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Handling a Mystery
Saturday 22 June 2013 Articles

One of the purposes of the Ordinariate — even its principal object — was to allow Anglicans to join the Church bringing with them those parts of their patrimony which were not contrary to the Faith. In order to be able to do that, it’s necessary to examine each aspect of former practice and test it against the unfamiliar rules of our new environment.

The leadership of the Ordinariate has been doing that, and one of the results is a document which relates to practices during the celebration of Mass. Some of the options offered formed a focus for the recent Prayer Vigil.

As part of our discussion afterwards about what would be fruitful to adopt, a question was raised about a practice for which there is no option. Extraordinary ministers of communion — those members of the laity deputed to assist the priest in the distribution of the sacrament — are expressly forbidden to hand the Precious Blood to each communicant, but must retain it themselves and allow the communicant to drink from the chalice. Although this is actually what is taught in many parts of the Church of England, the practice differs from what may be experienced elsewhere, where the chalice is handed to each communicant and then back to the minister.

The question was raised about this direction, and specifically whether it elevated an extraordinary minister to the status of an ordinary minister, which of course would be undesirable. That is, whether by acting in the same way as an ordinary minister, the extraordinary minister usurps the status of clergy.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) provides the framework for the celebration of Mass, and there are a couple of paragraphs which cover how the sacrament is distributed. It’s worth going back to the 1969 edition first, as that was when communion under both kinds (“sub utraque specie”) was first more generally permitted.

244d. Communicandus deinde transit ad diaconum et stat coram eo. Diaconus dicit: Sanguis Christi, communicandus respondet: Amen, et diaconus porrigit ei purificatorium et calicem, quem communicandus ipse, pro opportunitate, manibus suis ori admovet. Communicandus, tenens manu sinistra purificatorium sub ore, attendens ne quid Sanguinis defluat, paulum e calice bibit, et postea recedit; diaconus autem partem externam calicis purificatorio absterget.

Then the communicant crosses to the deacon and stands before him. The deacon says: the Blood of Christ, the communicant answers: Amen, and the deacon holds out to him a purificator and the cup that the communicant himself, according to circumstances, may press to his mouth with his hands. The communicant, holding a purificator in his left hand under his mouth, in order that no Blood flows down, takes a little drink from the cup, and then withdraws; the deacon gives the outer part of the cup a cleansing wipe. [My translation]

The deacon is to keep hold of the chalice, which the communicant guides; he holds a purificator to guard against accidents. The 1969 GIRM lays down that if no deacon or assistant priests are available, communion is given only in one kind.

The 2010 GIRM which accompanied the most recent Edition of the Missal allows lay extraordinary ministers if clergy are not present.

162. In the distribution of Communion the Priest may be assisted by other Priests who happen to be present. If such Priests are not present and there is a truly large number of communicants, the Priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, that is, duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been duly deputed for this purpose. In case of necessity, the Priest may depute suitable faithful for this single occasion.
    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 the species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful.

160. The Priest then takes the paten or ciborium and approaches the communicants, who usually come up in procession.
    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 162 makes it clear that extraordinary ministers are just that — they are not ordinary ministers and are definitely laypeople; but GIRM 160 specifically forbids the laity from handing the sacrament one to another. The extraordinary ministers are deputed, but once deputed they become ministers with the same responsibilities towards the sacrament as ordinary ministers. Not the same rights — they cannot take the vessels for themselves as it’s the Church or the priest who deputes — but the same responsibilities: clergy can’t hand the sacramental vessels to just anyone (just as in 1969), and neither can the extraordinary ministers.

Part of the Ordinariate’s Anglican patrimony which is not contrary to Catholic practice is to receive the sacrament while kneeling [for those for whom this is physically possible*], and this practice is “highly commended” at masses celebrated under the auspices of the Ordinariate. As well as maintaining the patrimony, kneeling allows those administering the chalice to do so easily in accordance with the Church’s rules.

Even where communion is received standing the ministers of the chalice should ideally stand on the chancel step with the clergy in order that they are at the right height to correctly administer the chalice easily. While it might be argued that to have extraordinary ministers standing with ordinary ministers could again be causing the laity to usurp the status of clergy, that’s not the case. Doing so does not elevate laity, it ensures that the sacrament is not reduced in status, and allows the ministers to fulfil their responsibility for its safety.

In Mysterium Fidei, Pope Paul VI wrote:

“Instructed as you are in these matters,” says St. Cyril of Jerusalem, at the end of a sermon on the mysteries of the faith, “and filled with an unshakeable faith that what seems to be bread is not bread — though it tastes like it — but rather the Body of Christ; and that what seems to be wine is not wine — even though it too tastes like it — but rather the Blood of Christ … draw strength from receiving this bread as spiritual food and your soul will rejoice.” Catecheses, 22.9 [myst. 4] PG 33.1103

We are not dealing with just a cup of wine. We are partaking of the Precious Blood of Our Lord and Saviour.


* Because GIRM allows the sacrament to be received standing, there is no obligation to kneel.

The ordinary ministers of the sacrament are clergy: those who are ministers by virtue of their office, and not because they have been granted special permission or authorisation.
A folded piece of linen used to wipe the chalice
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