Fr Dwight Longnecker is an excellent priest and commentator and one with whom I tend to agree, but I was really quite surprised at his latest blog post about EMHC (Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion).

The piece basically says that EMHC were "a measure introduced as numbers at mass in large churches" (they're in every church, irrespective of numbers, in fact in I've been to Masses where the priest has sat down and left the EMHC to distribute communion) "and the reception of the precious blood became more commonplace." Of course, once the reception of the precious blood was introduced, EMHC became practically essential in most parishes, unless you had four priests!

Fr Dwight states that along with the altar servers, EMHC help to establish an atmosphere of reverence at Mass[!!!!!] He argues that their body language, prayerful attitude and reverent treatment of the sacred vessels, the host and the precious blood helps to support the overall sense of reverence at communion. I do have sympathy with the idea that the manner of reception is pedagogical, it is something I tell Confirmandi each year, quoting St Maximilian Kolbe:

Maybe in Fr Dwight's parish all the EMHC kneel & receive reverently on the tongue, as is and remains the universal law of the Church (see here). My honest opinion is that having lay people handling the Blessed Sacrament is merely one more way in which the Church's long-matured faith in the Real Presence and her awe-filled adoration of it is stripped away. The fact that this is the present situation in our churches is an undeniable truth.

I have considered in the past that it is a matter of training. That if EMHC did show reverence and the proper attitude to receiving Our Lord & Saviour, that they might cease to be a stumbling block to the faithful & their belief in the Real Presence but I have come to conclude this is nonsense. As St Thomas Aquinas makes clear, it pertains to the same one to bring about a certain effect and then to see that the effect is bestowed on those for whom it is intended. All the more is this true with supernatural effects that may be produced only by supernaturally empowered agents; it would simply not be fitting to entrust such effects to anyone who is not set apart for that ministry. That explains why, even under current Church law, the only ordinary minister of communion—the only ordinary minister—is the bishop, priest, or deacon, in virtue of his ordination, which consecrates him to the service of God.

Why is ordination so important? As Peter Kwasniewski explains in this article, because the Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood of God Incarnate. It is God. When you hold the host, you are in contact with the Author of all life, all reality. This is not something to treat lightly, or to delegate to clerks like an office job. Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted a priesthood with its specific responsibilities, which the deacon shares and the bishop exemplifies.

I have little doubt that EMHC have contributed to lack of vocations as well; if everyone shares in the ministry of the priest, what is special about the priesthood?

What is even more infuriating about the proliferation of a practice that has done so much harm is the lack of any teaching from the Vatican that might justify it. As late as 1997, the Vatican made a clarification, and with some insistence, that “the habitual use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Mass, thus arbitrarily extending the concept of ‘a great number of the faithful,’” is among practices “to be avoided and eliminated where such have emerged in particular Churches” (On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful).

There is not a single document from the Vatican, or any other document with legal force, that requires the distribution of Holy Communion under both species in spite of the absence of ordinary ministers. In other words, if there are ordinary ministers, communion may be given under both species; but if not, there is no overriding or compelling reason to do so. Communion under the form of bread alone is, and is considered to be, fully adequate to the purpose for which Our Lord instituted the Eucharist: unite the faithful fully to Himself—to the One who is really, truly, substantially present under either species.

Put most simply, the debate goes like this for me:
Q: Why do we receive communion under both species?
A: Because Our Lord said "Come, eat, come, drink"
Q: But if reception contradicts the purpose of priestly ministry (i.e. the priest, as alta Christus, feeding His flock) and if the Church teaches that both species are the body, blood, soul & divinity of Jesus, why would you deprive yourself of the proper ministry of the man who has dedicated his own life to that purpose?

The over riding sense is that having received Jesus body, blood, soul & divinity in the host, do we really need to do it again in receiving the precious blood? Personally I only will if their is an ordained minister distributing the chalice, and then I do so with great joy, but I will never go to an EMHC, not in my own parish nor Fr Dwight's, nor any other.

At 1P5 today there is an excellent article about why laity should not RECEIVE communion in the hand, let alone go about distributing it to others! This is what's called Catholic common sense and basic piety. To lack it is to lack the spirit of the liturgy, no matter how many dumb documents from the Vatican permit this or that abuse.

My experience as a Catholic growing in faith is that I am ever drawn to deeper reverence of the Blessed Sacrament, especially reflecting on what it is. It is demonstrably easy to strip away reverence which leads to an instinctive understanding and reverence, it is next to impossible to get it back once it has been lost. In my opinion, every priest, right now, whether practical or not, should bring back altar rails, have Holy Communion under one species unless there are enough ordained ministers to distribute under both kinds, kneeling & on the tongue, and work ceaselessly to rebuild that sense of reverence St Maximilian Kolbe encouraged us to model.



  1. In Brentwood Diocese it seems as if universal pastoral guidelines are specifically disregarded as their 'unique' diocesan guidelines stipulate both the Sacred Host and Precious Blood must be distributed at every Mass if I understand correctly. I know most dioceses disregard universal norms, but it seems as if Brentwood is particularly out there by specifically making Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion the norm by obligating the distribution of the Precious Blood. Will Bishop Alan Williams rescind these guidelines to bring them in line with the rest of England and Wales?


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