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Liturgy: Communion Services Before Daily Mass

And More on the Breaking of the Hosts

ROME, NOV. 10, 2004 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: A Church in our diocese holds a weekday Communion service about 15 minutes before daily Mass. The celebrant is an extraordinary minister (EM). Is this in conflict with canon law? Also, is there a rule regarding EMs not receiving Communion from the celebrant before administering Communion to the faithful? -- B.C., La Quinta, California

A: There are two documents which should throw light on your first question: the introduction to the ritual for Communion outside of Mass "Eucharistiae Sacramentum" (1973) and the recent instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum."

We must distinguish between the rite of Communion outside of Mass and the fact that this rite is guided by an extraordinary minister of holy Communion.

We must also specify that we are not dealing with Communion for the sick or shut-ins, but with reception of daily Communion in a church or oratory for those who desire to receive daily.

Regarding the distribution of Communion outside of Mass, "Eucharistiae Sacramentum," Nos. 13-17, while recommending that as far as possible the faithful be encouraged to receive within Mass, allows for priests to administer Communion to the faithful who ask for it for a just cause.

Communion may be distributed on almost any day and at any time of day, but preferably at prefixed times so as to allow for a community celebration.

The minister of this Communion is ordinarily a priest or deacon or, if these are impeded by age, illness or ministerial obligations, the instituted acolyte.

The bishop may give permission to an extraordinary minister of holy Communion to distribute Communion outside of Mass when none of the above ministers are available.

With respect to granting this faculty to extraordinary ministers of holy Communion on a daily basis, "Redemptionis Sacramentum" is rather circumspect.

No. 166 of this document states:

"Likewise, especially if Holy Communion is distributed during such celebrations (i.e. guided by lay extraordinary ministers of holy Communion), the diocesan Bishop, to whose exclusive competence this matter pertains, must not easily grant permission for such celebrations to be held on weekdays, especially in places where it was possible or would be possible to have the celebration of Mass on the preceding or the following Sunday. Priests are therefore earnestly requested to celebrate Mass daily for the people in one of the churches entrusted to their care."

In fact, "Redemptionis Sacramentum" sees a Communion service guided by extraordinary ministers mostly as an exceptional solution to the lack of clergy on a Sunday:

Thus No. 164 states: "'If participation at the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible on account of the absence of a sacred minister or for some other grave cause,' then it is the Christian people's right that the diocesan Bishop should provide as far as he is able for some celebration to be held on Sundays for that community under his authority and according to the Church's norms. Sunday celebrations of this specific kind, however, are to be considered altogether extraordinary. All Deacons or lay members of Christ's faithful who are assigned a part in such celebrations by the diocesan Bishop should strive 'to keep alive in the community a genuine "hunger" for the Eucharist, so that no opportunity for the celebration of Mass will ever be missed, also taking advantage of the occasional presence of a Priest who is not impeded by Church law from celebrating Mass.'"

Therefore, in order to hold a daily Communion service guided by lay ministers, express permission is required from the bishop, who is encouraged not to grant it with ease.

Since priests are recommended to celebrate Mass daily for the faithful and the situation you present is of a church where daily Mass is celebrated shortly after the Communion service led by a lay extraordinary minister of holy Communion, than it is difficult to see how such a daily Communion service may be justified.

While I don't know the concrete pastoral motivation that may have spurred this initiative, it does not appear to be in conformity with the spirit of present Church legislation.

It may be that there had once been a Mass at that time which it is no longer possible to celebrate. But that is a difficulty that can be partially overcome by moving the Mass schedule up a few minutes, even though it requires everybody making a small sacrifice.

Regarding the second question, the extraordinary ministers of holy Communion should always receive the sacred vessels from the priest. And so the natural order of things would be that they also normally receive Communion from him before receiving the vessels.

Even if, for some just cause, they do not receive Communion directly from the priest, they must always receive through some minister and may never communicate themselves.

If for some moral reason an extraordinary minister of holy Communion was unable to receive Communion, he or she should also refrain from serving until the obstacle has been removed.

There may, however, be other reasons for not receiving Communion. If, as sometimes happens, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion serves in several Masses, then he or she may receive Communion no more than twice and would not receive in the other Masses.

* * *

Follow-up: Breaking of the Host

Several questions arose related to our piece about breaking the host at the consecration (Oct. 26).

A reader from Syracuse, New York, asked about how high the host and chalice should be raised after the words of consecration.

There is no clear-cut rule, although a certain elevation is required since this is a showing of the host and chalice to the people for the purpose of adoration.

Before the reforms following the Second Vatican Council, the eastern direction of prayer at Mass meant that the priest would elevate the host high above his head so that it would be visible to the congregation.

People were encouraged to look at the host. Pope St. Pius X had granted an indulgence to those who repeated the words of the Apostle Thomas, "My Lord and my God," at this moment.

Today, most Masses are celebrated facing the people and consequently such a high elevation is probably unnecessary. But for visibility sake it should be raised to at least eye level and maybe slightly higher depending in part on the celebrant's height.

It should also be held aloft for a few seconds so that people have time to make an act of adoration.

Another reader, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, mentions that occasionally some of our readers use the expression that Christ is present "in the bread and wine" and that this term is even heard in some widely used hymns.

She points out that such a form is technically incorrect "to clarify that the body and blood of Jesus Christ is not IN the bread and wine. The form or appearance or accidents of bread and wine remain, but these have become really the body and blood of Jesus and no longer exist themselves."

In part this is due to the limits of the English language when it comes to expressing supernatural realities. In part it stems from the inherent difficulties in expressing such wonderful mysteries in any language.

Most people who use such expressions probably have a truly orthodox understanding of the reality of the Eucharist. Yet it is worthwhile pointing out these infelicitous expressions as the frequent repetition of imprecise terms can eventually lead to a misconception of the truth behind the words.

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