QUAERITUR: During Mass can a lay person bring the Eucharist to the altar.

From a reader in Italy:

Dear Father,

this is the situation I am witnessing in a church:

during the Mass, after the Agnus Dei, a friar serving the Mass (just friar, not deacon, nor priest) goes to the Tabernacle, takes the ciborium and carries it to the altar. Then the priest alone distributes the Communion to the faithful.

In my opinion point 162 of the “Ordinamento Generale del Messale Romano” seems to suggest that only the priest is allowed to get the ciborium from the Tabernacle, but the case described there is slightly different.

I have unsuccessfully searched for an answer in Redemptionis Sacramentum.

I kindly ask you if there is an official answer to this question, maybe some response from the Congregation of Divine Worship regarding who is allowed to remove the reserved Bless Sacrament from the Tabernacle during the Mass.

I do not believe that it is permitted for a lay person, during Mass before Communion, to open the tabernacle and bring a ciborium to the altar.

We know from Eucharistiae Sacramentum 91  that and Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (who must be properly formed and appointed, of course) may – for the purposes of adoration only – open a tabernacle for exposition and reposition of Blessed Sacrament.

Mass is a different situation.

In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in the section on Mass without a deacon (if there is a deacon, he, obviously, would get the ciborium), we find:

162. The priest may be assisted in the distribution of Communion by other priests who happen to be present. If such priests are not present and there is a very large number of communicants, the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, e.g., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose. …

These ministers should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion, and they are always to receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing either species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful.

163. When the distribution of Communion is finished, the priest himself immediately and completely consumes at the altar any consecrated wine that happens to remain; as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist. …

Two things are clear.

First: If a lay person cannot approach the altar before the priest’s Communion, then a lay person cannot bring a ciborium to the altar.

A friar who is not ordained is a layman.  He may be a Extraordinary Minister, but that only allows him to help the priest distribute Communion, not to bring the Eucharist to the altar before the priest’s communion.

Second point: When there is no deacon, the priest takes the Blessed Sacrament back to the tabernacle.  If that is the case after Communion, it should be the case before Communion.

There may be some cases in which the tabernacle is not near the altar and an infirm or crippled priest would have a hard time physically making the trip back and forth.  Rare cases, however, are not the best basis for the law.  Let’s stick to normal situations.

Finally, the particular law in Italy may be different, but I suspect that on this point it would be more strict rather than less.

It may be that we can find greater clarity from directives on diocesan websites.  I would rely more on diocesan sites than on parish sites.  Perhaps some of you good readers can look around a little more on this interesting question.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Fr. Z., I couldn’t find a directive from my diocese, but in looking at directives given elsewhere there seems to be a common practice of having the Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist return the ciborium to the tabernacle when the tabernacle is not near the altar (this is the case in my own parish where). This, of course, is another reason why the tabernacle should NOT be placed at a distance from the altar.

  2. Will D. says:

    they are always to receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing either species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful.

    I have wondered about this. At my parish, the priest distributes the ciboria to half of the (far too many) EMHCs while the deacon distributes the chalices to the other half. In fact, the deacon combines the EMHCs’ reception of the Precious Blood with the distribution of chalices. (In other words, he typically offers the chalice to the 1st EMHC, who receives their communion and returns it to the deacon, and then he offers the chalice to the 2nd, who keeps it.)
    If I’m reading the excerpt from the GIRM correctly, both of these practices are incorrect. The EMHCs ought to receive communion, and then as a separate step, receive the vessels from the priest himself.

  3. Gail F says:

    Hmmm. I have never seen this happen. However, at Mass this weekend (not my parish – traveling) I saw one of the EMHCs drink the rest of the wine in her chalice. The other two did not do this and the bishop who was celebrating (also traveling) drank all the rest, including pouring drops from her chalice into his. I don’t believe he saw her do this, and as the others didn’t do it I don’t know if this normal at this parish. And I have been to many parishes in which someone else (not priest or deacon) puts the hosts left over back into the tabernacle, which apparently isn’t okay either. Hmmm.

  4. Fr Francis says:

    Fr Francis

    “I saw one of the EMHCs drink the rest of the wine in her chalice.”
    I don’t think so. You saw him/her consume the Precious Blood.

  5. Volanges says:

    Gail F, it seems to be fairly standard practice that the person who ministered the chalice consumes the Precious Blood that remains once Communion is over.

    GIRM 284 b) says “Whatever may remain of the Blood of Christ is consumed at the altar by the Priest or the Deacon or the duly instituted acolyte who ministered the chalice. The same then purifies, wipes, and arranges the sacred vessels in the usual way.

    While we know that EMHCs aren’t allowed to purify the vessels, is there anything that says that they can’t consume what remains of the Precious Blood when there is no instituted acolyte and they’ve been EMHCs in his stead?

  6. Sissy says:

    At one particular Mass (11 am) in my church, there is a woman who appears to be the head EMHC (she is always giving directions to the others). She always walks up to the altar and takes a ciborium herself, sometimes taking two and handing one to a young teen who is also an EMHC. I’ve seen her stick her finger in the ciborium and stir around, as if counting the Hosts. This gives me the heebie-jeebies.

  7. Volanges says:

    The thing we must remember is that often the EMHCs do what the priest has told them to do. Ours purified the vessels until the new Pastor arrived at the end of July. Why? Because the two former Pastors and the recent Administrator refused to do so and made it part of the EMHC’s duty. They refused to even consider what RA had to say on the matter. What is an EMHC to do?

    Sadly, we often ascribe nefarious intentions to these people when they are only doing what they were trained to do.

  8. Papabile says:

    @Fr Francis

    I personally don’t refer to the consecrated elements as bread or wine. However, the Church does in each and every mass refer to the consecrated bread as bread. I would say the same could apply to the consecrated species of wine.

    Relevant extract from the Catechism of the Council of Trent

    Why The Eucharist Is Called Bread After Consecration

    Here pastors should observe that we should not at all be surprised, if, even after consecration, the Eucharist is sometimes called bread. It is so called, first because it retains the appearance of bread, and secondly because it keeps the natural quality of bread, which is to support and nourish the body.

    Moreover, such phraseology is in perfect accordance with the usage of the Holy Scriptures, which call things by what they appear to be, as may be seen from the words of Genesis which say that Abraham saw three men, when in reality he saw three Angels. In like manner the two Angels who appeared to the Apostles after the Ascension of Christ the Lord into heaven, are called not Angels, but men.

    [This rabbit hole is now CLOSED.]

  9. Clinton R. says:

    We seem to be moving towards a priest-less Church. This is a very frightening thought. Laymen cannot offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or forgive sins. Another reason for Summorum Pontificum. The TLM leads to more priestly vocations. The OF has led to more EMOHC’s taking over the Mass and doing whatever they want, with no regard for the rubrics of the Mass. This is another bad fruit of the “spirit” of Vatican II, with the prevailing notion that priests are unneccessary and that we have a baptismal right to fulfill the duties that were once the sole purview of the priest. May Our Lord bless the Church Militant by calling more faithful men to the priesthood. +JMJ+

  10. Midwest St. Michael says:

    @ Sissy, who says:

    “…there is a woman who appears to be the head EMHC. She always walks up to the altar and takes a ciborium herself, sometimes taking two and handing one to a young teen who is also an EMHC.”

    These may help:

    “It is not permitted for the faithful to take the consecrated Bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them on from one to another among themselves.” (GIRM 160.2)

    The folowing may be helpful, too:

    In the instruction “On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests” (“Ecclesiae de Mysterio”), authorized for publication in 1997 by *seven* Vatican dicasteries (as Fr. Z emphasizes!), article 8 of this document says:

    “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;

    — the habitual use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Mass thus arbitrarily extending the concept of “a great number of the faithful.” (§ 2, italics added)


  11. ejcmartin says:

    The practice of an EMHC bringing over the ciborium from the tabernacle during the Mass happens all the time in our archdiocese. Was there not also something in the new GIRM about trying to distribute only the eucharist that had been consecrated at that particular Mass and hence stop this whole process?

  12. raitchi2 says:

    Does this question even matter? As a layperson I can walk up to any lay EMHC, have her place a host in my hand and then pop it into my mouth. To worry about whether or not a lay person can touch some metal which hapens contain a host (not in an absolute sense, but whether the prohibition exists during the 55 minute window of mass) seems like putting the cart before the horse. This is where the liturgical law is straining gnats and missing the camel.

  13. Rose in NE says:

    At my old parish, an EMHC always brings the ciborium to the altar, because the tabernacle is in the chapel which is in the back of the church. It’s a bit of a hike from the chapel to the altar.

    I still work in the school at this parish, and today at the school Mass I saw something I’d never seen before. During the ‘Lamb of God’, the altar servers were the ones who divided up the consecrated hosts into the several vessels that would eventually be given by the priest to the EMHC’s. While the altar servers did this Father just stood there holding up half of the large host in each hand while the ‘Lamb of God’ was being sung. Surely, this can’t be correct.

  14. jim123 says:

    I’m not sure I see exactly what’s wrong with the situation described in the original post.

    The priest’s Communion takes place immediately after the Agnus Dei. If the friar goes to the tabernacle directly after the Agnus Dei (as stated in the original post), then by the time the friar gets back to the altar with the ciborium, the priest’s Communion will have finished, and thus this will be after the point in time that a eucharistic minister is allowed to approach the altar.

    Also, the bringing of the ciborium to the altar can legitimately be described as part of the distribution of Communion.

    When the priest carries the consecrated hosts that are designated for reservation, this is not simply a part of the distribution of Communion, and hence not assignable to a eucharistic minister. (Thus the cases of carrying the ciborium before and after Communion are for different reasons, and we should not expect exactly the same rule to apply.)

  15. Philangelus says:

    Every single time you post about EMHCs and what they’re not allowed to do, I think back on the years I was an EMHC and wonder exactly how much time I’m going to spendin Purgatory making reparation. :-b

    I’m just disgusted at how I was pretty much trained to do every single thing the Church says not to do. I did all these things as reverently as I could because that’s what they told me to do. And it doesn’t sound as if these guidelines are encoded in secret documents that are kept in a Vatican subbasement in a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware Of The Leopard.”

    Our brand-new super-awesome parish priest was asking for people to be trained as EMHCs but I will never do it again because I don’t want to profane the Eucharist, which apparently I was doing with the best of intentions. God have mercy.

  16. HeadSacristan says:

    I think really the important article of the GIRM is 85: “It is most desirable that the faithful, just as the priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass… so that even by means of the signs Communion will stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated.”

    There are no rubrics describing how the ciborium is to be retrieved from the tabernacle, because the ritual assumes that the people will receive a host consecrated at the Mass they participate in (sound familiar to how the ritual envisions we celebrate ad orientem?). Fr. Robert Taft says that communion from the tabernacle at Mass is the most widespread liturgical abuse, and I agree.

    Many churches today do not have a tabernacle in the sanctuary or near the altar. Sending an EMHC or instituted acolyte to retrieve the ciborium has been the prevailing solution to the problem that arises if the priest goes to retrieve it, namely that the Eucharist would be left on the altar unattended (particularly if GIRM 162 is followed and EMHCs do not approach the altar until after the priest’s communion). Personally, I think planning to take communion from the tabernacle at Mass is an abuse. If it is not, then custom being the interpreter of the law, it would seem that it is permissible for an EMHC to retrieve the ciborium from the tabernacle. Now, personally I am not in favor of this, but it does seem permissible. In addition, the part about receiving the vessel from the priest in GIRM 162 would be followed (at least as I have observed this take place), because the ciborium is usually given to the priest or placed upon the altar, and then given to the EMHC after he/she has received communion.

    The best solution to the problem is to enforce GIRM 85, rather than worry about who is allowed to do this thing which should not be done in the first place.

  17. Michelle F says:

    EMHCs don’t have to do things that are not permitted simply because a priest tells them to do it.

    At my parish a couple of years ago, a visiting priest who offered Mass asked a male EMHC to do something involving the ciborium and Tabernacle. I was in the 3rd row of pews back from the Sanctuary, and they spoke so low that I couldn’t hear what was said. I could see the look on the EMHC’s face, however, and he looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights. He also kept shaking his head “No” (almost imperceptibly).

    The priest ended up putting the ciborium in the Tabernacle, and then he gave the congregation a lecture on the “priesthood” of the laity. (Earlier he ad-libbed most of the Eucharistic Prayer and did some other wild things, so most of the congregation was pretty much in a state of shock by this point.)

    After reading this post, I can assume that the visiting priest had wanted the EMHC to put the ciborium in the Tabernacle.

    EMHCs don’t have to break Rome’s rules just because a priest wants them to break the rules. They can refuse, and if necessary, they can quit. Laymen are not obligated to get up and “play church” at the altar.

    And for what it’s worth – the EMHC in my story still is serving as an EMHC, but the priest went to his eternal reward about 8 months after this incident.

  18. VexillaRegis says:

    Tabernacle communion was discussed in an earlier thread and I agree that it is a liturgical abuse. In my experience this practice is far more common in parishes whith conservative or fully traditional priests, at least in my country. In parishes with mainstream or more liberal pastors, you usually can count on fresh hosts for communion. But, OTH, there tend to be other, worse, abuses than this one going on in those parishes…

  19. raitchi2 – I agree. I certainly do not like anyone but a priest removing the ciboria from the Tabernacle at Mass – especially when there is no need -but I am increasingly unhappy with communion in the hand and the two are connected. If people can handle the Blessed Sacrament then they can handle the sacred vessels too! That’s how people (many clergy included) see it. Often they do this not out of irreverence but to be helpful.

    As a priest-friar I get sent out to supply in various places and one sees a variation in practices. In some places the EMHCs are well-trained and obviously expect the priest to remove the ciboria from the tabernacle and bring communion to them. In other places they practically stand over one and have the ciboria in their hands almost before one has consumed the Host! The spirit of liturgical experimentation is still not dead and it has left us with a legacy of DIY liturgical practices and desensitisation to the Holiness of the Sacraments.

  20. Volanges says:

    Michelle F, that presumes that the EMCHs know the documents well enough to know that they are being asked to do something that is not allowed. In my experience, and I was an EMHC in several parishes, documents were never mentioned; the priest trained us and told us what to. We had no way of knowing whether what he told us to do was right or wrong and why would we even assume it was wrong?

    I’d been a reader, an EMHC and on two or three liturgy committees (we moved a lot as a military family) over at least 18 years before I even heard of the GIRM and other documents. I looked around the parish office and found nothing but a Code of Canon Law and a copy of the first edition of the Catechism (the one before the corrections) and a pocket book with the Vatican II documents which was greatly yellowed but didn’t seem to have been read much.

    There were no copies of encyclicals, or any other documents. I made a point of finding the documents online and building a library. Other than one pastor who came with a library of encyclicals and other documents in his suitcase, the general consensus from the others was that they didn’t want to hear about any document that contradicted the things they wanted us to do. The thing that annoyed them most was to see me, the chair of the Liturgy Committee, coming toward them document in hand. In fact, one priest yelled at me once, “We’ve never listened to Rome before and we aren’t about to start now.”

  21. Supertradmum says:

    Lectors, EMCs and even Cantors are supposed to be trained and read the documents are part of their training. They are also supposed to be blessed by a set of prayers out for years and years, like a commissioning. This does not happen in most places and is a travesty of the original intent of taking the minor orders away from the seminarians and temporary deacons and priests and basically giving them to lay people.

    The minor orders should go back to the sems, deacons and priests. This entire experiment of the clericalization of the laity is a huge mistakes. I see abuses weekly.

  22. Sissy says:

    Midwest St. Michael: Thank you for those references. That is very helpful.

  23. Volanges says:

    Supertradmom, in an ideal world priests would do the red and say the black and ministers would be properly trained and know all the documents that pertain to their ministry. Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world and we do what we can with what we are given.

    In my experience in all the parishes I’ve belonged to in the last 35 years, folks are asked to ‘sign up’ for a ministry and are thrown into it after a 45-60 minute ‘this is what you do’ preparation session. Although in our parish the EMHCs are recruited, ‘trained’, their names recommended to the Bishop and, upon his approval, commissioned, I also know that their training session consisted of going over a list of DOs and DON’Ts. No catechesis, no documents, nothing of that kind. And where the DOs and DON’Ts had included things like ‘no purifying the vessels’, Pastors deleted that from the list or changed a DON’T to a DO.

    This ‘sign up’ type of recruiting results in people who can’t read properly becoming readers and nobody wanting to say anything to them because ‘well, she volunteered, you can’t be picky.’

  24. John Nolan says:

    At a cathedral in the English midlands the procedure is as follows: Four extra chalices are consecrated and administered by (almost invariably female) EMHC. If there is no deacon, one EM goes to the Blessed Sacrament chapel, preceded by two acolytes with lighted candles, and carries the ciborium to the altar. After Communion the Blessed Sacrament is taken back in like manner. The EMs place their chalices on a table outside the sanctuary (not the credence table) and place a cloth over them. At the end of Mass, when most people have left, they consume what remains and purify the vessels. Even when the deacon is present, he does not assist in this.

    In England and Wales from the outset, EMHC were seen as an opportunity to give women a visible liturgical role. I know they take the Sacrament to the sick and housebound while Father enjoys a round of golf, but they are far from ideal in this role as they cannot hear confessions.

    On the last day of Advent I attended a Low Mass (Latin) in Westminster Cathedral. One priest, one server, one lay reader, TWO female EMHC. Since most of the smallish number of communicants opted to receive from the priest, and the chalice was not offered, their presence was superfluous. Redemptionis Sacramentum is a dead letter in this country.

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