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Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist

by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin


The revised "Policy for Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist" in the Diocese of Youngstown promulgated by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, effective June 6.

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The Catholic Exponent

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Diocese of Youngstown, OH, July 9, 1999


It was in 1971 that extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist were first permitted in the United States. At that time the Congregation of the Sacraments responded to a request of the American bishops to allow laypersons to assist priests in giving Holy Communion.

In January 1973, Pope Paul VI, in the instruction "Immensae Cariatis," extended this permission to the universal Church. He wrote "Present-day conditions demand that É greater access to Holy Communion should be made possible so that the faithful, by sharing more fully in the fruits of the sacrifice of the Mass, might dedicate themselves more readily and effectively to God and to the good of the ChurchÉ First of all, provision must be made lest reception become impossible or difficult owing to a lack of a sufficient number of ministers."

The institution of this particular ministry responds to the condition in the Church today whereby Catholics are encouraged to share in communion at every Eucharist in which they participate, and under both species, and the large number of persons who are coming forward to partake of the body and blood of Christ.

"It is useful for the diocesan bishop to issue particular norms concerning extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion which, in complete harmony with the universal law of the Church, should regulate the exercise of this function in his diocese." ("Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests")

In the Diocese of Youngstown, qualified persons who have been chosen as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist must receive an endorsement from the bishop. The pastor is to forward the names of the persons to the bishop asking that they be named for service as extraordinary ministers. A simple form to facilitate this request is available through the Office of Worship. This requirement distinguishes the extraordinary minister of the Eucharist from other liturgical ministers and emphasizes the extraordinary nature of this ministry.

Extraordinary ministers are commissioned to function within their own parish and for a period of three years. The commission expires after three years or if the person moves away from his or her parish. The commission is renewable by again requesting the endorsement from the bishop. Commissioning should take place during a parish celebration according to the rite provided in the Book of Blessings. The commission may be revoked by the pastor if the individual no longer fulfills the requirements for this ministry established below.


"Extraordinary ministers may distribute Holy Communion at eucharistic celebrations only when there are no ordained ministers present or when those ordained ministers present at a liturgical celebration are truly unable to distribute Holy Communion. They may also exercise this function at eucharistic celebrations where there are particularly large numbers of the faithful and which would be excessively prolonged because of an insufficient number of ordained ministers to distribute Holy Communion." ("Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests")

Extraordinary ministers are also used in order that the sick or homebound may receive communion with the frequency recommended in the revised rite for the "Pastoral Care of the Sick." Any person who regularly takes communion to the sick is to be trained and commissioned. An individual may be commissioned for only this aspect of the ministry or may perform this service within the eucharistic assembly. To establish the connection between the Sunday assembly and the homebound and sick of the parish, extraordinary ministers ideally are sent from the Sunday celebration of the eucharist to take communion to them.


Extraordinary ministers are to be fully initiated Catholics, at least 16 years of age, who lead a life in harmony with the undertaking of this ministry including participating in the sacramental life of the Church. The pastoral staff, Liturgy Committee, and/or Parish Council may assist the pastor in discerning parishioners to fulfill this ministry. Persons who themselves express a desire to become an extraordinary minister of the eucharist should be carefully considered.


A time of formation to deepen their understanding of the eucharist and the ministry they are to undertake should be provided for extraordinary ministers of the eucharist. A portion of this formation may be offered for all liturgical ministers at the same time thus enabling them to have a common understanding of the eucharist and an appreciation of all the ministerial roles. The sample outline for a formation series which follows in Appendix I is provided as a guide.

An additional time of training in their specific ministry should be conducted. The sample outline shows this specific training as Sessions V and VI. "How Communion Is To Be Distributed," which follows, may be helpful in this training.

It is recommended that ongoing formation and/or training be provided for the extraordinary ministers of the eucharist through annual ministry days in the parish.


Evaluation of the extraordinary ministers can be done on two levels:

The very practical level:

Are they serving when scheduled? Do they follow the procedures established by the parish? Do they attend any in-service held for them?

The more reflective level:

Is the reverence they have for the eucharist and the people to whom they minister evident as they perform their ministry and at other times as well?

Are they growing in their understanding of the eucharist and their commitment to the parish?

The evaluation tool, which follows in Appendix II, may be given annually to each extraordinary minister and returned to the pastor or person responsible for these ministers who then fills out the second part. If the situation warrants, a time can be set aside for the minister and the pastor or coordinator to discuss the evaluation together.


Practical considerations for priests, parish liturgy committees and extraordinary ministers of the eucharist

Preparing the assembly to receive communion under both kinds.

  • The practice of receiving communion from the cup should be introduced with great care. It should be done with reverence and in a manner worthy of the eucharist.
  • Parishioners should be carefully prepared to understand the signs of the eucharist: eating the body of Christ and drinking from the cup of Christ's blood. Children and adults should be instructed that communion under both kinds is highly desirable because in that form the sign of the eucharistic meal appears more clearly.

Preparing the Altar

  • Following the general intercessions, the table is prepared. It is the responsibility of the priest to see that a sufficient amount of bread and wine is brought forward to serve the assembly at that celebration.
  • The wine is presented in one large chalice and/or in one chalice with one or more carafes; never in many cups or chalices.
  • Judging from experience, enough wine is consecrated at each Mass for all those who will wish to drink from the cup. In addition, enough bread is consecrated so that the assembly does not regularly receive from the reserved sacrament. In most parishes this will be fairly consistent for a given Mass from week to week.
  • The bread on one large paten or ciborium, the wine in one carafe and the Sacramentary are all that are placed on the altar. The containers may be of any worthy non-absorbent material. Preference is to be given to materials that do not break easily. ("General Instruction of the Roman Missal #290-291")

Preparing the Eucharist for Distribution

  • During the Lamb of God, the eucharistic bread is broken into a sufficient number of plates and the eucharistic wine is poured into a sufficient number of cups. Extraordinary ministers of the eucharist may assist as needed. ("This Holy and Living Sacrifice" #43)
  • Extraordinary ministers and deacons received communion after the concelebrants.
  • A sufficient number of ministers of communion is provided so that the communion rite is performed with dignity and without prolonging the liturgy. Normally, there will be two ministers of the cup for each minister of the eucharistic bread. Ministers should stand some distance apart.
  • The minister who distributes the body of Christ to the people should make eye contact with the communicant and hold the eucharistic bread briefly before the communicant. As states in the "General Instruction of the Roman Missal," the appropriate exchange between the minister and the communicant is "The body of Christ" and "Amen." These words are not to be adapted. The minister then places the eucharistic bread in the communicant's hand or on his or her tongue depending upon the preference of the communicant.
  • The minister of the cup should make eye contact with the communicant and present the cup. As stated in the "General Instruction of the Roman Missal," the appropriate exchange between the minister and the communicant is "The blood of Christ" and "Amen." These words are not to be adapted. Except for a good reason (a parent holding a child, a person who does not have full use of hands), the minister does not attempt to guide the cup but places it entirely into the hands of the communicant. After the communicant has received, the minister takes the cup, wipes both sides of the rim with the purificator, turns the cup slightly and addresses the next communicant.
  • The body and blood of Christ are always given from a minister. The body and blood are never left on the altar for communicants to take themselves, nor are they passed from one communicant to another. Communion directly from the cup is always to be preferred to any other form of ministering the precious blood. Those who receive the host are not to dip it into the cup; such a practice weakens the symbol of eating and drinking. Intinction (dipping the host) and the use of a straw or spoon are not customary within the Roman Rite in dioceses of the United States.

After Communion

  • Depending on local architecture, the consecrated bread is taken to a side table or to the place of reservation and put in one container. It is then reserved for distribution to the sick or for private devotion.
  • Depending on local architecture, the consecrated wine is taken to a side table or to the place of reservation and consumed reverently by the ministers.
  • The purification of the sacred vessels may take place after communion or after Mass and is done by the priest, deacon, acolyte or extraordinary minister of the eucharist.
  • This purification involves the same reverence shown anytime one handles the Body and Blood of Christ or the sacred vessels and is carried out in a prayerful manner.
  • The purification of the sacred vessels should take place in the following manner:
  • Consume any remaining precious blood
  • Rinse the cups/chalice with a small amount of water and consume it or pour it in the sacrarium
  • Consume any remaining particles of the eucharistic bread.
  • Rinse the ciborium or paten in a small amount of water and consumWash and dry all vessels thoroughly

Communion to the Sick

  • It is most appropriate for extraordinary ministers to the sick to be sent directly from the Sunday celebration of the eucharist. Recognizing that this is not always possible, the minister is to follow the guidelines established in the parish.
  • Communion should be taken to the sick in an appropriate sacred vessel. A worthy, yet inexpensive, pyx can be purchased at a religious goods store.
  • When it is necessary for the minister to the sick to approach the tabernacle to obtain the hosts(s), it should be done shortly before the visit to the sick or homebound and in a spirit of prayer and reverence. Genuflection is the appropriate gesture of reverence before the reserved sacrament.
  • The ritual found in "Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass" is followed by the extraordinary minister.

Copyright © 1999 Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown

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