Dialogue with Priests on “Eucharistic Ministers”

Dialogue with Priests on “Eucharistic Ministers” February 22, 2016

I.e., [official title] Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs)

Fr. Peter Stravinskas: Catholic apologist, author, and liturgical expert [You Tube image from 2012 / public domain; Creative Commons license]

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This is a continuation of the vigorous combox discussion stimulated by the post, “Excessive Abuses in the Use of Lay Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in America.”  In particular, one “John”: an “EMHC” himself, started up a critique of me which began after I made this remark (particularly with situations of overuse of EMHCs — the topic of the post — specifically in mind):

I’ve always received Holy Communion in my parish from the priest or occasionally from a deacon. At other parishes, I avoid eucharistic ministers if it is at all possible to do so, precisely because I am aware of the rubrics and regulations that I write about above and don’t wish to violate them.

John then responded:

As one of the faithful, is it my place to pass judgment on whether the guidance from Rome is being appropriately applied by consciously avoiding taking Holy Communion from an EMHC? I think not. One’s personal opinions might be expressed to the priest and/or bishop responsible, but it’s their decision. As the recipient of such a great gift as the Eucharist, my focus should be entirely on what I’m being fed and not who’s doing the feeding. Anything less detracts from the gratitude and praise I owe my dear Lord.

I responded on the thread. John came back with this:

The Catholic Church has a hierarchy of authority. If you are unhappy with how particular pastors operate their parishes, take it up with their bishop and so forth up the chain. If there are abuses to be corrected, it is the responsibility of those in the chain of authority to do so. When you start to pick and chose your authorities so as to make yourself the authority, that’s wrongheaded. Your position with regard to conscience and personal interpretation of Canon Law is no different than a Protestant asserting the same thing with regard to the Bible. I fully understand the dignity of the Priesthood, but by consciously making an issue of reception from a Priest rather than an EMHC the focus stops being on Christ in the Eucharist and is diverted to a focus on who’s doing the ministering.

I stated: “Being loyal and obedient to the Vatican and the pope is not a Protestant attitude; sorry.” John responded:

My sense is that this kind of preference has the overtone of a political statement and so dishonors the Eucharist. . . . Being loyal and obedient to the Vatican and the Pope is done by being loyal and obedient to those placed in authority below. The Pope has given them the authority to make these decisions.

The discussion went on and on. John’s common theme was that I was making myself the judge, dishonoring the Eucharist, and being disobedient to the local priest in simply choosing the receive communion from a priest. He kept arguing that this was a Protestant outlook. For example:

It’s a Protestant mentality that starts splicing together opinions, and scriptures and other documents to justify one’s own judgment over that of those given the responsibility to judge within the Church. (11-24-08)

From most of your commentary, it’s clear that you have made yourself the judge of abuse. Isn’t that the Protestant model, their everyone is their own Pope and entitled pass judgment on the Church at whatever level they like? . . . You do seem to have a blind spot when it comes to setting yourself up as judge over those who have the authority to judge. As I said when I started, the Church is hierarchical. There’s abuse when the bishop confirms abuse and takes action. The same is true as you look up and down the chain. If I judge there to be abuse in my parish because I think the Vatican says so, despite what my bishop says then I’ve just become my own bishop. (11-24-08)

I kept trying to defend my point of view, to no avail, and at last resolved:

Since this keeps being an issue, I have written to nine priest friends of mine, including a former parish priest at my own church and another priest who used to attend there as a child and preaches at my parish when he visits the area. I have asked their permission to post what they say in reply, and will do so whether they agree with me or not.

Since the issue has wrongheadedly been made “Dave vs. the parish priest” I think it is time to see what priests themselves have to say about it.

John kept up with the accusations of quasi-Protestant attitudes:

I am challenging you on “Protestant think”, because I see you splicing together your opinion from different sources and then making accusations of abuse and then acting on them in a subtle personal sanction against receiving from EMHCs, and thus injecting something inappropriate into the reception of the Eucharist. That’s more than just expressing opinion. (11-25-08)

He did temper his rhetoric a bit later on:

Dave, I apologize if sound like I’m in an attack mode, but I am trying to be serious about my observations with regard to what appear to me to prejudged conclusions. I’m also not trying to accuse you of intentionally throwing a damper on the Eucharist, but trying to show how this might be an unrecognized consequence. (11-27-08)

I started receiving responses from priest-friends. Before we enter the next phase of this discussion, I think it is important to emphasize the following wise observation, that came from Fr. Ed Fride: with whom I engaged in a long dialogue below:

A strong man of God who is a committed Catholic operating in the power of the Holy Spirit can pretty much take most of the craziness and bizarre things that may happen at Mass and exercise enough internal control and self-discipline in the Spirit so that his serenity is undamaged and he can simply focus on the presence of the King of Kings. However, what of the weaker brother? You are, I am certain, familiar with many folks who have a certain knowledge of the Faith, the rubrics, the teaching of the Church but not much of a personal relationship with the King of Kings Himself. In the absence of a deeper union with Him it is certainly easier for them to get caught up in things that may be important, but to the extent that the important crowds out the Essential One, it is not a good thing. . . . But what of the weaker brother? Will even blogging this discussion create a stumbling block for a brother who is not yet in a deep enough relationship with the Lord Jesus and may not have even thought of any of the issues you raise, but is now going to be preoccupied by them when he

goes to Communion? . . .

Perhaps the weaker brother could be dealt with by having somewhere on your blog site a caveat lector that simply states the danger and invites all your readers/bloggers to make sure in their Catholic life they stay focused on the essentials and not allow themselves to be distracted by things that may be important but that should not interfere with the most important.

It might also be useful to stipulate as to the level of importance of a particular discussion in the course of that discussion so that folks don’t inadvertently place more importance then they should on issues that are more minor in the hierarchy of truth. Part of the problem of course is that it requires a well-established relationship with the Lord Jesus to be able to accurately discern where things stand in that hierarchy. . . . Another suggestion that I would make is to be careful that you do not use vocabulary that may inflate the level of importance of the discussion being done beyond its actual significance. For example, a careless reading of some of our discussion could leave one with the impression that this was an issue you would die for, after all it involves your rights as a Catholic, etc. etc. It is a natural tendency among those who feel passionate about the truth to sometimes slightly overstate the importance of our case, or the significance of our topic, a tendency you may have observed from time to time. Lastly, I think it is crucial to remind folks at some point that it is not the accuracy and abundance of our truth that we will ultimately be judged on, but the quality and practical application of our love, . . .

What you do is of great service to the Church and very important and never think that the communication of the truth is somehow outside the pastoral realm, in fact it is its heart.

Please keep the above in mind in reading all that follows.

The reply below came from Fr. Paul Ward (see his website), who was my own parish priest for about a year before being transferred to a nearby parish. He didn’t mince any words, in affirming my own position on the matter:

I’ll just address the “John” part of the debate. Clearly you are in the right, and he is in the wrong; below I offer some thoughts on the matter, and feel free to share them with him. I also ask your permission to post this on my web site, with all corresponding links.

1. Focusing the argument
a. “Protestant.” I think John could use a good class in classical logic; for his arguments are more rhetorical than logical. Rhetoric works to woo a crowd toward one side or another on matters of opinion; but logic is what is necessary to discern real conclusions. His repeated use of the word “Protestant,” and the delightfully vague expressions “Protestant mentality” and “Protestant model” is clearly not used in any scientific way, and he applies a connotation of antipathy instead of the real denotation of the word to you. Now, if you are a faithful Catholic, such an accusation “sounds” dramatic and even terrifying, but a close examination of his use of the word “Protestant” in each case is more of a threat or insult than an intelligent contribution to the demonstration of the points he wishes to make.
b. “Obedient.” His use of “obedience” is nothing but ridiculous; here I refer to the Latin root of the word most specifically, which is “ridere,” to laugh at. You are under no obligation in any way, nor is anybody in the planet, nor has anyone ever been or is now, obliged in obedience to receive Holy Communion more than once a year, and Church law states nothing about whether the minister of Holy Communion in that one and only obligatory instance be ordinary or extraordinary. In fact, there are several laws about not receiving communion, directly stated, or even indirectly (all the canons on excommunication, for example). Most of these are ignored. John might wish to remember that HE is OBLIGED by OBEDIENCE to avoid holy communion when he is in a state of mortal sin; slander is a matter of mortal sin; when one accuses his neighbor falsely, that is slander; and to say that you are “Protestant” or “disobedient” is not true; so perhaps John could take that “zeal for obedience” and, after a good examination of conscience, apply some of these norms to himself, and be more careful of his speech in the future.
c. “Judgmentalism.” This is the first accusation of John, if I read the threat correctly. My experience is that, there are certain Catholics who have wholesale bought into the liberal movement of dissent, anti-clericalism, disbelief in sin, lax morals, worldliness or other such malaises, and, finding themselves incapable of providing any intellectual, sound argument in favor of positions they arbitrarily embrace, they accuse those who are faithful to the Church as being “judgmental.” It is the moral posture of the arrogant man, who feels threatened and angry about his neighbor’s opinion of him. In your article, however, I see you describing a problem, not accusing anyone, but rather praising people like Akin, Stravinskas and JPII. If anyone criticized a person individually, it was John who criticized you. Objectively speaking, therefore, John is a hypocrite, for he practices a vice he apparently condemns. It is clear that John judged you; for to call anyone judgmental is nothing but a judgment. 
This said, let it be known, that of course we Catholics judge. Christ commands us to judge (e.g., Lk 7:43; Lk 12:57; Mt 19:28, etc.), which we clearly distinguish (cf. Rom 14:4) from the Eternal Son’s judgment of men’s consciences and of the eternal fates of men. St. Paul also commands us to judge, it is shameful when we cannot judge, we will judge even spirits, and the power to judge the world in the End is one of the rewards promised to the saints (1 Cor 6:2 ff.; 1 Cor 11:13; 1 Cor 14:24, etc.) and St. John says too we must judge spirits (1 Jn 4:1). All of this must be distinguished from that other type of judging, in which you, Dave, did not incur, but John did, by judging individuals, for example, as Protestant-minded or disobedient. Indeed, the Church herself has judges and tribunals. So if I say John behaved hypocritically, let it be taken with a grain of salt: of course we are to judge between good and evil. Still more, St. Augustine, in his Anti-Pelagian discourses, says that we must judge certain sinners, because their sins cannot be done on accident or without assent, “like blasphemy, adultery, and the like.” So YES, we judge. Another reason why the world hates Catholicism and wants to stomp it out of existence: because we judge its materialist, greedy, sensual and arrogant ways, in union with God, judging not to condemn, but to call to repentance and save.
c. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Both of you do need to be more careful about your expressions: only a priest or bishop is a “Minister of the Eucharist,” and a deacon only by analogy. Laity who help a priest distribute communion are “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion” (hereafter “EMHC’s”). I will now do what I do not see either of you doing, that is, quoting the norm to which I refer; which in John’s case is most reprehensible, since he is accusing his neighbor of “disobedience” but failing to cite the law. That is nothing but manipulative, for which he will answer to God. Now, to refer to EMHC’s as “EME’s” is an abuse, as Redemptionis Sacramentum states at nn. 154 and 156. There also it is very clear that EMHC’s are, well, “extraordinary,” and all measures should be taken to avoid them. The prejudice in the Church, therefore, is clearly printed to be towards the clergy and instituted acolytes distributing communion, and not laity at large. I think, Dave, you do well in quoting Pope John Paul II who refers to the rising anti-clericalism as one of the more philosophical causes of the huge – and by and large vastly abusive – multiplication of EMHC’s. Pope Benedict has spoken about this as well in the last couple years to several of the groups of bishops visiting ad limina
The general hatred and disgust for the Catholic priesthood, not only among the non-Catholic populace, but even among Catholics, is so intense and so deep that no one dares talk about it, I think, for fear of scandal. Many today erroneously see the priest only in utilitarian terms filled with pragmatism, instead of the type of priestly presence Christ has in the world through the character conveyed by this sacrament. Now, those persons who so energetically go out of their way to distance others from their priests, even in this detail of the reception of communion, participate actively and directly, to wit or not, in this alienation of the People of God from the sacrament of the priesthood. It is for this reason, and also because John evidently has no idea what graces come from priests – yes, even bad ones! – from the sacrament of the priesthood itself, that I would encourage John to do long and deep studies on this wonderful sacrament. So few priests preach about the sacrament of the priesthood, normally with a false humility, thinking that if they actually told the faithful what a glorious sacrament it were, it could be perceived that they are simply building themselves up with pride. The result is that the poor faithful, John included, clearly have no idea what a priest is in the Church.
In conclusion, we must not stray from the argument with empty, rhetorical accusations of Protestantism where there is none, or disobedience where there is none. The question of your article, in my opinion, is different from where you went in the thread. The article proposes the thesis, “EMHC are employed in abusive ways,” and you prove your point sufficiently. The questions into which John descends, picking through his ranting about how prideful, judgmental, disobedient and Protestant you are, are more than one. It begins with “Dave does/advocates communion with the priest,” and then there are lots of “becauses” attached, and each one is its own argument which would require its own proof.
2. How to resolve the issue.
Let us provide some of the various arguments John slings at you: “Dave advocates communion with the priest, and not with the EMHC, because he is judgmental of those who are not priests” (John at 11.22.08 – 12:11 pm). Or, “Dave advocates communion with the priest, and not with the EMHC, because he is prideful” (again, John at 11.22.08 – 12:11 pm). Or, “…because he has a Protestant mentality” or etc. Both Plato and Aristotle condemn, first of all, the practice of the Sophists of their day, who prided themselves on winning debates mostly by confusing their adversaries. This was done, as they report, chiefly by two methods: one, change the debate, which is what John did here, for he wandered far from whether EMHC’s are employed abusively into whether YOU, Dave, are proud, judgmental, disobedient and Protestant. The second method is to change the terms of the debate, taking one word to mean another. I don’t see this second thing happening, I could be wrong.

Therefore, let us condescend – in the positive, not derogatory meaning of this word – to John, and let him change the argument on us, and ask, “Is Dave proud, judgmental, disobedient or Protestant by advocating communion with a priest instead of with an EMHC?” Once the question is focused, then we must stick to it.
Now, whether Dave suffers from the moral evils of pride or disobedience is impossible to say. THAT is the type of judgment God alone can make; yet Dave, in prayer, may discern some truth regarding his own conscience, but even then only imperfectly (cf. 1 Cor 4:3-4). So we can put aside those parts of the question.
We are left with “Is Dave disobedient or suffering from a ‘Protestant mentality’ by advocating communion with a priest instead of with an EMHC?” Which is really two questions: is he disobedient, and does he suffer from a ‘Protestant mentality,’ for his position.
Let’s look at a ‘Protestant mentality,’ and define the word, to see whether it applies to Dave. The ambiguity of the term, which I criticized above, works against us drawing any conclusion. It could not only mean many things – salvation by faith alone, rejection of the Magisterium, acceptance of only Baptism as a sacrament, charismatic emotional appeal, etc. – but even contradictory things – Lutherans have some faith in “confirmation,” most other Protestants don’t; some Protestants reject Mary’s intercessory power, others pray to her, etc. – which makes the proof of this accusation logically impossible. So let us jettison it.

The final question we can discuss is this: “Is Dave disobedient because he advocates… etc.” Again, starting with the term, we suppose David is acting contrary to a norm. There is no norm which mandates the reception of communion from an EMHC ANYWHERE in Church law. Therefore the accusation is false; this makes John a slanderer, for accusing his neighbor falsely.
3. One step farther
Since it is neither proud, nor judgmental, nor Protestant, nor disobedient, we might ask a new question, which underlies all of this. “Is it better for the laity to receive communion from a priest than from an EMHC?” The answer is clearly yes. Allow me to provide a proof or two.
Graces are transmitted by the sacraments; sacramental, habitual, actual and sufficient graces. How is this done? The Church teaches, in two ways (cf.CCC 1128), “ex opere operato” (by the very fact of the action being performed) and “ex opere operantis” (by the very fact of the action of the actor). John stresses, and truthfully, that the Eucharist is always the Eucharist for all and for each. But the effect of the sacrament upon each person, he forgets, is not equal. The effect can be increased, diminished or even nullified by a person well disposed, ill disposed or in mortal sin respectively. Furthermore, when a priest celebrates the Mass more perfectly or less perfectly, this too collaborates to a greater or lesser effect of grace upon the communicant. Now, it is in the nature of the sacrament of the priesthood to nourish the Church; indeed, through the priesthood God is present in the world. He is present most awesomely in the Eucharist, for sure; but also through creation, in a way, and through the world of God, through all the sacraments, and through the priesthood. It is not in the nature of the lay state to nourish the Church, although they may help accidentally to do so; nor is God present in the Church through non-priests, unless again per accidens and when certain conditions are met. This is why the Church for centuries holds to this day the traditional teaching that a priest, in his identity, is another Christ, alter Christus. Objectively speaking, therefore, to receive communion from a priest is to receive from Christ, even if that priest were a bad priest, celebrated the Mass poorly, or even was in a state of mortal sin; to receive from one who is not a priest, logically speaking, is to receive not from Christ. There is no other logical possibility here. It is to receive not from Christ, but from another. Christ is God, others are not God. So to approach the priest with faith at the moment of holy communion is to receive a gift which is given more perfectly – God by God himself, one sacrament through the other, one Presence through His other presence – and therefore collaborates better to a more fruitful reception of the sacrament.
No one is obliged to receive from the EMHC; no one is obliged not to. It is evident to the whole world, including Rome (as Dave cites in his article, but as the Popes have mentioned often and in other places), that EMHC are abused especially by being employed where they are not necessary, or by their imperfections in conduct by deficient training or deficient responsibility on their own part. It is clearly better to receive from the priest, because the priest is alter Christus, and both God and the Church incline towards clergy giving communion, tolerating, without advocating, EMHC’s where extreme situations demand them.
My advice is that both Dave and John, when possible, prefer communion at the hands of priests; that John stop judging Dave; that parishes get rid of these armies of EMHC’s; that we all read and observe Redemptionis Sacramentum; and that we return to seeing the priest in the way that God sees him.
I hope these reflections help. God bless. 
In Christ,
Fr. Paul Ward
Associate Pastor

Assumption Grotto Catholic Church, Detroit


I think it is an interesting argument. It seems plausible to me. I’m in no position to judge it, without further study, however, except on Fr. Paul’s authority, because I haven’t studied the alter Christus aspect in detail. I think he expresses and gives form to some of my relatively undeveloped subjective feelings on the subject (the very ones Fr. Ed Fride below sort of presses me to delineate). A priest is a priest! He is a special person, with special graces. The EMHC will never rise to that level. So perhaps there is an intrinsic advantage for the recipient, sacramentally, one over the other???: alter Christus and in persona Christi and ex opere operantis . . . that would be the line of argument. Perhaps I could have arrived at something approximating this argument myself, with further reflection.

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Fr. Adrian Head: a priest in Australia who has kindly supported and encouraged my apostolate, also essentially agreed with my position of preferring to receive Holy Communion from a priest:

I believe that one should be free to approach the priest rather than an Extraordinary Minister, especially when the need for an extraordinary minister is not there (hence the word ‘extraordinary”. When a priest gives Holy Communion under both kinds, then the extraordinary minister becomes necessary. I don’t give communion under both kinds partly because some people dip the host themselves in the chalice – forbidden by the Vatican – and sometimes the Precious Blood drips onto the floor below. I feel that the priest should not unnecessarily legislate in these matters, i.e. about whom one should approach for Holy Communion. A good solid priest friend of mine does not think as I do, so there is a variance of opinion. Perhaps the mistake was to air this point publicly instead of simply doing what you choose in this matter privately. But I do think that there is a misuse/overuse of Extraordinary Ministers.

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Fr. Ed Fride is a priest I have also known for some years now, primarily through my friends Steve Ray and Al Kresta, who attend his parish: Christ the King, which is in Ann Arbor (about 25-30 miles west of where I live just outside Detroit). He took a different approach to the question and often made criticisms of my stance that were similar to John’s. I took the opportunity of his eloquently expressed challenges to defend myself further and to develop my position. It was a very enjoyable dialogue. His words will be in blue:

Hi Dave, good to hear from you, may the Lord Jesus bless you and your ministry as we enter this holy Season of Advent. . . .

Concerning your discussions about Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, I would disagree with several of the sources you cited who seem to dismiss the time question as unimportant, i.e. using EMEs to shorten the Communion time. At my parish our Sunday Masses typically ran to an hour and 20 minutes. We recently did a series of questionnaires to our folks on liturgical issues and the length of the Mass was an issue for many of our people, especially those with smaller children for whom such a long Mass was an issue. We have many such families, as one of the popular descriptions of the parish is ‘Christ the King, where 5 is considered a good start.’ It is also known as ‘the cry room with an Altar.’ We made a formal decision to limit the length of Mass to an hour and ten minutes. Were we not to use EMEs during the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament, Mass would easily run 2 hours and probably significantly more, as we have 700-800 people receiving the Precious Body, about 90% of which also receive the Precious Blood. Any given Sunday morning Mass we typically have six stations of the Precious Body and 8-10 stations of the Precious Blood. I have been blessed by having 4 deacons so I always have a deacon or two at Mass as well. [By the way, several of the popular sources you cited seem to forget the fact that the Deacon is also an ordinary minister of Communion—see Canon 910]. The idea that the Roman guidelines would look at what we do as being excessive or inappropriate would be ludicrous.

Dear Fr. Ed,

Thanks so much for your detailed, comprehensive response. It’s very helpful, and will be most helpful to my readers, too, I’m sure. I’d like to reply a bit, especially where you asked me a direct question. I agree [with the above]. I wouldn’t say that the use was improper in your case.

Our situation is the classic example of exactly why EMEs are permitted by Rome. We also make a very specific point to be faithful to the clear instruction that any ordinary minister of Communion who is present must be exercising his office before EMEs can be used. So, even If one of our deacons is not serving at the Altar for a particular Mass, he will come up to serve as an ordinary minister during Communion. Also, because we often have visiting priests at Christ the King, if our ushers or anyone spots someone in the congregation wearing a Roman collar, they are immediately sought out and questioned to determine if they are a priest in good standing and if so, they are strongly (and I mean strongly) urged to concelebrate and to exercise their ministry as an ordinary minister of Communion. So, the Sunday and Holy Day Masses or other large Masses are clearly done within guidelines.

Again, I agree. I hope I didn’t give any impression in my comments that I didn’t. I love your parish, and the times I have visited there (usually having some connection with Al Kresta) were wonderful times of worship for me. There are legitimate instances, of course, because canon law permits it. It is with the abuses that I am concerned.

What about using EMEs at smaller Masses, e.g. early morning Masses with only a handful of people? I still use EMEs for the distribution of the Precious Blood under those circumstances because even there sometimes time can still be an issue, especially for our faithful working folks who want to go to daily Mass and for some of whom even a couple of minutes longer Mass would result in them being late for work and so unable to attend.

A good point . . .

Also, frankly, in terms of the actual spiritual benefit for the people of God, time spent adoring and thanking the Eucharistic Lord after receiving Him is a much more fruitful way to spend the time then spending it in line waiting to receive. The fact that the Church makes such strong statements in favor of an adequate thanksgiving would tend to highlight that fact, e.g. Canon 909 CIC/83.

I think that is an important consideration, too.

The fact that the Church also does not specify these issues with exactness in her liturgical documents, e.g. length of time for Communion, crowd size necessary for the use of EMEs, etc. places it in the category of a discretionary judgment of the local authority, i.e. the local pastor, to interpret these issues to the best of his ability for his congregation. You may disagree with his interpretation or his application, but the fact that the only circumstance under which the Church formally forbids the use of EMEs is when ordinary ministers are present and able to function and do not. You certainly have the freedom to communicate your disagreement to him and his superiors as you feel appropriate.

As I mentioned, it doesn’t come up at my own parish (St. Joseph’s in Detroit), because we don’t utilize eucharistic ministers. Our numbers are generally relatively small, so time does not become a huge factor, either.

Were you to come to Christ the King, would there be any logical reason why you would want to receive from the priest versus an EME? I cannot see one.

My main reason for the statement I made applies to situations of clear abuse (said by the Vatican to be widespread in America and “reprehensible,” in the words of JPII). This is not occurring in your parish, from everything you have stated.

On further reflection, oftentimes I feel at other parishes I occasionally attend (and this is admittedly subjective) that either the demeanor or attire or both of certain eucharistic ministers are not appropriately reverent. I’ve mentioned one time when I received from a woman whose skirt was, in my opinion, most inappropriate for such a role (i.e., too short). Other times I observe some EMHCs who are broadly smiling during Holy Communion, which strikes me as a bit irreverent and improper as well (maybe it is just me); whereas rarely have I seen such a thing with priests. There is a time to smile and a time not to . . . Those would be considerations I would cite for preferring to receive from a priest. It has nothing to do with the male-female thing (I don’t oppose altar girls per se, though I think there are good arguments to be made against them).

It is crucial to bear in mind however, that as inappropriate as that attire and behavior may be, it has no relevance as to the liceity of the person functioning as an extraordinary minister. To introduce those considerations considerably alters the content of the discussion beyond the issue of formal abuse to a whole secondary set of issues. I am not sure that will serve the argument.

* * *

Also, I agree with the “sociological” observations of Fr. Stravinskas, that I cited in the article, that too many EMHCs may very well have an effect of creating a blurred distinction between the roles of the priest and the laity. That is a subjective argument as well, but I think such things are important in creating an overall reverential spirit in the Mass. Many things that occur in the typical American Mass today have an effect of lowering the solemnity and awesomeness of the Mass, in my opinion. I think the Mass can be done properly in either a very traditional way (as in my parish), or in a more “charismatic” manner, with more contemporary music, etc. (as at your parish). I’ve worshiped in both settings and have been most edified in each. I don’t feel that I have to oppose them to each other. I have defended the charismatic movement on my website and in threads at the Coming Home Network forum, where I work, and consider myself a charismatic Catholic (and an evangelical Catholic, too). So mine is not an argument about form or “new” vs. “old” or anything of the sort.

I would also caution against being ‘more Catholic than the Pope’ because one of the documents that you cite, probably the most crucial, “Instructions on Certain Questions Regarding Collaboration” addresses a whole set of issues and speaks in section 8 to the issue of the EME and while raising issues similar to what some of your article deals with, specifically does not address the idea of blurred distinctions taking place simply because of the use of EMEs. Since the document was very carefully crafted to address what it perceived to be the crucial blurring issues, raising other arguments that it chose not to address may not be helpful. I do not believe that there is anything essential to the ministry of an EME that detracts from or blurs the importance of the priest, any more than the function of the lector does. The problem is that frequently people are insufficiently catechized about the exact role of the priest, his absolutely indispensable role in the Mass, his acting in Persona Christi, etc. If the people were better informed, these distinctions would not be blurred. But to locate the problem as having EMEs rather than to correctly locate the problem in the lack of sufficient catechesis does not serve the issue.

I think one possible line of defense here is to appeal to Pope John Paul II. I briefly alluded to this in my original post. Presently, I’ll expand the citation:

Pope John Paul II: encyclical Christifideles Laici (The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and the World: 30 December 1988):

The Ministries, Offices and Roles of the Lay Faithful

23. . . . When necessity and expediency in the Church require it, the pastors, according to established norms from universal law, can entrust to the lay faithful certain offices and roles that are connected to their pastoral ministry but do not require the character of Orders. The Code of Canon Law states: “When the necessity of the Church warrants it and when ministers are lacking, lay persons, even if they are not lectors or acolytes, can also supply for certain of their offices, namely, to exercise the ministry of the word, to confer Baptism, and to distribute Holy Communion in accord with the prescriptions of the law.”[69] However, *the exercise* of such tasks does not make the lay faithful pastors: in fact, a person is not a minister simply in performing a task, but through sacramental ordination. Only the Sacrament of Orders gives the ordained minister a particular participation in the office of Christ, the Shepherd and Head, and in his Eternal Priesthood.[70] The task exercised in virtue of supply takes its legitimacy formally and immediately from the official deputation of pastors, as well as from its concrete exercise under the guidance of ecclesiastical authority.[71] . . .

Following the liturgical renewal promoted by the Council, the lay faithful themselves have acquired a more lively awareness of the tasks that they fulfill in the liturgical assembly and its preparation, and have become more widely disposed to fulfill them: the liturgical celebration, in fact, is a sacred action not simply of the clergy, but of the entire assembly. It is, therefore, natural that the tasks not proper to the ordained ministers be fulfilled by the lay faithful.[73] In this way there is a natural transition from an effective involvement of the lay faithful in the liturgical action to that of announcing the word of God and pastoral care.[74]

In the same Synod Assembly, however, a critical judgment was voiced along with these positive elements, about a too- indiscriminate use of the word “ministry,” the confusion and equating of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, the lack of observance of ecclesiastical laws and norms, the arbitrary interpretation of the concept of “supply,” the tendency toward a “clericalization” of the lay faithful and the risk of creating, in reality, an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the Sacrament of Orders.

Precisely to overcome these dangers the Synod Fathers have insisted on the necessity to express with greater clarity, and with a more precise terminology,[75] both *the unity of the Church’s mission* in which all the baptized participate, and the substantial *diversity of the ministry* of pastors which is rooted in the Sacrament of Orders, all the while respecting the other ministries, offices and roles in the Church, which are rooted in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

In the first place, then, it is necessary that in acknowledging and in conferring various ministries, offices and roles on the lay faithful, the pastors exercise the maximum care to institute them on the basis of Baptism in which these tasks are rooted. It is also necessary to guard against a facile yet abusive recourse to a presumed “situation of emergency” or to “supply by necessity,” where objectively this does not exist or where alternative possibilities could exist through better pastoral planning. . . .

While the conclusions of the Commission’s study are awaited, a more ordered and fruitful ecclesial practice of the ministries entrusted to the lay faithful can be achieved if all the particular Churches faithfully respect the above mentioned theological principles, especially the essential difference between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood, and the difference between the ministries derived from the Sacrament of Orders and those derived from the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

[my bolding and coloring]

It seems to me to follow, then, that if Pope John Paul II repeatedly clarified and urged us not to be unaware of these proper distinctions, that he is clearly replying to “too-indiscriminate” scenarios where in fact the distinctions have been blurred. And this is in an encyclical devoted to the vocation and mission of the lay faithful (a subject quite dear to me, as a lay apologist). Therefore, I was not being “more Catholic than the pope” (something I would never wish to be in a million years) when utilizing that particular argument; I was merely being, I submit, “Catholic like the pope.” :-) He is saying these things, in the appropriate place to do so. My duty is to follow the instruction, as an obedient Catholic.

I agree with you that there is nothing “essential to the ministry of an EME that detracts from or blurs the importance of the priest” but we are dealing with an abuse of the allowed practice, where in fact, this mentality is fostered, and it is so, I would argue, due to situations like a chronic use of EMEs contrary to the rubrics. That sends the message, arguably, that since they are not being used extraordinarily, but routinely, the special nature of the priesthood is thereby weakened and distinctions blurred. Something is causing the blurred distinctions to occur, according to the late great pope, and he is not alone in that judgment.

Of similar nature is the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum: On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament: Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prefect: 25 March 2004; my bolding). Note that he cites the very section above (23):

Chapter II, section 2. The Ministries of the Lay Christian Faithful in the Celebration of Holy Mass

[45.] To be avoided is the danger of obscuring the complementary relationship between the action of clerics and that of laypersons, in such a way that the ministry of laypersons undergoes what might be called a certain “clericalization”, while the sacred ministers inappropriately assume those things that are proper to the life and activity of the lay faithful.

Footnote 116: Cf. Pope John Paul II, Allocution to the Conference of Bishops of the Antilles, 7 May 2002, n. 2: AAS 94 (2002) pp. 575-577; Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles laici, 30 December 1988, n. 23: AAS 81 (1989) pp. 393-521, here pp. 429-431; Congregation for the Clergy et al., Instruction, Ecclesiae de mysterio, 15 August 1997, Theological Principles, n. 4: AAS 89 (1997) pp. 860-861.

The Cardinal also states that the very titles being used are incorrect:

Chapter VII, section 1:

[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.

Likewise, the document cited by Cardinal Arinze above and mentioned by you: Ecclesiae de mysterio (On certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the Sacred ministry of the priest by eight dicasteries of the Holy See), 15 August 1997 [Link / alternate link], does, I think, allude to this problem in some sense:

The exercise of such tasks does not make Pastors of the lay faithful, in fact, a person is not a minister simply in performing a task, but through sacramental ordination. (Theological Principles, 2; italics in original)

(Footnote 39) John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifedeles laici (December 30, 1998), n. 23: AAS 81 (1989), p. 430.

To ensure that such collaboration is harmoniously incorporated into pastoral ministry, and to avoid situations of abuse and disciplinary irregularity in pastoral practice, it is always necessary to have clarity in doctrinal principles. Therefore a consistent, faithful and serious application of the current canonical dispositions throughout the entire Church, while avoiding the abuse of multiplying “exceptional” cases over and above those so designated and regulated by normative discipline, is extremely necessary.

Where the existence of abuses or improper practices has been proved, Pastors will promptly employ those means judged necessary to prevent their dissemination and to ensure that the correct understanding of the Church’s nature is not impaired. In particular, they will apply the established disciplinary norms to promote knowledge of and assiduous respect for that distinction and complementarity of functions which are vital for ecclesial communion. Where abusive practices have become widespread, it is absolutely necessary for those who exercise authority to intervene responsibly so as to promote communion which can only be done by adherence to the truth. Communion, truth, justice, peace and charity are all interdependent terms.(52) (Theological Principles, 4; my bolding)

(Footnote 52) Cf. Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, premiss of the Instruction Inaestimabile donum (April 3, 1980), AAS 72 (1980), pp. 331-333.

1. “For some time now, it has been customary to use the word ministries not only for the officia (offices) and non-ordained munera (functions) exercised by Pastors in virtue of the sacrament of Orders, but also for those exercised by the lay faithful in virtue of their baptismal priesthood. The terminological question becomes even more complex and delicate when all the faithful are recognized as having the possibility of supplying — by official deputation given by the Pastors — certain functions more proper to clerics, which, nevertheless, do not require the character of Orders. It must be admitted that the language becomes doubtful, confused, and hence not helpful for expressing the doctrine of the faith whenever the difference ‘of essence and not merely of degree’ between the baptismal priesthood and the ordained priesthood is in any way obscured”.(54) (Practical Provisions, Article 1, 1; my bolding; original italics)

(Footnote 54) Cf. John Paul II, Discourse at the Symposium on the “The Participation of the Lay Faithful in the Priestly Ministry” (April 22, 1994), n. 3, L’Osservatore Romano, English Language Edition, May 11, 1994.

The Holy Father reminds us that, “the particular gift of each of the Church’s members must be wisely and carefully acknowledged, safeguarded, promoted, discerned and co-ordinated, without confusing roles functions or theological and canonical status“. (114) (Conclusion; my bolding)

(Footnote 114) Speech to the April 1994 symposium on lay participation in priestly ministry, 3.

* * *

Hi Dave, my only comment on this post is that all of the comments about the blurring of ministries, etc., are somewhat irrelevant to your argument because you adopt a solution that none of the documents suggest, i.e. stop using EMHC’s. That is a classic example of being more Catholic than the Pope. If Rome felt that the use of EMHC was in itself such a negative thing, it would simply stop the practice. No document suggests that that is an appropriate response, yet it is essentially what you are advocating.

With all due respect (and I have a lot for you, rest assured), you are greatly mistaken about my opinion in this regard. I have never advocated abolishing Extraordinary Ministers. I must say (to be lighthearted for a moment) that I find it more than a bit amusing that I have now been charged with both a “Protestant mentality” (by someone on my blog) and “being more Catholic than the pope” (one thing characteristic of a liberal and/or Protestant, and the other of a “traditionalist”: all thought categories which I vociferously critique in my apologetics. Of course, I continue to deny both charges because I don’t see that they are warranted at all.

To the contrary, I acknowledged early on that your own use of EMHCs was perfectly legitimate (which I couldn’t have done if my opinion was as you think), and I have never once stated, nor do I believe, that the use of EMHCs in essence, or in and of itself is contrary to the rubrics. I accept all Church teaching. Whatever the Church teaches is fine with me. I defend it every day. It’d be pretty silly if I started picking and choosing (like a liberal) what I would accept and reject. I was very careful to make sure that my argument (per my opinion!) had to do with abuses of the practice, not the wrongness of the thing itself. I’m afraid you are reading into my argument far more than is actually there. I have no secret agenda.

When challenged and stimulated to further thought (mostly by you), as to why I prefer receiving from a priest, I then developed a further, more subjective, additional argument that had to do with my own liturgical preference. That doesn’t entail abolition, either. It’s simply my preference, so by definition, has nothing to do with anyone other than myself (as I have stated repeatedly in my combox, too). I differ, for example, even from my wife in the matter of receiving in the hand. I do so in other parishes; she never does. And that’s fine! It’s a both/and, analogical argument: allow the Tridentine Mass / allow the Pauline Mass (which I have defended at great length on my site, and prefer); allow someone to partake of the cup if they wish to, or not do so so (as Christ can’t be divided, anyway); allow charismatic Masses and more traditional ones with altar rails and Mozart, etc., allow one to choose to receive from the priest if that is their preference, etc.

Thus my additional argument (insofar as it deals with non-abuse scenarios) is a species, I believe (subject to correction) of allowable liturgical diversity. No one has yet shown me from an actual Church document that I am not within my rights to act as I wish at a Mass, and receive from the priest (on the relatively few occasions where I attend elsewhere). It seems to be an argument from silence. That was the main drift of my last letter to you: my seeking of a definitive prohibition of my own preference in this matter, it it is to be had. If that had been produced, then it would be settled, and I would cease my practice, in obedience. I’ve yet to see that, so I don’t see how anyone can argue (failing that) that I can’t simply get in one communion line rather than another, and receive in a manner that was (as far as I know) virtually universal until recent times.

One ‘final’ comment, you are still missing the point of SC 22.3; you state that it is your option to simply choose one Communion line rather than another, and that to say that is wrong is an argument from silence. Fine, can you show me any liturgical document that gives you that right? Every parish has a designated Communion station for each designated area of seats with its own proper line. The argument from silence is that you are assuming it says somewhere “the communicant is free to go to whichever line he or she wishes, even if it is different than that indicated for their area of the Church” show me where it says that and I’ll grant your point. In the absence of this, you are making that up and now following Armstrongian rubrics, one of which says, “I can receive from whomever I want.” But “Let no one, not even a priest, add anything” refers particularly to manufacturing your own rubrics. Having said that, and having had this entire discussion, I would point out that while it has been an interesting liturgical discussion, it seems to me that it also falls under the category of “a tempest in a tea pot” in that with the real issues facing the Church, that this one would even get blog space is a little surprising. For example, who people receive Communion from is a bit less of an issue than the 65% who are receiving who don’t believe in the Real Presence, etc. etc.

In any event, it was nice to reconnect with you, may the Lord Jesus continue to bless you in your work of building the Kingdom!

I think your argument in its most recent expression indeed has some force and I am reconsidering some of my position. I may be persuaded to concede the point of “order of the procession” in any given parish, according to the sources you have cited.

I realize you’re engaging in a reductio argument at some points (a technique I love to do myself, as a bit of a “mischievous socratic”), but I think you have (to put it mildly) exaggerated somewhat my own rationales; e.g., concluding that I am for abolishing EMHCs altogether, which is not the case at all. I won’t belabor that, but to cite just one example: you asked if I would switch lines while we were processing. I would never think to do that, and never have done so, to my recollection. And I wouldn’t, precisely because I don’t want to raise any ruckus or cause a “scene.” My point was to unobtrusively get into the line where the priest is, at the beginning.

The fact of the matter is that these things occur only on occasions where I am visiting another parish, and I don’t always act in this manner even then. My parish already conducts the Mass in a rather traditional in style and spirit (but Novus Ordo), which is a major reason I am there. So when I’m in my parish, I am not controverting anything at all, let alone engaging in “Armstrongian rubrics” (a rather charming term!).

I’m following the Mass the way it has been determined by my own pastor to proceed, in our parish; therefore, I am doing exactly what you (and my critic John) say: following the local liturgical procedure and not “dissenting” at all. In my mind, that is why it was altogether beyond silly for my original critic to make the argument that I am a known apologist, and causing scandal by acting as I do. No one knows me from Adam if I am visiting another parish. Apologists (well, except for Scott Hahn and perhaps your own parishioner Steve Ray) are not rock stars. Only a few people recognize me by face even in a place like Steubenville: even at the apologetics conference.

Your argument, as I understand it, is that the congregant ought to follow the local liturgical procedure. In that case, it would be a certain way in this parish, and a certain way in that, and so we have come full circle: I like it the way it is done in my parish, which is why I am there. I’ve still made a choice of preference at some point of the process. The question then becomes whether it is permissible to maintain the same preference in another parish if it means going to a different communion line. You say no; I have said yes up till now, but am pondering and reconsidering at the moment, trying to take into consideration all the factors that have been brought to bear.

I do agree that the relative importance of the issue is way down the scale of “eucharistic discussion.” I’ve written relatively little on liturgical matters, and don’t consider it one of my strengths. I mainly write about it when directly challenged (and that usually comes from “traditionalists”). In this case, I was accused out of the blue of having a Protestant mentality (something you said you would disagree with yourself, even in the midst of our own disagreements, though you have raised the more troubling spectre of “more Catholic than the pope”), and so I have sought to explain myself. My critic kept pursuing the argument, and I was led to write to priests such as yourself, in an effort to clarify the matter and get some authoritative opinions beyond my own speculations and arguments, which don’t particularly carry any weight, let alone force.

I think, on the other hand, that it is important to air issues such as this, given the widespread abuse of EMHCs, as repeatedly stated by the Vatican, and the issues that raises for laymen such as myself, who are highly concerned with liturgical propriety and reverence. I believe that everything involving the faith is important to discuss, and I do so, as the issues arise, as part of my function as an apologist. I’ve defended the Real Presence at great length in several dozen papers (including a cover story for Envoy some years back). It isn’t like I am neglecting that at all. In fact, the next major paper I was planning on doing was a defense of the “realist” interpretation of John 6, in reply to a Protestant.

But liturgy and issues related thereto are important, too. If I struggle with certain practices and abuses, then I’m sure there are many more out there who feel similarly, and that is justification enough to discuss it publicly, to reach more clarity. Dialogue, with different viewpoints expressed, makes it all the more worthwhile and helpful, and my work is about nothing if it is not about dialogue (methodologically speaking). Ergo: this discussion is altogether in line with the way I have always done my apologetics. I want people to think and exercise their critical faculties; read both sides (or many sides) of an argument and come to their own conclusions, in accordance with the guidance of Holy Mother Church and her most faithful servants (such as yourself).

I agree that this has been a very pleasant and enjoyable and stimulating discussion, even though you give me a hard time in places. :-)

* * *

The bottom line on the reverence issue is that it really all depends
on the priest. If he is reverent during his celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, this will necessarily impact the entire rest of the Mass; if he is not, then it does not matter what else is going on, the reverence will be greatly diminished.

* * *

There is no intrinsic graced or spiritual reality that comes from receiving from a priest versus a deacon or an EME, at least not that I have every seen described in any Magisterial pronouncement of the Church.

I agree. My considerations have to do with what is permitted in canon law and about the “sociological” aspects of the messages possibly being sent, etc. I’m not stating in any way, shape, or form, that Jesus is not received in one instance compared to the other. That’s not my problem with it at all.

I am also not aware of any such pronouncement vis-à-vis the right of a layperson to receive from a priest instead of an EME. The layperson has a right to receive, but that right does not specify the right to receive from a priest instead of an EME.

Okay. I was wondering. I suspected that it might not be mentioned, though. Does it follow, then (either logically or “canonically”), that it is intrinsically wrong to even make such a choice? Or that this somehow exhibits a “Protestant” attitude? Could it not be seen as a question of conscience or (on a lower scale of importance) “permitted liturgical preference”?

When you use a word like “intrinsically” that is so philosophically loaded that you would need to explain in much more detail what you have in mind there. But to address it in the context of your reference to permitted liturgical preference, those permitted liturgical preferences are those that are stated by the Church in her liturgical teaching, for example, receiving kneeling or standing, receiving on the tongue or in the hand, etc. There is no rubrical basis for inventing your own new concept of a permitted liturgical preference in the face of complete silence from the Church on the issue. In fact, as Sacrosanctum concilium, 22.3, points out: “Let no one, not even a priest, add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” It seems to me that creating your own new category of liturgical preference, i.e. receiving Communion from this minister versus that one, would tend to violate this norm. It is obviously more complicated when a clear rubrical violation is taking place, e.g. ordinary ministers not distributing and EMEs distributing, but even there, that is essentially the priest’s problem and not yours. In terms of the Protestant attitude, one could argue that having 34,000 Protestant denominations argues in favor of the idea that the essential Protestant attitude is idiosyncratic, i.e., I don’t like your way so I will do it my way. Based on my comments about creating your own new category of liturgical preference, some could see it as indicative of that Protestant, i.e., idiosyncratic attitude. I would not, but then I know what a solid Catholic you are, so that kind of accusation would not occur to me.

* * *

The only situation under which you could raise that issue would be if the Roman prohibition against using EMEs when the ordinary ministers are not serving their function, e.g. there are bishops, priests or deacons present who are able to serve in that way but are choosing not to. That fact immediately delegitimizes the use of EMEs at that Mass. I would point out though that the fact that they are being used illicitly does not make the reception illicit. The culpability for the error rests on those who have the responsibility for enforcing the liturgical rubrics, i.e. the local pastor, not on those who are simply exercising their right to receive.

Yes, I understand that. But at the same time, if one judges that it is quite reasonable to conclude that there is plainly an abuse taking place, is not one duty-bound in conscience not to participate in it? If the Vatican is saying repeatedly that abuses of this sort are very widespread, certainly it is not improper for an educated Catholic layman who has reason to believe that it is taking place, to refuse to participate in it, no?

“Is one not duty bound in conscience not to participate in it” well, that depends. Utilizing the canonical principle of subsidiarity, those are duty bound in conscience who have been given specific authority in that given setting over the relevant issue. This would apply to the bishop, the local vicar, and the local pastor. They are duty bound in conscience vis-à-vis the correct celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But there is no document or teaching that I am aware of that gives you the necessary authority over that situation to constitute you being duty bound in conscience not to receive from this or that minister. In fact like the document cited above and the liturgical documents themselves, they are quite specific in terms of stating who is responsible for what, and the heart of part of the modern problem is people assuming responsibility for what is not proper to them.

* * *

That is particularly highlighted in the situation where, because of a confused understanding of how to honor lay ministry the priest who is presiding just sits down and doesn’t distribute at all. In that situation no EME can be licitly used, does it therefore follow that no one can go to Communion? Clearly not as that situation is not stipulated as a bar to reception of Communion and as the Code of Canon Law makes clear, when you are dealing with a right, i.e. such as the right to receive, the Canons and rubrics must be strictly interpreted, q.v. Canon 10 and Canon 18 of the CIC/83.

I agree. I would never choose to not partake in such a situation, because it is an infringement, as you say, upon my rights at that point.

We use a lot of EMEs at our Sunday Masses. Has this in any way hindered or minimized the people’s understanding of the importance of the role of the priest? Given that I have more seminarians from my parish (currently 24 men studying for the priesthood from Christ the King) than any other parish in the United States and probably in the Western Hemisphere, and in fact more seminarians from this one parish than 2/3 of the American dioceses have, would tend to suggest that priesthood is adequately respected here, to put it mildly.

Wonderful! None of what I say is contradicted by what occurs at your parish, no matter how many EMHCs are used, because (I would say) there are a lot of factors contributing to the loss of reverence and solemnity that are so often present in American Catholicism. They’re not present in your parish, as attested by objective facts like the high rate of vocations, and by the experience of those who have attended there, as I have. The factors that are contributing to the loss of sacredness or solemnity or reverence are (I think you’d agree) many and varied and causationally antecedent to the question under consideration. As an old sociology major, I am always emphasizing the high likelihood of multiple causation in any given human situation. :-)

So Dave, that’s my two bits, hope it was useful. May the Lord Jesus continue to bless your ministry as you proclaim His Word!

I think it was a very good discussion, and I’d be most interested in hearing your further thoughts, if you have the time and inclination. Thanks very much for your input.

* * *

Thanks again so much for offering a clear, cogent explanation.

I won’t belabor this too much, but I’m still trying to determine what is permitted and what is not. Are you saying that it is wrong and forbidden by canon law for a person to simply choose the communion line that leads to the priest rather than to an EMHC?

In the first place, it is not a canon law issue, it is a liturgical issue. As Canon 2 points out liturgical norms have their own authority and source and are not generally addressed in the Code.

I accept your judgment that nothing in canon law that positively expresses the exact notion I have developed, about following one’s conscience (and I accept that; I didn’t expect that it would, anyway), but on the other hand, if there is also nothing forbidding a simple choice of receiving from the priest, then couldn’t I argue that since it is not forbidden, therefore it should not be regarded as liturgically wrong or against the rubrics, let alone indicative of a supposedly Protestant attitude of insufficient submission to proper ecclesiastical authority?

Wouldn’t it, then, be an example of something where leeway can be allowed, along the lines of those things mentioned in Romans 14? It’s like the scene in Fiddler on the Roof, where a man and a woman start dancing together at the traditional Jewish wedding, which was never done before in their circles, and they ask the rabbi, and he nervously says, “well, it’s not exactly forbidden . . . ” and that is enough and so they do it. Thus the principle in play would be “what is not forbidden by some set of rules and regulations is permissible.” I’m sure you yourself have encountered a similar approach of folks being against something that is not specifically mentioned, in the ongoing controversies over the Catholic charismatic movement. The Church in its wisdom has seen fit to accept the elements and emphases of charismatic worship that are a little different, while not violating any of the rubrics of the Mass.

In point of fact, precisely because of Sacrosantum concilium, # 22.3, no charismatic adaptations are permitted at Mass unless they are formally and specifically sanctioned by the local bishop. So your example demonstrates just the contrary of what you are defending.

I’m saying (as I develop my thought, under examination!) that the current practice that I am defending may be regarded as a species of the same sort of thinking.

I would refer you to my comments in the previous posting citing Sacrosanctum concilium, #22.3. The idea that what is not forbidden is permitted is a notion in use, legitimately, in some places but the clear intent of #22.3 is against such an application in liturgical settings, when it states that no one, not even a priest, can “add, remove, or change anything,” then it follows that adding things, i.e. creating your own new “liturgical preference” is clearly not envisioned by the Liturgy Constitution. The Church takes a far more strict interpretation concerning care for the Liturgy.

Secondly, I developed a second argument of perceived lack of reverence which is more subjective (as you noted), that gets into the spiritual element of discernment as well (which indeed I consider to be one of the gifts that God has given me, for use in my apostolate of apologetics), but it is still real, and figures into my overall reasoning. Certainly recent popes (and especially the current one, who is highly interested in liturgy) have discussed a lack of reverence and proper dispositions at Mass. It’s not like I’m unique in that respect at all.

Which has never been cited by the Church as grounds for switching lines or choosing this person over that vis-à-vis the reception of Communion. What you have essentially done is now create a whole new set of categories to add to those already in place, e.g.: ordinary minister of the Eucharist, EMHC (I am replacing all references to EME with EMHC, which seems to be the preferred term according to one of the documents you kindly forwarded) who is reverent and modestly dressed, EMHC who is reverent but immodestly dressed, EMHC who is irreverent but modestly dressed, EMHC who is irreverent and immodestly dressed. When you start introducing these categories you can imagine the chaos this could result in if more people adopt this, which, since you are broadcasting all this on your blog, has a level probability. This focus also would result in more people focusing on the minister of Communion which would clearly be more of a distraction then if they would do what they are supposed to do in the Communion line and simply focus on the presence of the Eucharistic Lord Himself.

Thirdly, another line of argument occurred to me tonight as I was thinking about your reply and the whole issue. Now, I’m just developing this argument, so go easy on me (!), but it is along the lines of a preference of more traditional Catholic liturgy over more recent developments.

This is obviously one big reason why I attend the parish I do (you may know something about my parish: it’s one of the few in metro Detroit that offer the Tridentine Mass, and we have always had a very traditional Novus Ordo Latin Mass, which I continue to prefer over the Tridentine). Different Catholics prefer different rites or ways of worshiping. Most American Catholics receive the Holy Eucharist standing and in the hand. At our parish, 100% receive kneeling at an altar rail and probably 90-95% on the tongue. That’s just how we do it in our parish, and it was always (as you could probably guess) my own preference.

I’m talking about preference (I want to be very clear), not making any absolute statements that one thing is right and the other wrong, or unnecessarily dichotomizing things against each other. I have defended (in a few papers of mine) communion in the hand as a practice of the early Church and not inherently less reverent than communion on the tongue (as many seem to casually assume, with faulty logic). I practice it myself in other parishes and have no fundamental objection to it. But I prefer the other mode of reception (which is, as I understand it, the only way that the Holy Father himself gives communion).

Given the fact of the Motu Proprio and the Holy Father’s encouraging of the Tridentine Mass as the extraordinary form, and Vatican II’s statement that Latin should be retained (as it was not in the vast majority of American parishes), and the general notion that Catholics should have the right to worship as they see fit within the guidelines (which I think is wonderful), my argument is that preferring to receive from the priest is simply one aspect of the Mass that is more traditional. Part of my interior reasoning (now that I have thought about it some more) would, I think, hearken back to the thinking in the Tridentine Mass, where (if I understand correctly) there were no EHMCs. The priest presided over the Mass, and the congregant received from him. Therefore, to have that thinking now is simply to follow the unbroken tradition of receiving the Eucharist exclusively from priests or bishops (and the occasional deacon).

You made a comment about “creating your own new category of liturgical preference”. But how have I done that?

The new General Instruction understands the Communion line to be on the order of a formal procession. Each parish decides what is the best flow to accommodate its people receiving and so the specific flow of that parish Communion procession is determined by that parish. Since you generally have no idea which EMHC is going to which station, to exercise your new liturgical preference you would then be disrupting that flow by choosing your own path to Communion, i.e. switching lines, etc. to accommodate your preference in the minister of Communion, which in theory would then also be being done by others who have adopted your line of reasoning, resulting in a chaotic and disrupted Communion flow which would hardly be conducive to the reverence in the Communion flow that the Church specifically calls for.

All I’ve done is express a preference for the method of receiving the Holy Eucharist that was (unless I am mistaken about the history) exclusively practiced until very recent times. That’s not creating anything. It is a preference for one aspect of a traditional Mass over how the Pauline Masses are usually celebrated. How can anyone argue that wanting to receive from a priest as a preference is somehow a bad thing in the Catholic context of worship, or “Protestant”, for heaven’s sake? Various arguments may well be made against that, but I deny that it is anything new. That’s the last thing it is.

One of the things that the Church insists on in allowing both the Novus Ordo and the Extraordinary Form to be celebrated is that you do not mix rubrics between them, which is exactly what you are appealing to, i.e. “one aspect of a traditional Mass over how the Pauline Masses are usually celebrated.” Mixing rubrics between the two forms is not permitted, so appealing to an aspect of one in order to modify an aspect of the other is problematic at best.

Now, the anticipated response is, perhaps that I am mixing the two things together and still exercising private judgment, which is improper, but that gets us right back to my initial question: if it is simply a matter of choosing which communion line to get in, how does that disrupt anything or bother anyone else? If indeed that is not forbidden in canon law (which appears to be silent on the question), then why is this even an issue at all? Wouldn’t it be as erroneous to say to a Catholic that he cannot receive from the priest if he makes that choice, as it would be to say to him that he must receive from an EMHC? Doesn’t that seem too legalistic? The fact is that both things are taking place, so what is so wrong (even in an assumed non-abuse scenario, on my additional two grounds) about simply choosing one line over the other?

I’ve certainly never been told that I could not do so in my 18 years as a Catholic. I’ve never caused the slightest ripple of controversy in doing so. I’ve never condemned anyone else doing as they please. No one has ever suggested to me that it was even a problem in my thinking or attitude until this present controversy that began on my blog. It never came up (which makes it all the more of an interesting discussion to me now, because it just sprang out of nowhere). If no canon law can be produced saying something like “the congregant MUST get into the line immediately by him” or “those receiving communion cannot choose to receive from the priest,” then it seems to me that it is a matter of choice and perhaps conscience (though the latter term seems a bit strong for what I am trying to convey and might be a little misleading because it has the implication of “right and wrong” — which is not the entirety of my argument).

These would constitute the more subjective aspects of my reasoning as to why I would make this choice, even in a situation (as in your parish) where no clear abuse of the use of EMHC’s could reasonably be judged to be occurring. I am simply opting for the procedure that takes place at my parish at every Mass, when I am at other parishes. I haven’t even made it an absolute. Sometimes I have received from EMHCs. But if I have a choice, I choose the priest. Therefore, it seems to me that the bottom line comes down to whether I not I can make that choice (one communion line vs. another) without myself being charged with possible unsavory attitudes (up to and including outright disobedience) or violation of the rubrics.

P.S. And I will put all this on my blog, as I promised, because my goal is dialogue, seeking the truth, and fully understanding Church regulations, not just finding people who agree with my present position. Some of the other priests I have written to may have an entirely different take. We’ll see. I hope some of them respond too. But rest assured in any case that you have
given me much food for thought and solid criticisms, which I greatly appreciate.

* * *

One final comment, there is an additional level of complexity that is logically entailed by your raising these issues vis-à-vis the EMHCs, and that concerns the application of these other categories of yours to the ordinary ministers of Communion. What do you do if you find yourself in the line of a grinning deacon, do you then switch to the line of a more reverent EMHC? Or, in a more severe case, what do you do if you are in line and the priest refuses someone Communion because they are kneeling to receive? That is a far greater abuse then anything you have discussed, do you then switch lines again? If you are going to consistently apply your ideas then they should be applied to the ordinary ministers as well. I have regrettably observed many ordinary ministers, both priests and deacons, distributing in a way that runs afoul of your categories, if you are going to be consistent, then you would have to switch out of their lines. This is something of a reductio ad absurdam argument in that it suggests that the application of your new categories would only tend to add more chaos and less reverence to the whole Communion reception, clearly not the intent of the Church.

* * *

Truly, I only wanted to get to the bottom of this and figure out what the Church teaches about it. I’ve been controversial in my time, if I feel I can’t be otherwise (like our Lord and folks like St. Paul when they confronted error and sin) but I never really enjoy it. That may surprise my many critics, but it’s true. I do take extremely seriously my responsibilities to my readership, as an apologist that some look to for “answers.”

Maybe I should have just taken the initial charge of “Protestant mentality” and let it roll off my back? :-) In any event, I did learn a lot of things in this discussion, and that is good, for sure. I know a lot more about this topic than I did a week ago.

* * *

Fr. Peter M. J. Stravinskas has replied:

Dear Dave,

I believe you are right-on. Of course, you quoted me extensively, so how could you be wrong?

I intend to use your question, though, in an upcoming issue of TCR. [The Catholic Response]

Speaking of which, I included a review of your Luther work in the January issue.

Happy New Year (liturgical)!

Fr. Peter

Fr. Stravinskas is one of the leading Catholic apologists today, a scholar, and a liturgical expert. He has authored many books, in addition to his work as editor of The Catholic Answer and The Catholic Response.

* * *

I asked Fr. Paul Ward some further questions and he replied:

Dear Fr. Paul,

I have just a few follow-up questions, if I may, for “information” purposes and clarity’s sake:

1) Do you know of any Church documents that expressly confirm the idea that one receives more graces when receiving communion from a priest? To me it seems clear just by the nature of the priesthood, and intuitively correct, but documentation would be helpful to establish the point beyond any reasonable doubt, over against those who disagree with it.

I encourage you to be as familiar as possible with liturgical matters, as apologetics naturally will cross over from theology to Canon Law to morality to liturgy very easily. This is so because of the fact that Catholicism is a liturgical Church, by Christ’s will. The formal acts of liturgy are clearly not all there is to Catholicism, but it is a necessary part, the “source and goal,” and when it is off, the other things are off, too. This is seen most readily in Catholic priests who have deficient theology, unacceptable personal moral standards, or negligence in their ministry, for in every case I have ever known – which are not few – they are also priests who perpetrate liturgical abuses. Now, to your questions, as best as I can help:

Extraordinary ministers are a very new thing, and are not the norm. The very fact that it is the norm should answer you question sufficiently. That EMHC’s are not the norm, and the norms regarding their implementation, can be found in Redemptionis Sacramentum and in the latest General Instruction of the Roman Missal. These documents are not expensive, and can be purchased here, if you don’t have a copy (the “.pdf” version which they provide as a link is good). This is the edition with the changes Rome allowed to the USCCB; I know of no edition in English of the GIRM without them, but I have the Latin Missal (Novus Ordo) with the original GIRM, without the USCCB modifications, on my shelf. But as it is both new and out of the norm, there is little said by Rome, to my knowledge, about EMHC’s. At Grotto we don’t have any, and we’re all happy that way.

2) Along similar lines, I couldn’t find a whole lot of additional information online about alter Christus and ex opere operantis (pertaining to this specific question) or in persona Christi. I think this argument you make could be solidified even further with more documentation. I’m very curious myself, what I can learn about these things specifically in relation to Holy Communion.

This is three questions in one.

a. Alter Christus and in persona Christi: I can’t do a full exegesis of this here. I refer you, however, to places where you can find this dealt with, sometimes under the concept of “the sacrament of orders conforms a priest to Christ” – and the use of the word “conform” is very on purpose, with a philosophical reference to form, of course. Trent has an entire session, if I remember correctly, on the priesthood. Mediator Dei has an extensive section on the priesthood. Lumen Gentium, where it discusses the difference between common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood has some discussion of the sharing of the consecration and mission of Christ by the ordained. Then there are less dogmatic treatments of it; I think Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s The Priest in Union with Christ, and St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s Duties and Dignity of the Priest could provide more information and more leads. St. Thomas Aquinas would be very helpful in the Summa, as any good edition will refer to sources; and I think that the same places in Trent will discuss the “in persona Christi” teaching, which probably could be found also in the session on the Eucharist. I don’t dispose of many hours to do the research for you, but these leads will get you on the way. Even other web sites, like Catholic Answers can provide more exact cites.

b. ex opere operantis. Again, to this I point to Trent. There is a session on the sacraments there, and it is very clear. By the way, the very expensive Tanner-Alberigo edition of ALL the texts (in original and in [mediocre] translation on facing page) of all the Ecumenical councils would be a great tool, together with Denzinger and the Neuner-Dupuis.

3) Also, isn’t the deacon an ordinary minister of Communion, too? How does this reasoning work with regard to a deacon? In this respect is he closer (“grace-wise”) to the EMHC than to the priest? But he is ordained, too. A bit confusing!

The deacon is a real problem in the Church today. It is often conceived as a hybrid of the states of life of marriage and priesthood. History is on the side of deacons being celibate, but I know of no bishop in the whole Church today who imposes this – a real loss, if you ask me, and not inconformity to Holy Orders. They are “ordained to service” whereas the priest is “ordained to the altar”; so the types of ministries of each should be different. Deacons are to provide the material and spiritual works of mercy, and priests are to provide the Eucharist and confession; but the ministry of each, naturally, overflows into many other dimensions of local Catholic life. A study of the deacon in the ancient (Tridentine) liturgy would shed much light on the contemporary office of deacons. Before the deacons were re-instituted by Paul VI, there were “deacons” and “sub-deacons” at Mass. Now, there were also “minor orders,” which Pope Paul VI suppressed (another horrifying loss, which I hope one day will be restored), including deacons and sub-deacons. But regularly, to my knowledge, priests would fill these offices during the celebration of solemn high Masses. Liturgically they seemed to have the role, Gihr writes, of being the liturgical manifestation or presence of the participation of the rest of the Church (i.e., not the celebrant priest) in the Mass. They assisted the priest in every way at the altar; but only that, assisted, and they were never mistaken as priests, and even wore different vestments (the dalmatica). I think the approach, then, is not whether he is closer “grace-wise” to the priest. There are many laity holier than most priests I have ever known: so nearness to the altar, and the handling of the sacred species, is not a question of merit; rather, it is a question of office as appointed by God. He has the sacramental character of the priesthood, albeit only in part, and it is in this reflection on sacramental character where you will get more light. The priest, too, lacks the fullness of the priesthood; only bishops have that. So there are degrees in the sacrament, degrees of character and not degrees of sanctifying or actual grace.

4) Does any Church document describe the act of distributing Communion as an action in persona Christi?

To my knowledge, no. Nor is there anything about preaching in persona Christi, or in persona Ecclesiae; yet I think this is the case – and why bad or heretical preaching is a matter of sacrilege – for which the Church reserves preaching in the liturgy to those who have received the character of Holy Orders.

Ok, I have probably given an insufficient reply, but I really must run. Keep up the good work! God bless.

* * *

Here’s another reply I made to Fr. Ed Fride:

Hi Fr. Ed,

This thing sure does have a long life, doesn’t it? . . . I asked if there was any document that would expressly forbid me to act as I do. At best, you came up with a general allusion (no direct citations, as I recall) about not disrupting the communion procession as any individual parish construes or organizes it. I granted that this had some degree of force.

But even if I grant that as applicable to my particular concerns (I’m still not completely convinced that merely choosing a different line is any kind of “disruption” — either outwardly or abstractly), all I would have to do to overcome it (at least if this were occurring in my own parish) would be to learn where a priest habitually distributes communion, and sit on the side of the church that would allow me to get in the line where he is, without causing any disruption whatever in the actual procession.

No one would have the slightest basis for concluding my beliefs on the topic, based on my behavior, which would be indistinguishable from anyone else’s. No one would have the slightest basis of concluding that I was trying to disrupt the procession, let alone actually doing it. This idea, by the way, was not my own, but was suggested by a friend of mine in my combox:

In my own parish we typically have three EMHCs each Sunday. I personally think that one, perhaps two would be sufficient as ministers of the cup, but the standard practice is to have two lines process down the centre aisle, the right side of the church in one line to the priest distributing the hosts, and an EMHC ministering the cup, and the mirror image on the left side of the church with two EMHCs.

Since as a music minister, I am typically on the left side, as per Fr. Fride’s comments, I don’t see any problem with my receiving from an EMHC, but, given the choice, i.e. when my musical talents are not required, I will choose to sit on the right, and thus avail myself of the priest, thus drawing out the distinction of exercising preference without causing disruption or scandal.

(“Aussie Apologist,” 11-28-08)

But I did add the aspect of incorporating it into a reductio (below).

I think this becomes your own reductio ad absurdum (just as you constructed one for me; touche!). Your view would seem to require that I can’t even decide:

1) what parish to attend (my own and Fr. Paul’s Assumption Grotto have no EMHCs, and they have a very large attendance, whereas my parish does not, except for special events),


2) what side of the church to sit on,

in addition to my originally stated practice of

3) choosing the communion line that leads to the priest, even if I am not “directed” to it.

Even granting that #3 is a disruption (that I do not yet grant, though I am admittedly less sure here than in other places in my argument, as I have already admitted), #1 and #2 clearly cannot be regarded as such. And in my mind, that overcomes your argument that you thought defeated mine.

It becomes a reductio, I would argue, precisely because it is questionable to conclude in the first place that a Catholic cannot decide to receive from a priest, rather than an EMHC. In order to succeed, this reasoning requires (by reductio) the absurd lengths of dictating even where a person must sit, or where he goes to Mass in the first place, because it would logically require a pose of complete neutrality as to whom to receive from, and never allow a preference under any circumstance. A person would, thus, have to be directed to sit indiscriminately in all portions of the Church, so that it would be a random rather than selective result: from whom he receives Holy Communion. But that is clearly both absurd and extreme legalism, no?

Your counter-reply, it seems to me, could only be sustained (and then only vaguely so, and arguably from silence, if lacking specific references in a Church document), in situations where I was in a parish as a visitor. At communion time, I get in the line where directed, like everyone else, and it leads to an EMHC. And I don’t go against that in any way by deliberately choosing another line, thus (according to my critics) “disrupting” the procession and engaging in “Armstrongian rubrics”.

As stated, however, that doesn’t pertain to scenarios #1 and #2, which, in my opinion, constitute a decisively successful reductio: thus casting doubt on your premise that it is improper for me to choose a priest over an EMHC. I continue to agree with what Fr. Paul stated: “No one is obliged to receive from the EMHC; no one is obliged not to.” If that’s true, the whole thing is arguably a non-issue. If it isn’t, I think we need more specific proof from Church documents.

But you will disagree, right? :-) Well, it is enjoyable to discuss, even if we continue to disagree.

In Him,


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