“With each ‘The Blood of Christ’ I spoke, my heart grew more glad…”

Last week, I swapped emails and had a great phone conversation with the husband of Marcia Morrissey — that would be Ed Morrissey, the blogging genius behind Hot Air. Ed wrote me yesterday to share some happy news: he’d just served for the first time as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Great!, I said. Would you like to write about it?

He would, and he did, and the result is below.

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On Friday, I received training to be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion in my parish. Now at 49, you might wonder what took me so long, but the gravity and mystery of the Eucharist can be rather … daunting. The training took about an hour; we have a large congregation, and we need 19 EMHCs for each Mass, so it can get a bit complicated. Our EMHC leader answered all our questions, but exhorted us to find a Mass quickly to serve, lest we lose our nerve.

Today’s noon Mass was my, er, High Noon. I’ve done a lot of public speaking, do a radio show, and yet I was so nervous that my wife commented to me at one point that my hands were as cold as ice — and it was a warm day. I prayed a decade of the Rosary prior to Mass, listened intently to the readings, and sang enthusiastically to burn off some of the nervous energy. Still, I was so tentative that I was almost late coming forward with the other EMHCs for our own communion — and the moment was upon me.

I had hoped to serve the Body, but ended up with the cup instead, which should have made me even more nervous. However, I had a completely different emotional reaction once I stepped up to the altar. I felt the Holy Spirit calming me and replacing my anxiety with an eagerness to serve. I had the blessing on this Mother’s Day to have my wife be the first person to receive from my cup, and that helped focus me as well. As I continued, my voice got stronger with each “The blood of Christ” I spoke, and my heart grew more glad.

This process was illuminating, in a couple of different ways. As a Catholic, I have a relationship with the Eucharist that goes back more than 40 years, but today that relationship changed. The blessing of serving the Eucharist connected me closer to it, in an emotional manner that I hadn’t expected. After Mass, I joined the two EMHC team leads to consume the rest of the Precious Blood, and I mentioned the emotional response to one of them. She agreed, and told me about her emotional reaction to serving at a First Communion Mass. Before today, I’m not sure I would have understood that, but now I have a sense of what she experienced.

The experience also confirmed in my mind that the Lord may have some plans for me, and that I may be ready to open my heart to them. In the meantime, I can hardly wait for the next Mass in which I will be privileged to serve.

Comments

  1. What a wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit you received.. Thank you for sharing it with us all!

  2. Katie Angel says:

    Reading this brought me back to the first time I served as a EMHC – and every time after that for the past thirty years (I started as a EMHC in college). It is such a gift to be able to servie; it is humbling and overwhelming and awe-inspiring. Thank you for your eloquent words.

  3. What impressed me most with being an EMHC was understanding Redemptionis Sacramentum, not my personal emotional response. I thought understanding and following Redemptionis Sacramentum was much more important than my feelings.

  4. I know exactlly how you feel as I have been a EMHC for just over a year now and consider it an honor. My first time was as you discribed. I was very nervous but my paster gave me a big smile as he gave me the Body of Christ and that calmed me down.

  5. Janet, whatever you do, please do not consider it an honor. If we must have EMHCs at all, the very first thing they should be taught is that It Isn’t about You.

  6. The blessing of serving the Eucharist connected me closer to it

    Does anyone else consider this problematical? The sense conveyed here and by other commenters is that EMHCs are living their faith more intensely or completely. Whether they intend this or not, the inevitable message being conveyed is that the participation of the faithful praying quietly in the pews is somehow deficient — that those serving in the sanctuary are some species of elect, existing on a higher plane. This, in addition to the misunderstanding that an emotional response from this service is something to be cherished or even desired, needs to be critically reexamined with the same sincerity and openness they bring to their service.

  7. Elizabeth Scalia says:

    Too bad I was off the job. I’d have asked Ed to write it as a feature for Patheos! :-)

  8. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Rom…

    I think you’re over-thinking this.

    Have you ever served as an EMHC? As an altar server? As a lector?

    Are you a priest? A deacon? If so, do you remember serving or celebrating your first Mass?

    Or do you remember what it was like to receive your First Communion?

    Anyone would naturally have an “emotional response” to being intimately connected, as never before, with the sacred mysteries. The mingled feelings of unworthiness, exhileration, nervousness and awe can be overwhelming.

    In ministry, the tragedy is that so many people — ordained or not — loose that. It becomes routine. The old saying often conveyed to young priests — “Celebrate every Mass as if it were your first and your last” — is one well worth remembering.

    DGK

  9. Romulus
    I have beren an EMHC for about 40 years. In that time I never thought of myself as important in the process, I never took it as that I was “serving in the sanctuary are some species of elect, existing on a higher plan” or that the “faithful praying quietly in the pews is somehow deficient”. The key is serving others, not in examining others. In fact this service has caused me to recognize even more deeply my lack of sufficiency to serve. There is a sense of awe always present.
    If we cannot find an emotional response to the risen Lord in some fashion, then in my opinion we are missing something valuable in our lives. I for one hope that the awe that I feel when serving never goes away and stays fresh so that I can continue to serve.

  10. I too am an EMHC but I have a couple of problems with this article. While it does capture the emotional response that one feels that first (and often many subsequent times) I have to wonder about a few things.

    1. His parish needs 19 ministers at each Mass! I too come from a large parish, but we only use two at any Mass and only for the Precious Blood. We have three Communion stations for the Body of Christ and two for the Precious Blood. The two extra stations for the Body of Christ are staffed by assistant priests, deacons or one of two constituted acolytes. If a priest needs help with the Body of Christ he will sometimes request it on the spot, but that’s strictly ad hoc, not an assigned task for our EMHCs.

    2. The ministers consume the remaining Precious Blood after Communion. This suggests that they have too many stations offering it. Ideally, there should be very little or none left. If you run out during Communion, you run out. People do understand that the chalice is empty.

    Those things said, one of the most striking things I and others have experienced is the faith of the people who come to receive. Not everyone of course, but SO many clearly have great faith, desire for and love of the Eucharist.

  11. Deacon Greg: I have served as an EMHC. First time on Christmas morning, about 10 years ago. It was a memorable experience, but I didn’t take it personally. I lector from time to time as asked. I serve at least two Masses every week, frequently more. I am MC for our parish and train the other altar servers (so have been thinking deeply and seriously about liturgy for several years now). I am also our parish’s adult catechist, serve on the finance council, and helped my wife organize and bring off our local Rally for Religious Liberty, which attracted several hundred participants. I am very used to being in the center of attention, and have had plenty of opportunity to consider how this is sometimes helpful and sometimes decidedly not — especially not for those for whom it confers an emotional rush.

    Would you like to know an instruction I give to all our servers? “Don’t ever let me catch you praying during Mass”. In part I am joking — but only in part. We are in the sanctuary to serve, at the invitation of the pastor. Being caught up in the sacred beauty of the liturgy (which is very easy at our splendidly appointed traditional parish) means that we’re no longer attentive to our duties, and have become not the liturgy’s servants but its disruptors. It is a very good example of how the Enemy works. Those wishing to indulge their private piety (which includes all of us, from time to time) are directed to join the rest of the faithful in the pews.

    I am not in Holy Orders. I was invited to consider the diaconate, but very quickly decided against it. Nothing I do would be promoted by my ordination; much would be put at risk. I am very constant in reminding the men I train as servers (yes, men), that invisibility is our ideal, and that lacking that, we must strive for recollection and self-effacement, never calling attention to ourselves and never imagining that the liturgy needs us to be effective. We find joy in our service (most of the time), but serve for motives of self-gift, not personal satisfaction. Indeed, I would be reluctant to promote anyone who did.

    Finally — I have MCed at several First Masses. I frequently serve with seminarians and “transitional” deacons, and from time to time help new and even mature priests to brush up or acquire new liturgical skills. For a layman, I believe I have a pretty good grasp of how clergy approach their work — as work, a task to be performed with competence and humility, rendering any good result back to God as its author.

  12. Seriously. From the perspective of Romulus, one would think that the only proper response to the joy of serving is to think nothing of it, least of all the joy of sharing Christ’s body and blood with others. No joy allowed here? Without joy, it isn’t Good News, and without Good News, it isn’t Christianity.

    “Thank you Lord, for calling me to help serve your flock, unworthy as I am.”

    How could one not have feelings of gratitude like this when serving? How can one be a Christian and not think that these very same thoughts and prayer were thought and uttered by all of Christ’s apostles from inception (think: the disciples handing out the loaves and fishes to the hungry 5,000, and gathering up 12 baskets of leftovers) up until the present day?

  13. Frank, I’m sure you didn’t mean to call me un-Christian.

    I seem to recall a comment by Flannery O’Connor in which she observed that a Christian does well to distrust his emotional response to the sacred. I think it’s good advice.

    As ROMAN Catholics, a certain austerity and reserve (what the Council calls “noble simplicity”) lies at the heart of our Rite. No matter how joyful and heartfelt, the emotional response needs to be controlled, lest the liturgy descend into theatricality and bad example be given to weak priests who create holy spectacles to gain attention. If you’re a great saint caught up in ecstasies while at Mass, feel free to disregard this advice — for the rest of us, I think we should keep it reigned in.

  14. How could one not have feelings of gratitude like this when serving?

    Easy, if he’s been taught that while serving he is there to serve, not to be thinking about his feelings. He can do the latter when he’s off the clock.

  15. Some people are more cerebral, others have more of an emotional response. It’s just a difference in people. What I am seeing in these responses is that we (I am also an EMHC) all approach our responsibilities with reverence and seriousness. We have, at least in present company, a non-problem. Of course none of us are in it for the good feelings. But when we experience moments of joy and closeness to Christ from our ministry, it is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Our response should be “Thank You!”

  16. In his homily yesterday, our pastor said that you love God by doing what God wants. No emotion involved. Our pastor also said that love between people involves will, not emotion.

  17. Fiergenholt says:

    Will:

    “Our pastor also said that love between people involves will, not emotion.”

    My first reaction is that your pastor is another one of those celibate jerks who — because of his stature and training — thinks he knows a lot about love.

    Love “involes the will” OK — I agree. You cannot stay married if your love is only emotional but I am not all that sure you cannot stay married if your married love is only intellectual. That’s what both “Marriage Encounter” movements insist upon.

  18. Deacon Norb says:

    Let me suggest an experiment.

    Say you have had the habit of buying your wife a dozen roses a week for maybe ten years or more. Then, all of a sudden you stop.

    When she finally gets around to ask why, all you have to do is to explain that an expert on Christian love who posts regularly in The Bench, insists that love only involves intellect and not emotion. Intellectually, you reply, it only makes sense to save money.

    Anyone want to guess how long you will be sleeping in the guest room or on the couch or even in the dog house ?

  19. Deacon Steve says:

    Lack of emotional response to doing God’s will makes us puppets with no freewill and no say in the matter. Emotional response is the feedback that comes from the relationship with God. If we have no emotional response to an experience of God, then how will we know what we have experienced? The relationship is not based soley on emotions, but they are part of the relationship because they are part of being human. If we are to love God with our whole heart, mind, body and soul, then we must involve our emotions or else we are holding back an integral part of who we are. The emotional response should not be the only motivation, but it must be part of it.

  20. Deacon Steve, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am not arguing against the presence of emotion in worship. We are not stoics. What I’m arguing is that emotion is neither the motivator nor the authenticator of worship. It’s an agreeable extra. It is not the point, however, and it’s a bad idea to give it undue emphasis, lest others come to see it as the point. Faith and reason work together, with a touch of emotion as seasoning. Believers in a crucified Lord should never measure liturgy — or anything else pertaining to the Faith — according to the degree of personal satisfaction it affords.

  21. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    But isn’t this often how the Spirit works? Through experiences such as this, He “enkindles in us the fire of His love.”

    I see Ed’s emotional reaction here as an affirmation and an encouragement — a gift of love, as a child might receive a warm and grateful embrace from a parent.

    More than that, under the circumstances, I think something is stirring — quite possibly, in fact, a vocation. It shouldn’t be discouraged or criticized.

    DGK

  22. I did not say I agree with him. I do not claim to have any great knowledge of the topic, but agree that emotion is important. My wife and I have been happily married for 37 years.

  23. Enthusiasm is not a wrong tendency but a false emphasis. That is the verdict of Msgr. Ronald Knox, in his famous book, in which he learnedly examined the ways that enthusiasm can overwhelm faith so that it decays into fanaticism or gnosis. As I’ve said, this is not to indict emotion unequivocally, but to point out that emotion does not validate and therefore must be handled with care. In our times, charismatic worship is the fashion, leaving vulnerable many unequipped to discern spirits reliably.

    I would not discourage Ed from considering a vocation to the diaconate, but if he’s a married man I’m sure he knows that permanent commitments must stand on something firmer than intoxicating excitement over something new.

  24. My husband has been a Eucharist Minister for years and has encouraged me to do so too. It wasn’t until I read this that I feel that perhaps I really may do it after all. I would like to feel that special kind of connection. Thank you for making me reconsider.

  25. Grunttgh says:

    The Lord need ask I am his to command. Freedom and kindness are his weapons.
    Control and hate are his enemies weapons. Random acts of kindness shall save the world. May mankind save the world.

  26. I’m just going to agree with Ed. There is no greater privilege that I can have as a lay man than to offer the Body and Blood of Christ to the People of God. It is an awesome responsibility. Often, it fills me with Wonder at the great Gift we share.

  27. That was beautiful, Ed.

  28. Please reconsider before you take any steps to become an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. (Your husband is not a eucharistic minister unless he’s a priest.) EMHCs are called to serve the liturgy, not the faithful. Furthermore, it would be very wrong to enter into this service in order to experience a special feeling, no matter how edifying, because the Blessed Sacrament must never be instrumentalized.

  29. annoyamouse says:

    My family is largely Episcopal and Catholic. No one in our house family regularly went to church so when we do it is usually encouraged to partake in Holy Communion. I usually just have reflection up to the moment rarely a big deal for me. Well my little sister was doing witchcraft and Satan worshiping. We mostly teased her about it, figured it was an attention getting phase of life and thought little of it. After a few years of her living that lifestyle she went to a baptismal and joined us for Holy Communion. After the Holy Communion was said and done she was in the pews sweating, beet red and had a hard time sitting up straight. After the baptismal was done she cried in the car on the way home. My mom took it a pretty seriously so I held my desire to prod her over the event. Well the funniest thing happened after that day. She turned the bend on this little phase of her life. No she isn’t reformed in every way and church every Sunday person but she definitely doesn’t do any witchcraft and Satan worshiping any more. She also takes the whole concept of witchcraft and Satan worshiping more serious than I ever did.

  30. Is this the same Ed Morrissey that supports contraception?

    http://www.captainsquartersblog.com/mt/archives/006889.php

  31. ncstevem says:

    The use of laymen to distribute Holy Communion has contributed to the loss of belief in the Real Presence among Catholics. Laymen in the sanctuary also blurs the distinction between the priesthood and laity.

    Here’s an article written by Micheal Davies which helps explain why laymen should not be allowed to distribute Holy Communion at Mass.

    http://www.catholictradition.org/Priests/privilege11.htm

    It will be a blessed day in the Church when it no longer permits this misguided practice.

  32. Kevin Orlin Johnson says:

    Nobody seems to know that it is absolutely unlawful for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to distribute at regular parish Masses. This abuse has been explicitly prohibited by the Holy See repeatedly in the encyclicals Immensae caritatis (Instruction on Facilitating Sacramental Eucharistic Communion in Particular Circumstances, January 25, 1973), Inaestimabile donum (Instruction Concerning Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, April 17, 1980), Ecclesiæ de mysterio (Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest, August 15, 1997), and Redemptionis Sacramentum (Instruction on Certain Matters to be Observed or to be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist, March 25, 2004).

    That’s why they’re called “Extraordinary” Ministers of Holy Communion.

    If your bishop and your priest allow EMHCs to distribute at regular parish Masses, they’re violating their vows of obedience and in fact are publicly committing the sin of schism–they are no longer part of the Catholic Church. Read the laws–and call your clergy to correction. If they refuse to obey the laws, write to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments and to the Congregation for Bishops, both at Palazzo delle Congrazioni, Piazza Pio XII 10, 00193 Rome, Italy, and be sure to structure your letter as a proper libellus–see Canons 1501 ff.

    After all, if your clergy are willfully in schism–and if they use EMHC at parish masses they unquestionably are–then they need correction urgently, and possibly deposition. Those who cannot be trusted in small matters cannot be trusted in large; and the Eucharist is the largest matter on Earth.

  33. Kevin Orlin Johnson says:

    The Eucharist is reserved for those in full communion with the Church and in a proper disposition to receive–that is, in a state of grace. To make an unworthy communion–to receive the Sacrament while not part of the Church–is a grave sacrilege. I don’t see how it is that so many Catholics don’t know this; probably they’ve never been taught, or have ignored the teaching of, this most basic tenet of the Faith.

  34. Madelynn Adkison says:

    Wonderful!

  35. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    That’s completely wrong.

    Redemptionis Sacamentum states:

    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.

    From those guidelines, the use of EMHCs under these particular circumstances is left to the prudential judgment of the pastor and/or bishop. To call this “absolutely unlawful” is false. In many parishes (including my own) EMHCs are used primarily for distribution of the Precious Blood. If you have one or two priests at a regular Mass distributing the Body of Christ, there is nothing at all unlawful about having one or two EMHCs distributing the Precious Blood. Further, parish circumstances and necessity may require additional EMHCs, to help distribute the Body of Christ, for particular reasons (ever have to deal with an overcrowded parking lot and traffic jams on a Sunday morning? Shaving five or 10 minutes off Mass by using EMHCs could be considered a work of mercy…)

    Secondly, “schism” is a formal breach from a Christian Church. What you are describing is not, even in the wildest stretch of the imagination, a schism.

    DGK

  36. Rommulus, I think your high horse may be getting weary.

  37. As an Eastern Orthodox, I’m totally against this ministry; it was completely illegal until about 30 years ago and part of the fallout from the ill-advised Vatican II. It gives rise to gnostic feelings, feelings that the EMHC is somehow set apart from the rest of the laity: pride. I can tell this by the proud way commenters are chiming in, saying “I’m an EMHC too!”

    Go to confession, and ask God to forgive you for your pride.

    It’s a made-up ministry to give modern parishioners ‘something to do so they feel involved.’ That’s one of the reasons the Catholic Church is so dilute and in such trouble right now. Get more deacons and more priests. Get back to basics, and do it right.

  38. I’m not sure what you mean, Kevin. The points I’m making are both valid and important. You cant’ wave them aside with an irrelevant ad hominem. What else you got?

  39. KOJ, you are greatly over-reaching. Nevertheless, at the opposite end of the spectrum, so are the parishes that regularly schedule squadrons of unnecessary extras in contravention of instructions that EMHCs are to be used for truly extraordinary need, not as a routine feature of liturgy, never to foster a sense of participation, and that a slight prolongation of the Mass is unacceptable as justification for their use. As for the need of EMHCs to assist with the Precious Blood, there are excellent arguments that the cup should not be routinely offered in a parochial context.

  40. Shaving five or 10 minutes off Mass by using EMHCs could be considered a work of mercy…

    Begrudging the Lord an extra 5 or 10 minutes could be considered ungrateful. If Catholics don’t consider massgoing the most important thing they do on Sunday, their priorities are messed up.

  41. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    As for the need of EMHCs to assist with the Precious Blood, there are excellent arguments that the cup should not be routinely offered in a parochial context.

    I don’t disagree with you. But several years ago, my bishop instituted guidelines, mandating that the Precious Blood be distributed at all Masses in every parish.

    DGK

  42. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    That’s not the issue, Rom. It’s the screaming, honking, finger-giving, hood-pounding tantrums that result. We’re an urban parish in a crowded neighborhood where traffic flow can often be a nightmare. We’re also a large parish, with 600-750 people at each Mass, usually more for the 11:30 “high” mass.

    Five or ten extra minutes can be the difference between Sunday civility and road rage.

    See how these Christians shove one another … :-)

    And yes: Catholic priorities ARE messed up.

    DGK

  43. Deacon Norb says:

    To add some further items for consideration:

    I minister in a parish of about 4,000. We share a pastor with a smaller (2,200) parish cross town. Two active and two retired deacons in my parish — one active and one retired in the other.

    In my larger parish, we normally have eight stations for distribution of the Sacred Species. Each of four stations has both someone to distribute the Body of Christ and someone to distribute the Blood of Christ. On days where our large adult choir sings, there is a ninth person but since our stairs to the choir loft are narrow and steep, no Precious Blood is distributed to the choir.

    BUT we also have a deacon “on ceremony” at every week-end mass so we use six (or seven) EMHC’s as needed. I also purify the communion vessels and can assure you that there rarely is ever any Precious Blood left over that I have to worry about.

    Once upon a time, someone told me that there are about 100 certified and trained EMHC’s in my larger parish. That may be a bit high but a full-third never help out at masses — they are assigned as home visitors/ nursing home-hospital visitors. We have to worry about three large nursing homes locally and all of the parishes rotate the hospital assignments.

    Also, of the three “active” deacons we have in these two parishes — two of them still are employed in their secular professions and are not available for any mid-week/ day-time assignments.

  44. Katie Angel says:

    I could not have said it better – thank you! Whether I am sitting in my pew, serving as a lector or serving as an EMHC, I am filled each week with wonder, joy and humility during the mass.

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