Ministers of Communion
The ministry of assisting with the distribution of Communion was first established by Pope Paul VI in the instruction Immensae Caritatis, issued in 1973. This document refers to the need for special ministers at Mass “lest reception of Communion becomes difficult because of insufficient ministers”. (This refers to the situation where the distribution of Communion by the one priest celebrant would take so much time as to put the whole liturgy of the Mass out of balance).
Also, when the ordinary ministers are unable to take Communion frequently to the sick and aged, special ministers are needed “so that the faithful may not be deprived of this sacramental help and consolation”.
Obviously, a Lay led Liturgy with Communion requires the ministry of a Communion Minister.
The only Ministers of the Eucharist are ordained bishops and priests.
Lay people who are commissioned to distribute Communion at Mass, or at a lay led Liturgy, or to take Communion to the sick, are special Ministers of Communion – not Ministers of the Eucharist or Eucharistic Ministers. They are special or extraordinary in the sense of being out the ordinary or standard way of giving Communion. In a tradition that goes back for centuries (but not the first centuries of the church) only ordained priests and bishops could minister Communion.
Because the words “special” and “extraordinary” are ambiguous, it is probably best not to use them in this context.
What name is given to Communion in your parish?
The bishop, as chief pastor of the diocese, is responsible for approving people as Ministers of Communion. These ministers are carefully selected by the parish priest, usually after nomination by the congregation to be served.
Firstly, they are required to undertake preparation consisting of liturgical and spiritual formation as well as practical training. They are then commissioned, for a particular period of time, by a public rite of designation celebrated in the community where they will function.
Ongoing education and formation should also be offered to Ministers of Communion, and to those involved in other ministries – especially to those involved in the Proclamation of the Word. When people accept the call to such ministries they should understand that they also accept the responsibility to participate in the ongoing programs of education and formation.
The liturgical ministry of communion is a very personal and caring ministry, one of unity, faith, respect and hospitality. Communion Ministers need to be those who respect all people and have a caring approach inside and outside the liturgy; who are comfortable making contact with people with eyes, words and hands; who are willing to forget themselves in order to serve others.