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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why the GIRM needs to be CONTAGIOUS

A belated birthday dinner with my my favorite aunt necessitated a change in my daily Mass schedule.  Now, friends, I don't go to Mass looking for things to happen.  Sadly, I seem to be a magnet for, shall we say, irregularities. 

Be that as it may, I was most grateful to get to Mass.

Everything went well up until we got to the Agnus Dei.  The celebrant kept looking around for an EMHC (there were only 30 of us) for help.  A person went up to help him and he gave her the key to the Tabernacle so that she could retrieve the ciborrium.  I could feel my blood pressure rise.  Now, the area where daily Mass is celebrated doubles as the cry room.  The tabernacle is in the sanctuary.  The cry room opens into the sanctuary.

The reason why my antennae went up like a periscope was because the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) gives some very clear-cut direction as to what is supposed to happen:

162. The priest may be assisted in the distribution of Communion by other priests who happen to be present. If such priests are not present and there is a very large number of communicants, the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, e.g., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose.97 In case of necessity, the priest may depute suitable faithful for this single occasion.98

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 either species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful.
The celebrant is in good health and is not elderly.  There was not any reason why he could not have gone to the Tabernacle, retrieved the ciborrium and distribute Holy Communion to the faithful.  Furthermore, there was actually no need to go to the Tabernacle if provisions had been made beforehand to determine the number of hosts needed, either by having the faithful place their hosts into the ciborrium (by way of tongs before Mass) or by making a calcuation based on the regular number of communicants for daily Mass, which does not really greatly vary.  By the way, Holy Communion in this parish, at least during daily Mass, is distributed under one Species.

After Communion, he gave the key to the EMHC who then went to the Tabernacle to replace the ciborrium. Again, this is a big no-no according to the GIRM:

163. When the distribution of Communion is finished, the priest himself immediately and completely consumes at the altar any consecrated wine that happens to remain; as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist.

This, apparently is a regular practice at that parish.  Sadly, this is also a regular practice at many other parishes down here, especially during the weekends.  At my dad's parish, the pastor still wants an EMHC during a Mass where there are roughly 40 faithful in attendance.  The EMHC approaches the altar at the Agnus Dei and retrieves the ciborrium from the Tabernacle and then replaces it back inside after Communion. Holy Communion at my dad's parish is distributed under one Species.   Even the Cathedral, which is supposed to set the standard on liturgical fidelity, still has the EMHCs come up during the Agnus Dei.  At least these EMHCs don't retrieve the ciborrium. Holy Communion at the Cathedral, even during the week, is distributed under both Species.

There is also the matter of over-usage of EMHCs.  Both the GIRM and Redemptionis Sacramentum give some parameters on their legitimate usage.  Here is the RS statement:

[156.]  This function is to be understood strictly according to the name by which it is known, that is to say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not "special minister of Holy Communion" nor "extraordinary minister of the Eucharist" nor "special minister of the Eucharist", by which names the meaning of this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened.
[157.]  If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it. The practice of those Priests is reprobated who, even though present at the celebration, abstain from distributing Communion and hand this function over to laypersons.258

[158.]  Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged.259 This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason.

Two weeks ago, I sang at a Quince Anos Mass.  There were only eight communicants.  The same thing that I witnessed this evening played out in this other parish, only worse.  The celebrant sent an EMHC, who seemed just a couple of years older than the 15-year-old honoree,  to the Tabernacle, located in a chapel away from the sanctuary, to retrieve the ciborrium accompanied by two altar servers bearing candles.  The EMHC then carried the ciborrium to the altar.  I began the communion hymn as soon as the celebrant consumed and then, to my shock, I saw that he stayed at the altar while the young lady was distributing Holy Communion.  After Communion, she went back, again, accompanied by the two candle-bearers, to replace the ciborrium back into the Tabernacle.  I was shell-shocked even as I sang the recessional.  The celebrant disappeared before I could say anything.

Now, this is not a rant against EMHCs in general.  The Church allows their use under legitimate conditions.  But, these conditions need to be met.  Sadly, this is becoming a matter where the "extraordinary" has now become, in many parishes, the ordinary.

We are entering that time of year when we are fearful of germs as these bring about colds and the flu.  However, this is one GIRM (the acronym sounds exactly like the word "germ") that needs to be contagious and spread to every parish and chapel down here and across the world.  The Church gives us both the GIRM and RS as the antidote to liturgical abuse. 


  1. This frequently stems from an improper understanding of "active participation," in which the purpose of having extraordinary ministers (as well as lectors) is to provide laypeople the opportunity for participation, rather than to meet the needs of the liturgy.

  2. That is quite true, William. We need to really study just what the term "active participation" means. It took me a long while to realize that I can actively participate by praying in my pew as opposed to getting up and "doing" something. There is a lot of truth to that line from "Shadow of the Vampire."