

    Having spent a decade in that haven of orthodoxy, it was indeed a shock to return to the real world here in South Bend, where there is an army of EMHCs at every Mass. Even at the daily Mass in the Crypt at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the celebrant always asks for at least 2 EMHC volunteers (“cup ministers”) for a congregation of only several dozen people.

  11. MJ says:

    EMHCs are really extremely overused…even in larger parishes (from what I hear and read). I attend a large parish…there are hundreds of people, and two priests distribute the Eucharist. It takes maaaaybe 6-7 minutes, tops. No one minds – it gives much time for reflection – and it gives the choir a chance to sing some polyphony. ;-)

  12. Ushers are needed. They’re the default door guards and security, since we don’t have porter-clerics anymore.

  13. Phil_NL says:


    I might go a bit off-topic here, but can you then explain me why in continental Europe you have plenty of Masses, but no ushers whatsoever? Besides, even if it is necessary to have someone guarding the door (I can see the need for that in very rough / islamized neighborhoods), that doesn’t mean they have to ‘direct traffic’ during Mass – they would be needed at the door, not inside the church proper.

  14. Dad of Six says:

    I attended a Holy Mass last year on a Saturday morning, where there were at most 25 people in attendance. The priest was great…from Africa of all places! There were five (!) EMHC’s who came forward (all women – natch) to assist. If memory serves, he sent three back. I believe that it took longer to first distribute to the EMHC’s than it did for the other 20 people.

  15. Supertradmum says:


    In Europe, the porter, especially in monastic settings, was the man who watched at the entrance of the church and kept order, somewhat of a keeper at the gate. In 1972, the order of porter was abolished in the Roman Catholic Church, so that porters were dismissed, as it were. Ushers as we see in America actually leading people to seats, for example, are a direct connection to that abolished minor order, which was obviously given to the laity. In Europe, the laity have a much less definite clerical presence, and that is a good thing. Except for Great Britain, one will wait in long lines to receive Communion in most places, as EMs are not all over the sanctuary. Even in a crowded Mass, there may be only one EM.

  16. Phil_NL says:


    My question was rethorical ;) I have repeatedly stated here that ushers are best abolished, the very few times I did experience them I found it to be very akward and annoying, and they are IMHO the best example of ‘giving people things to do at Mass’ while they shouldn’t have such ‘jobs’.

    PS: The ‘NL’ in my handle stands for ‘The Netherlands’, where I was born and live (and it was added since there was another Phil roaming this site many blue moons ago)

  17. MJ says:

    The ushers at my EF parish are IMHO helpful and annoying.

    They do help people find seats (lots of times 5 people will occupy a pew when they’re really made for 12 people – so they scoot the folks to make room), they get the collection basket going around, the hold the doors open for parents who have their hands full. These sorts of things.

    I have also seen many annoying things…like an usher who stopped people from entering the church until the priest had made it up to the altar (beginning of Mass procession). Once, before our church had the choir loft put in, an usher “ushered” all the older ladies who sang in our choir out of their pew…to make room for people to sit, he said. I couldn’t believe it…I actually said something to the effect of “Hey we’re the choir, and we need a place to sit too. Besides these ladies especially need somewhere to sit.” He wouldn’t have it – made every one of us get up and stand back against the wall. Finally someone managed to get a spot for the 3 or so elderly ladies who needed seats.

    Anyway, I have mixed feelings about ushers.

  18. ArtND76 says:

    A couple of contrasting observations, draw your own conclusions:

    We sometimes attend Mass at a local shrine parish staffed by priests and nuns from religious orders. In that parish, the OF mass in English is celebrated and communion (the host only) in the main body of the church is received kneeling at the communion rail. There is also an adjoining overflow hall that is usually full, and 2 EMHC’s or priests distribute communion to the faithful who are standing after processing up the center aisle. If any EMHC’s are used at all, I have at most seen 2, and they are nuns. All ministers of holy communion are accompanied by an altar boy with a Paten. Only boys serve at the altar and only men serve as lectors. The choir and organist are nearly all women. This shrine parish typically has high attendance at all of the 7 masses celebrated on Sundays, with confession available before all of them (and long lines of the faithful for confession). Additionally, there is 24×7 adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, most weekdays have morning prayer at 6 AM and evening prayer at 6 PM, with public recitation of the Rosary by the laity several times a day and the Divine Mercy chaplet at 3 PM. The shrine parish has no financial problems to speak of.

    In the cathedral parish we are members of we have a liberal pastor in his 60’s and a cathedral with no altar rail and no kneelers, because there are no pews, but linked together wooden chairs. Every Sunday mass after the great Amen a small army (usually 11 to 13) of EMHC’s assemble behind the altar to prepare to distribute communion under both species. The cathedral generally has slightly to significantly lower mass attendance than the shrine parish. There are no altar boys with patens to accompany any minister of holy communion. Usually the altar servers are girls, with boys serving at times. The pastor has made it publicly plain that he regards restricting altar servers to boys as “nuts”. Most of the attending cheered loudly at that remark (not us). The cathedral parish has serious financial problems.

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