ASK FATHER: EMHCs when instituted acolytes are present

From a reader…


I am an instituted acolyte in formation for Holy Orders.

Based on my reading of the GIRM, an instituted acolyte is an extraordinary minister of holy communion and would be expected to serve in that role should they be called up to assist during Mass. Am I right?

If I read the GIRM correctly, then an instituted acolyte would be the first EMHC, and people from the pews would fill in as needed.

However, a lay liturgy director seems to be saying “spread the fun around” by telling us [instituted acolytes] not to serve as EHMC at a daily Mass.

It seems to me the liturgy guy is further muddling the concept of active participation by encouraging a proliferation of lay ministers in a spirit of inclusiveness.

Am I being insufficiently pastoral here? I will of course obey, but I would like to know what is the “right” thing to do given the context.


Instituted Acolytes are extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.  They have no “right” to exercise ministry. There seems to be something of a preference in the rubrics for acolytes over other extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, but, in the end, they are all extraordinary. If an acolyte shows up at a place where he is not known, he ought not insist on his priority over other extraordinary ministers.

Yet, the stubborn fact remains, there is a certain preference for an acolyte over and above other extraordinary ministers.  Other people who serve are substituting for the instituted acolytes and lectors who aren’t there.

Moreover, it is a general principle of liturgy that roles should be distributed, all things being equal. If there are five bishops, ten priests, and eighteen deacons at Mass it would be foolish to have one priest doing everything – reading the readings, chanting the Gospel, preaching, reading the universal prayers, setting up the altar, and so forth.

Yet, the fact remains that, instituted acolytes are extraordinary.  Therefore, the liturgy director’s comment, that “opportunities be readily available to all those who have been trained and wish to serve” runs contrary to this fact that extraordinary ministers being extraordinary. That’s like saying the Vice President, who is there to step in should something happen to the President, should be given a regular opportunity to step into his extraordinary role as presidential successor because he’s trained for it. No, his role is extraordinary. If it’s not needed, great.  It is also his role not to be needed to step into the not-vacant office of President.

Next, someone in formation for Holy Orders should also exhibit a docility compatible with the Orders to which he aspires. Making a stink and insisting on that priority is contrary to the docility and humility that should mark the character of someone in formation. Unless one is being asked to violate one’s conscience or commit some liturgical or canonical crime, one should smile, nod, and say “Yes, Father,” “Yes, Rev. Mr. X,” or “Yes, Liturgy Czar.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. priests wife says:

    but Father, but Father!….I wish the Liturgy Czar would ‘give’ the job to the acolyte…

    in any case- I love your analogy of Vice President = EMHC

  2. dafrenchman says:

    At our church they do not call the position “extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion” they call them Eucharistic Ministers. I suppose they are needed always since it is no longer Extraordinary…. Sad times. Sometimes there are acolytes visiting, they seem to be left with the altar boys and girls. Unsure why that is.

  3. Uxixu says:

    I do believe Eucharistic Ministers is the euphemism used for EMHC’s in most US parishes, at least, though the latter is the technical term.

    Of course, I am irked at the very idea of a lay liturgical director. Totally understandable in the absence of suitable clergy and I really doubt overworked parish priests or vicars should be mucking themselves up with such. IOW, it’s a perfect position for the deacons of the parish. The focus on charity is for the order is admirable but the idea of having laity in such a role as liturgy director in anything but an emergency seems… bad. These folks seem genuinely pious and well meaning but is ultimately damaging to the Catholic concept of clergy as distinct from the laity when laity are doing everything but the liturgy itself. This is ultimately a consequence e of having the clerical state limited to Sacred Orders instead of lower, minor orders clerics to fill these roles. Instead of understanding & working to correct why they were continually empty outside of seminary, the concept was simply dumped… the problem being their enshrined in the canons of the Ecumenical Councils and quite specifically enumerated in Trent and have thousands of years of history behind them.

    At the very least, the clerical state should include those with the rather bureaucratic sounding “Admission to Candidacy for Ordination,” IOW perhaps not ALL instituted acolytes and lectors – (though begs the question why not?)….

  4. Geoffrey says:

    As far as I have been able to research, properly instituted acolytes (whether seminarians or not) are extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion by right of institution, whereas any other extraordinary ministers (as well as servers, readers, etc.) are merely commissioned or deputed.

  5. Perhaps the real question here is whether any extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are required at all at daily Mass. If the chalice is not offered, the relatively few people usually present can easily form a single line to receive from the priest if necessary. I know that in some places, daily Mass is quite well attended, but such places are far less common than those where extraordinary ministers are unnecessarily employed at daily Mass. If the chalice is offered, asking people who wish to receive in that form to sit on one side of the nave so that only a single extraordinary minister is required is not unreasonable (though it may elicit outrage anyway).

    That said, I agree with the comment about docility– a good way to find the exit door at a seminary is to start battling about relatively minor matters. You have to pick your spots, especially if you want to make it to the big leagues.

  6. Carolina Geo says:

    I have found that the title EMHC is typically fallacious. I tend to use the acronym UMHC: Unnecessary Ministers of Holy Communion.

  7. Gaz says:

    Unfortunately, this becomes an Animal Farm argument, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. An instituted Lector took a similar case to an ecclesial court in this country and although I think the judges acted with surprising patience and charity, it didn’t go well for the Lector.

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