QUAERITUR: Can a layperson repose the Blessed Sacrament?

12_03_15_ExpositionFrom a reader…


Our priest has asked the two laypersons who attend the last hour of Adoration if they would be willing to repose the Blessed Sacrament if he cannot be present to do so. I am one of those persons and do not believe I’m qualified to do this. In fact, I’m concerned about profanation of the Eucharist. Should I decline the request or acquiesce?

I can’t answer that for you.  As a priest, I am not a fan of this practice.  However, I can imagine a few situations in which it could be tolerated.

That said, we can consider the legislation.  There is a document called Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass (par. 82-100) that covers this situation.  This document provides that laypersons may under certain conditions – expose – and hence repose – the Blessed Sacrament in the absence of a bishop, a priest or a deacon.

The ordinary minister for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is a bishop, a priest or a deacon. They are also the only ones permitted to give Benediction (Blessing) of the Blessed Sacrament.

However, in the absence of a bishop, a priest or a deacon (or I suppose if the cleric present is physically unable to do so – “lawfully impeded”) the following lay people are permitted publicly to expose publicly expose and publicly to repose the Blessed Sacrament:

  • an installed Acolyte
  • an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion
  • a member of a religious community or of a pious association of laymen or laywomen dedicated to Eucharistic adoration who has been appointed by the local Ordinary

These people may open the tabernacle and put a ciborium on an altar or put the lunette with a Host in a monstrance. They may then, consequently, repose the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

So, if you are going to be involved in this, meet with the pastor of the parish where this chapel is or contact the local bishop (who will probably refer you back to the parish priest).

You cannot be an Acolyte, for only men are admitted to that ministry, but you could be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

Becoming an EMHC has a process.  The pastor will know what it is.

And never… never… just assume that you can do this without checking with the pastor, just to be clear and sure.

It is not right for just anyone to do this.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Imrahil says:

    From the question, it appears that the inquiress was in the last shift for a Eucharistic Adoration and the priest wasn’t sure whether he could be right back.

    According to what Father said, she is forbidden to repose, unless an EMHC (to simplify).

    It is, perhaps, not superfluous to note that the alternative (and the only alternative) is for at least one of the apparently two to go on praying until the priest does come back (to quote John Wayne from The Longest Day). Reposing the Blessed Sacrament without authorization is liturgically forbidden; going home leaving the Blessed Sacrament exposed without any attender is even forbiddener.

  2. Red_Shirt_Hero says:

    Allowing more periods of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and bringing Regular Holy Communion to the sick and housebound are the two genuine needs for EMHCs in many parishes (in the UK, at least). Well-formed, devout and reverent laypeople should consider assisting the clergy in this way if it brings the Eucharist to those in need, and allows parishioners to spend time in Christ’s real presence.

    And during those periods of Adoration without a priest or deacon, pray for vocations so as to make this assistance truly an extraordinary, temporary measure.

  3. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    This is a bit off-topic, but . . . I’m a woman, and not anything or anybody, except a member of the Dominican Laity (formerly called the Third Order of Saint Dominic), devoted to preaching and study.

    The other day at Mass, where we approach the altar and stand to receive Our Lord, I spotted a sacred host on the floor near the priest’s feet. Perhaps it would have been better to alert Father to Jesus’ presence on the floor immediately, but I felt reticent about interrupting the distribution of Holy Communion. Instead, I waited at the head of the side aisle, and when Father walked to his chair, I went back to the spot where He lay, and lifted the Sacred Host off the floor. I then returned to the head of the side aisle, and made a throne for Our Lord with my left hand, and covered Him with my right.

    As soon as Father left the altar, I went into the sacristy, and explained to Father what had happened. He immediately took the Sacred Host, still on His “throne” in my hand, and consumed it.

    I suspect I may perhaps have been mistaken in how I handled this. What, Father, would be the correct procedure in such a case?

  4. slainewe says:

    I never understood this practice. It is not necessary for the Host to be exposed for there to be Adoration, so what reason is there to profane the Lord with unconsecrated hands?

    When Father cannot be there, why does he simply not end the exposed Adoration early and allow unexposed Adoration to continue for the rest of the hour? Do we think the Lord will bless us LESS for being cognizant of His Majesty?

  5. Red_Shirt_Hero says:

    Presumably, if the priest is asking if the lady is willing, and she has now contacted Fr. Z., then he is making arrangements for the future, and will have time to go through the formalities of commissioning her as an EMHC. It is even possible to commission an EMHC for one occasion (the rite is an appendix in the Missal – as Mass is the occasion when it is forseen an emergency EMHC might be needed)

  6. arga says:

    In a local parish here, laypeople regularly expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament, in the very presence of one of the priests (the parish has 4 priests — the biggest in the diocese). This is obviously an abuse.

    [Yes, that is an abuse. It is a puzzling abuse, too. The juxtaposition of regular Exposition and a lack of understanding of the differing roles of laypeople and priests is… puzzling.]

  7. Kent Wendler says:

    A parish neighboring mine has a permanent adoration chapel with round-the-clock and -week adoration, with scheduled adorers. In it the Host is exposed in a monstrance inside a special tabernacle with a sliding front opening. (There is also key-card + pass code security for “after-hours”.) It is probably no surprise that adoration attendance is not always constant. If there is but one adorer who must leave, with no replacement, there is a placard instructing the adorer to slide the tabernacle door closed. Similarly, if an adorer arrives with no others present, then the instruction is to slide the door open to expose our Lord for adoration. There might be prescribed prayers in both cases. But the monstrance, and certainly the Host is not touched. Just the sliding tabernacle door.

  8. spock says:

    The Novus Ordo Parish that I was a part of at the time of Hurricane Katrina went down to a place near New Orleans on 3 separate occasions to assist the victims. On one of those excursions we were in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and yes a layman (woman) did repose it. I don’t recall if she exposed it. I don’t think I was present at the point in time the Blessed Sacrament was initially exposed. The conditions were pretty bad. The church was destroyed and they had some makeshift buildings which weren’t in great shape. I still have a cross on my wall that was made from pieces of the destroyed Church. The town was pretty much wiped out. Even given these extreme circumstances, I guess I would say that if a cleric is not present, the better move is to keep it reposed. Certainly pray and pray in front of a tabernacle if possible but let the clerics be clerics and the laypeople be laypeople.

  9. Father K says:

    ‘so what reason is there to profane the Lord with unconsecrated hands?’

    It is permitted to receive communion in the hand so how can it be said there would be a profanation to repose the lunette where the Host is not even touched? Get with it.



  10. Red_Shirt_Hero says:

    Except a deacon’s hands aren’t consecrated, and he is an ordinary minister of exposition (HCWEOM 60), and reposition (even if a priest gave benediction – HCWEOM 70). Does he “profane the Lord”?

  11. Matt R says:

    I agree. Traditionally, one had Exposition only during the Octave of Corpus Christi, and later, the Forty Hours Prayer was added.

    Nevertheless, the luna is unconsecrated. Even in the traditional form, the deacon exposes and reposes at a solemn Benediction with deacon and subdeacon.

  12. slainewe says:

    “It is permitted to receive communion in the hand so how can it be said there would be a profanation to repose the lunette where the Host is not even touched? “

    From the perspective that Communion in the hand is a good thing; that is, that there is no difference in dignity between the ordained and the laity, it doesn’t seem to matter.

    “Except a deacon’s hands aren’t consecrated, and he is an ordinary minister of exposition.”

    I apologize for using the words “unconsecrated hands.” I just meant ordinary ministers as opposed to extraordinary ones.

  13. KateD says:

    Glad this topic is being discussed. So many abuses.

    In one of the first chapters of Catholic National Reader 2, there is story about how a village removes the Eucharist from the tabernacle and reposes it in the sacristy, in order to avoid profanation, while the pastor is gone and an army detachment has opted to use the sanctuary as barracks. The language never states, “We Catholics believe the Eucharist is the body of Christ”, as is done in many Catholic schools, but rather asserts the fact that the Eucharist IS the body of Christ. It’s not just semantics. The first statement implies that maybe it’s not, but we believe it anyway.

    There is a whole generation of Catholics coming up who are being taught with curriculae that include these types of books for reading (Catholic National Reader), phonics, grammar (Lepanto Voyages in English), history (Land Our Lady series), even the sciences, etc which acknowledge appropriately God and our place in His creation ….It is my sincere hope that as they grow up and become the sacristanes, music directors, catechism teachers and priests in their parishes, they will help to eradicate some of these errors and create stronger parishes. I wish Catholic schools would use these timeless teaching resources, instead of looking for the textbook kickback.

    There’s not much we can do about adults obstinate in their errors, but how we talk about the Eucharist to children and how we interact with Him can have a profound impact on those who the Church will be comprised of when we’ve passed on.

    I realize this doesn’t solve the immediate problem, but by leading the target a little, I think we will have better chances of hitting it in the long run.

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