The Eucharist Teaching #1: Extraordinary Ministers
The reason laypeople started helping distribute Communion at Mass is because in the 1970’s the Catholic Church in the U.S. asked the Vatican for an official exception to who is permitted to help distribute the Eucharist. For a long time we’ve called these laypeople “Eucharistic Ministers,” but that’s not entirely accurate. The ordinary ministers of the Eucharist are bishops, priests, and deacons. So if bishops, priests, and deacons are the ordinary ministers of the Eucharist, laypeople who help distribute are “Extra-ordinary Ministers.” That’s the term parishes will start using: “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.” And all parishes in the Diocese are putting together lists of everybody in their parish who helps distributes the Eucharist on a regular basis: at weekend Mass, at daily Mass, at the hospital, in nursing homes, to the homebound, etc.
One of the biggest changes involves how pyxes are used. This is a pyx. One pyx, two pyxes. It’s used to take Communion to someone. Up to now, Catholics at Mass have been bringing pyxes up with them in the Communion line, and opened it up, and by various ways, let us know how many consecrated Hosts they needed. That procedure has not been working well. Regardless of the parish I’m at, what I typically experience in Communion lines is an open pyx and baseball signals (a person holding up fingers to me the way a catcher does to a pitcher on the mound. Or the person will talk louder than the Communion song to be sure I hear them: “Father, I need four!” They close the pyx, but now they scramble for somewhere to put it so that they can receive Communion themselves. Guess where that pyx now containing the Body of the Lord usually gets put? In the front pants pocket. And they’ll often hurry to put the pyx somewhere because they feel that they’re holding up the line, which makes them receive the Eucharist in a hurried-up way. Or someone who doesn’t have a pyx is in the Communion line intending to use a handkerchief instead. The practice of pyxes in the Communion line is changing, and this is being done in all parishes in the Diocese at the direction of the Bishop.
What will also be changing is the practice of people approaching the tabernacle before or after Mass and filling up a pyx or other container with the Blessed Sacrament on their own. But the tabernacle is not a pantry and it’s not supposed to be help-yourself.
On February 23rd I’ll be meeting with all members of this parish who attended a formation session to go over all the new procedures, and to distribute pyxes (we’ll have various sizes) and little leather pouches called a burse. It goes around your neck and the pyx goes inside it. So no more front pants pocket. The parish will take care of the costs. At Mass, after everyone has received Communion, all remaining consecrated Hosts will be brought back to the altar. And I’ll call forward any Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion who will be taking the Bread of Life to someone. They’ll come up here while the soft music is still playing, and one by one they’ll each tell me how many consecrated Hosts they need. I give them the Eucharist in their pyxes, they put the pyx in the burse hanging around their neck, and return to their places for the conclusion of the liturgy. But from that Mass, they go and take Communion to whomever they’re taking it to; they don’t keep the Body of the Lord at home for a few days and give it later in the week. But none of these changes takes place until after February 23rd.
Next week we’ll start looking at the procedure of how to receive the Eucharist during Mass.