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by Catherine Frakas 19 Jun 2001

Around the Altar QUESTION from Ron Nunez November 19, 2000 I serve as a lector and have doubts about the liturgical correctness of two actions at the altar in my parish.
1) The Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist as well as the Lector sit in a front row pew. The pastoral associates with the pastor's approval recently introduced the following practice. At the Great Amen, all the ministers are to go up to the altar and stand a few feet behind the celebrant during the Our Father the Sign of Peace and the Lamb of God. Is it acceptable to do so under the GIRM?
And what about holding hands during the Our Father?
2) After the celebrant offers the host to each of the ministers and they receive, each person steps up to the altar, takes the chalice and receives the Precious Blood on their own.
Is such self-communication correct (in the case of ministers) or must everyone have the Blood of Christ offered to them by a priest or other minister? Due to my unease with these practices, I have been declining to participate in them but I don't wish to be divisive. I look forward to your response so I may know what is the right thing to do. Thank you.
P.S. May you have a Happy Thanksgiving Day.
ANSWER by Mr. John Miskell on December 8, 2000 Dear Ron,
Somehow I missed your questions and I apologize for taking so long to answer them.
Let me begin with the practice of Eucharistic Ministers self-communicating from the chalice that is left on the altar. This practice is clearly prohibited.
The Church issued a document with the rather long title; On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest. This document, issued on 15 August 1997 but only published on November 13, 1997, is the work of eight Roman Dicasteries. Its scope is;
to provide a clear, authoritative response to the many pressing requests which have come to (these) dicasteries from Bishops, Priests and laity seeking clarification in the light of specific cases of new forms of 'pastoral activity' of the non-ordained. Further, it points out that certain practices, harmful to ecclesial communion, have developed, and that these 'tend to predominate in certain areas of the world [Vatican Press Office release]. This document addresses the situation you question.
Article 8: The Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion
To avoid creating confusion, certain practices are to be avoided and eliminated where such have emerged in particular Churches: (They are;) - extraordinary ministers receiving Holy Communion apart from the other faithful as though concelebrants;
Other authoritative documents address the subject as well. Communion is a gift of the Lord, given to the faithful through the minister appointed for this purpose. It is not permitted that the faithful should themselves pick up the consecrated bread and the sacred chalice, still less that they should hand them from one to the other. [Inaestimabile Donum, # 9] The chalice is always offered to the communicant with the words The Blood of Christ, to which the communicant responds, Amen. [NCCB/USCC This Holy and Living Sacrifice #45] The chalice may never be left on the altar or another place to be picked up by the communicant for self-communication (except in the case of concelebrating bishops or priests), nor may the chalice be passed from one communicant to another. There shall always be a minister of the cup. [Ibid. # 46] Next, let me address the practice of having all the ministers (lectors, cantors, EM's etc..) During the liturgy of the Eucharist, only the presiding celebrant remains at the altar. The assembly of the faithful take their place in the Church outside the presbyterium (sanctuary) , which is reserved for the celebrant or concelebrants and altar ministers (servers) [Notitiae (Instructions for Sacraments and Divine Worship) Vol. XVII (1981) p. 61] Finally let's look at hand-holding. The Sacred Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship has issued a number of Clarifications and Interpretations of the GIRM. These interpretations affect the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and are binding. . . .holding hands is a sign of intimacy and not reconciliation, and as such disrupts the flow of the Sacramental signs in the Mass which leads to the Sacramental sign of intimacy with Christ and our neighbor, Holy Communion. [Clarifications and Interpretations of the GIRM Notitiae Vol. XI (1975) p. 226] God bless you, John Miskell
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