Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Extraordinary ministers: from liturgical abuse to liturgical norm?

Two years ago, on April 23, 2004, the Vatican released its Instruction on the Eucharist, Redemptionis Sacramentum, an instruction on certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist. I think you will agree that the following stipulations of the Instruction continue to be universally ignored throughout most American Novus Ordo parishes (which is to say, nearly all American Catholic parishes):
[157.] If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers [priests and deacons] 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....

[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. 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....
If the record of successively institutionalized abuses over the last decades is any indication, my prediction is that within the next five or ten years, the discrepancy between word and deed in this matter will reach yet another breaking point and that the bishops will simply institutionalize the current practice of employing numerous extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion as found in most parishes. In our parish, at the Sunday 11:00am Mass, despite having both a priest and deacon to distribute Communion, we typically employ eight (8) extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Where's the logic? Where's the rationale?

The March 11, 2005 issue of our diocesan newspaper, The Catholic News and Harald, carried a three-page spread entitled, "Liturgical Norms of the Diocese of Charlotte." Norm # 62 states: "The priest may be assisted by extraordinary ministers in the distribution of Communion, if other priests or deacons are not available and there is a large number of communicants." A photograph on the adjacent page pictures two extraordinary ministers, both women, distributing Holy Communion, with the caption: "The Vatican's new document on liturgy insists that lay people delegated to assist with the distribution of Communin be referred to as 'Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion' and that they be called upon when there are an insufficient number of ordinary ministers -- bishops, priests or deacons -- to give Communion. And yet we employ eight (8) extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion?

I predict liturgical law will change sooner than liturgical practice. Five years, maybe ten. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

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