QUAERITUR: Extraordinary Communion Minister at a TLM if the priest is infirm?

From a reader:

May a duly commissioned Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion distribute the host at Mass in the Extraordinary Form when the celebrating priest is physically impeded from doing so?

It would seem that paragraph 28 of Universae Ecclesiae precludes the innovation of Extraordinary Ministers:

28 – Praeterea, cum sane de lege speciali agitur, quoad materiam propriam, Litterae Apostolicae Summorum Pontificum derogant omnibus legibus liturgicis, sacrorum rituum propriis, exinde ab anno 1962 promulgatis, et cum rubricis librorum liturgicorum anni 1962 non congruentibus.

This paragraph is commonly understood to exclude female altar servers and communion in the hand. Yet what of Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion when a genuine pastoral situation seems to necessitate these?

I double-checked with a canonist on this.  It is a good question.  Let’s find some solutions.

Universae Ecclesiae does seem to preclude the use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

So, what should be done when the priest is infirm and there is no other priest or deacon or even instituted acolyte around?

The first possibility is simply to announce that Holy Communion will not be distributed at that Mass.   The faithful are not obliged to receive Communion, even on a day of precept.  Attendance, not Communion, fulfills the precept.  If the priest is physically impeded from doing so, he is not obliged to distribute Communion.   He is not bound to do something that is not possible.  People can make a spiritual communion in such a case.  No doubt they will want to pray for vocations.

There would be a possibility of an duly commissioned Extraordinary Minister distributing Communion before or after Mass with the proper prayers, etc.

The exclusion of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at Mass in the Extraordinary Form is disciplinary law, not constitutive law. Therefore, in accord with canon 87, the diocesan bishop could grant a dispensation from this provision.   I don’t especially like that solution, but it is a possibility.

If this is going to be happening often, in a regular way, it would be a good idea to seek the dispensation from the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei“.  A dispensation would probably be more readily given were an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion were he an instituted Acolyte stably part of that group.   Also, the group could petition the local bishop for a deacon (permanent or transitional) to help with Holy Communion at those Masses if a priest would not be available.

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  1. Mary Jane says:

    I read the question from the reader wondering how the priest could celebrate Mass but not distribute the Eucharist…? The reader didn’t give particulars…perhaps the priest can stand to celebrate Mass but cannot walk back and forth along the communion rail (or something)?

    If that’s the case, maybe the communion lines could just be modified? The priest could be stationary at the communion rail and communicants could come one at a time and kneel in front of him and receive the Eucharist. It might take a little longer but it would work I think.

    Of course Fr Z has great advice on what could be done. Prayers for the priest in the reader’s question.

  2. tealady24 says:

    As a former EM myself, I like the deacon option best.

    A true priest will make it his utmost duty to be available for mass as we recently found out. A few months ago, the priest who presides at our latin mass was hit by a car in a parking lot and for a few weeks actually hobbled around the altar on crutches; and he is probably in his 80’s! Instead of kneeling for communion all across the altar area, two prie dieu were used so he didn’t have to move.

    Let’s not open the door to all others distributing holy Eucharist. I understand now how mystical and solely sacramental is this central sign of every mass. Thank you Jesus!

  3. Mike Morrow says:

    Ah…these wonderful inventive questions that get dreamed up about fanciful, rare, hypothetical situations!

    Has it only been possible since Vatican II for such situations to (very rarely) arise? Of course not. Whatever worked for 1500 years before the concoction of the post-Vatican II newmass with its hordes of EMHC pretenders should work just as well today. And that solution, one may be assured, did not make use of an EMHC, a creature that existed then, if at all, only in nightmares!

  4. pberginjr says:

    This isn’t the point of the post, I know, but Option 1 (announce that Holy Communion will not be distributed at that Mass) seems like it might be useful to do at every US parish every once in a while (although I presume there is something illicit about that) in order to remind the congregation that the Mass is not just a meal but also a Sacrifice. This could also be addressed in a homily I suppose…

  5. Tradster says:

    No, no, no! I deeply sympathize but, please God!, don’t let that camel’s nose in the tent!

  6. dominic1955 says:

    I agree with pberginjr, I think we should do more “Communionless” Masses like I wrote about in the question about coffee breaking the fast. It seems to me that so many problems would be solved by going that route. Look how many abuses and possibilities of profanation would be avoided by not having this crazy insistance on practically everyone receiving Communion at every Mass!

    EMHC would be a thing of the past, especially if we went back to Communion under one species again. There would be no tales of the insane profanation of the Eucharist at huge public Masses (like Eucharistic Congresses) because, like in the old days, no one besides the celebrant and many a couple others would receive!

    I do not see many traditional communities putting up with an EMHC who would necessarily be a layman. I am an instituted acolyte, and while I respect the Church’s current laws and norms concerning this, I haven’t excercised my function (besides serving Mass) in awhile because I now do not think that laymen should be distributing Communion except in emergency situations (i.e. taking Viaticum to someone who is going to die very shortly). Some of these people also have problems with permanent deacons, but that is because they think of them as “lay deacons” and not actually ordained. They are wrong on this point, of course, but I can see why they think that way considering most permanent deacons were never taught to act or carry themselves in any way like clergy. It would seem that trad communities would/should be the first to opt for a “Communionless” Mass…

  7. jfm says:

    I have never seen a communionless Mass — is there still a consecration, or it just the Liturgy of the Word?
    Does the priest still consume the host/drink from the chalice?
    If consecration occurs in a public Mass, why wouldn’t there be communion?
    Why would a priest (in loco Jesus) deny the opportunity to receive His real presence to someone eligible, worthy, and asking to receive?
    In an EF Mass, without EMHC allowed, I can see no communion in the case outlined above, but short of that, I am puzzled why there would be a communionless mass.

  8. dominic1955 says:

    Sorry, I should have explained what I meant by that. The priest receives (as that is necessary for the liceity of the Mass) but the people do not. So, I should have said something like “Communion-of-the-peopleless Mass” but I went for brevity.

    Why would it be done this way? Simply because this was the practice for time immemorial. Actually, the people’s Communion wasn’t even in the Missale for quite some time as if it was offered it would have been done outside of Mass anyway.

    People should be able to communicate freely, but there are many situations in which the best policy would probably be not to offer Communion to the people.

  9. pberginjr says:

    I guess a concern about not offering communion at every mass would go against Pope St. Pius X’s recommendation for more frequent communion. Of course there is a lot of room between more frequent (at turn of 20th c.) and weekly communion.

    Also my wife, a convert a few years ago, was surprised to leran (from a novel) that people in attendance at mass didn’t always receive weekly (even if they were in a state of grace) as long as the mass has been in existence, and was taught in RCIA that for one to not receive communion (if eligible) was to commit a sin. I suspect much instruction and correction would need to occur for this sort of thing to happen. Again though if such instruction/correction were to occur, the homilist could just as well use the time to preach and correct on Eucharistic subjects leading his flock to no EMHC’s, rarer communion from the chalice (if ever), more frequent confession, more frequent worthy communion, etc.

    Sorry that I completely derailed the discussion in this post.

  10. APX says:

    @ jfm
    I have never seen a communionless Mass — is there still a consecration, or it just the Liturgy of the Word?
    Does the priest still consume the host/drink from the chalice?

    I’ve never been to a communionless Mass, but from making an educated guess based on what little I know about Mass, and having actually read the red text in my Missal once, there would have to still be the consecration/Most Holy Sacrifice otherwise it would not be a Mass. It would be one of those “Liturgy of the Word Services” they have whenever the priest is out of town in my home parish, only there wouldn’t be communion either. When no one is receiving communion, the priest leaves out the part where he turns around to the congregation with the host over the ciborium and says “Ecce Agnus Dei…” and after receiving (the priest is the only one who must receive communion, under both species is my understanding) moves right on to the ablutions.
    If consecration occurs in a public Mass, why wouldn’t there be communion?
    It’s a public Mass, but there’s no one there perhaps? I know at my parish when H1N1 was going on and the bishop completely forbade COTT, and turned down the priest’s proposal of cutting hosts in half and dropping them in people’s mouths, there was the idea that no one receive communion and make a spiritual communion instead, but that wasn’t permitted either. I’m sure people can think up other reasons to not have the congregation receive communion.

    From a technical viewpoint, there really is no such thing as a “communionless Mass” because the priest must receive communion during Mass. Well, maybe there is, but at the very least it wouldn’t be licit. I could be completely wrong, though.

  11. Supertradmum says:

    I have been to a FSSP Mass where the congregation did not receive, and some as a young person. I just assumed the priest was infirm in all the cases. I do not see this as a problem, as one can make a spiritual Communion and indeed, under these circumstances, that would be most appropriate.

  12. Inigo says:

    Seems a bit odd, that a priest wouldn’t be infirm to make the 20 something genuflections during an EF mass, but wouldn’t be firm enough to distribute communion. Really odd… [Odd that you should jump to the conclusion that the infirm priest could do those genuflections.]

    But alas…another argument for the minor orders, and permanent subdeaconate!

  13. Joshua08 says:

    I can think of many good reasons why communion may not be offered at a public Mass. 1) Due to unforeseen circumstances that require that the Mass end sooner. I believe then Archbishop Rajinth said a Mass outdoors in Germany and the weather turned bad so they omitted the communion of the people (They were instructed to receive outside of Mass, in a Church, later if they wished) 2) At funerals or weddings where a sizable portion of the congregation is not Catholic, as with the wedding of converts. The couple receives, but not the guests. I have seen this when it was foreseen that there would be offense if some received and not others who weren’t Catholic.

    As far as Inigo’s point. I go to a Mass with a priest who walks with a Cain. His genuflections aren’t perfect but he has the altar there to hold. Indeed, ever see that when a priest incenses the altar the acolytes hold his elbows? Why think you that that happens? Because older priests sometimes needed support and what was originally such an aid became done even when not needed. But anyhow, this same priest usually sits down during communion and another priest distributes. When he has distributed communion it has taken him as long to do so at a Monday Mass as communion takes at the Sunday. At the Sunday Mass he needs another to do it, or at least aid him.

  14. ” . . . was taught in RCIA that for one to not receive communion (if eligible) was to commit a sin.”

    Among all the many false RCIA teachings I’ve ever heard mentioned, this may be the most surprising. I can’t imagine where such things come from. Maybe this one is somehow associated with the apparently common heresy that the Mass is simply a communion service (whereas, of course, one can have a communion service apart from Mass)

    At any rate, Holy Communion by the faithful (however desirable generally) is not a necessary part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the sacrifice being complete when the celebrating priest has received.

    One example not yet mentioned is that of a traditional monastery where all of the priest monks said individually their private early morning Masses and there was a later (perhaps mid-morning) Mass, no one other than the celebrant would receive, because all had already received earlier that day.

  15. wchoag says:

    I can think of a concrete situation where the priest could not distribute communion at a TLM: The celebrating priest sprained his left wrist and cannot hold a ciborium for more than one minute.

  16. marthawrites says:

    What is the rule for a Novus Ordo Mass? Our pastor is infirm and cannot walk up and down the steps or stand unsupported for long to distribute the Eucharist, so he sits while six EMHC’s distribute the hosts and the blood. The other two priests and the deacon are not called in to help. Is this considered correct?

  17. Phil_NL says:


    I suspect that soon someone will dig up the appropriate quotations, but a situation where there are 2 priests and a deacon available (let’s assume they indeed are; I find it odd that in a time of priest shortage they aren’t sent out to nearby parishes without a priest or with few Masses) is surely reason enough not to have EMHC’s at all, regardless of the priest’s infirmities.

  18. albinus1 says:

    For awhile during this past year, the retired pastor of our parish (he just turned 90) celebrated the TLM for us on an occasional basis (about once every 6 weeks or so, on average). He wasn’t able to genuflect, so he did a simple bow; for Communion, we used just one side of the Communion rail, so he didn’t have to walk too far. There was always at least one altar server with him at all times.

    I go to a Mass with a priest who walks with a Cain.
    At least he’s Abel!
    (Sorry, couldn’t resist! ;-) )

  19. “If consecration occurs in a public Mass, why wouldn’t there be communion?”

    There WOULD be Communion. It is enough for the priest to receive in the Traditional Form of the Mass. The text of the Order of Mass in the traditional Missal itself does not even include provision for the Communion of the Faithful, unlike your hand missal, which integrates the appendix for that provision into the text. This does not belittle the importance of the people’s Communion, so much as ensure that the Mass is complete regardless of whether anyone else receives.

    Yes, a priest can celebrate the Mass, and at the same time be too infirm to administer Communion to others. I have been an MC for such a priest at one time or another. Thankfully, we have help. As to the use of extraordinary ministers for Communion at a TLM, while a bishop might prudently allow an installed acolyte to perform this task, something tells me the “sensus fidelum” will win in the end.

    I would really be shocked to learn that this was that much of a problem.

  20. leonugent2005 says:

    The text of the Order of Mass in the traditional Missal itself does not even include provision for the Communion of the Faithful. Will you not at least grant me the possibility that one could both dearly love the church and think that there are serious problems with that statement?

  21. leonugent2005 says:

    We have a traditionalist priest at our parish and today i tried out not going to communion at his mass. It felt a little weird but I think with time I can get used to it.

  22. Centristian says:

    I don’t know if I like this solution; it seems like the thin end of the wedge. Extraordinary ministers in the Ordinary Form began as just that: “extraordinary” ministers of Holy Communion. It didn’t take long at all, however, for them to become ubiquitous. Today they’re “extraordinary” in name only. The observable fact of the matter is that use of extraordinary ministers has become entirely ordinary.

    That might not be a valid concern, however, as I think about it, with respect to Mass in the Extraordinary Form, because it is difficult to imagine that any Latin Mass-goer would ever consent to be commissioned as an extraordinary minister. So even if Father couldn’t distribute communion for some reason (he suddenly fell and twisted his ankle on the way to the rail), it isn’t at all likely that there would be any extraordinary ministers in the house who could come to his aid in any case.

    The use of an “EMHC” at an “EF” Mass is a bad idea, I think, to be sure, but it’s also unlikely that such a scenario would ever play out. Even should there be an eager EMHC in attendance who offers to assist, it would appall the traditionalists in attendance, most of whom would prefer not to receive Communion at all than receive from a layman. I attend Mass in the Ordinary Form and I will not receive Holy Communion from lay ministers. Certainly Latin Mass-goers would not.

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