From a reader…
Is anyone other than a Priest allowed to self-Communicate as in a “Communion” service? Thank you.
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson
Herein we get some fairly complicated liturgical law, and this is one of those situations where having a Code of Liturgical Law for the Roman Rite would be helpful.
In the 2004 Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments clarified that, at Holy Mass, “It is not licit for the faithful ‘to take…by themselves… and, still less, to hand … from one to another’ the sacred host or the sacred chalice.”
This is an instruction (see canon 34), which does not make law, but rather sets out the provisions of the law and says how the law is to be applied. As an Instruction, it cannot change law (note, however, for those playing the home game, that not everything that is called, in English, an “Instruction” is really an instruction – the “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” is actually the “Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani,” an Institution, which makes law, not an Instruction which applies or clarifies the law).
For the law, we have to go back to the 1988 Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest by the Congregation for Divine Worship (issued by the late, lamented Paul Augustin Cardinal Mayer, OSB, and his secretary, then-archbishop Vergilio Noe). In this Directory, we are informed, that, “for the communion rite, the provisions given in the Roman Ritual for Communion outside Mass are to be observed.”
For this, we are sent back to the Roman Ritual, issued in 1973 from the Congregation for Divine Worship, which says, (paragraph 33), “If the minister receives communion, he says quietly, ‘May the body of Christ bring me to everlasting life.’ He reverently consumes the body of Christ.”
Redemptionis Sacramentum clarifies (a bit) further, stating that (paragraph 165) if there is not a priest or deacon present to led this service, “various parts be distributed among several faithful rather than having a single lay member of the faithful direct the whole celebration alone. Nor is it ever appropriate to refer to any member of the lay faithful as ‘presiding’ over the celebration.”
So, where does that leave us?
As far as I can tell, there’s been no further clarification on the rubrics of such a service since the Roman Ritual of 1973, instructing the “minister” to “reverently consume the body of Christ.” A lay person who, in such an instance, is serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, even if, in keeping with Redemptionis Sacramentum, is not directing the whole celebration alone, can reverently consume the Eucharist.
At the same time, I note the condition added in the Roman Ritual, “If…” So it would seem that the rubric envision the possibility of a minister leading a service of Holy Communion and not himself receiving. I think one who leads such a service in the absence of a priest could legitimately say that, owing the the clear indication that, during Holy Mass the faithful ought not self-communicate, and not wishing to cause any scandal among the faithful, he would refrain from self-communicating at these times.
I would further add that any service of the distribution of Holy Communion outside of Mass, especially one directed by lay people, should include significant and devout prayers for an increase in priestly vocations so that these types of services might become absolutely unnecessary. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]