US Catholic Faith in Real Life

What's so bad about communion ministers?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

A surprising element of the ongoing debate about the Phoenix diocese's decision to more or less eliminate regular access to the cup for the assembly is a fear (completely unfounded in my mind) that lay communion ministers (now styled "extraordinary ministers of holy communion) will somehow obscure the roles of the priest and deacon. This concern is actually used to argue that the faithful shouldn't be offered the blood of Christ even on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ ("Corpus Christi"), which is one of the times it would be permitted, for fear that lay communion ministers would be "disproportionately multiplied."

What are we afraid of? I hardly think that any rational person is going to confuse a communion minister with a priest, unless we are going to start dressing communion ministers in alb and chasuble, have them read all the presider's parts, proclaim the gospel and preach, etc. Plus, since the majority of communion ministers in my experience are women, I hardly see the possibility of confusion.

Most of these arguments are based on some interpretation of the law, but I can see no theological reason for restricting the ministry of communion, unless you want to say laypeople aren't holy enough or something, which is just rotten theology. Besides, many laypeople take communion to the sick. Are the few priests we have left going to fill that gap? Or will we starve the sick of the body of Christ? The answer to both is no, so clearly this is just about roles in the liturgy, merely legal rather than theological or doctrinal.

Just on the experiential level, I have found lay communion ministers to be far more prayerful and reverent when they distribute communion than many deacons, priests, and bishops. Indeed, many seem profoundly touched by the honor of offering the body and blood of Christ to a fellow member of his body; my own appreciation for the mystery of our communion with Christ has certainly grown when I have served as a communion minister. Joe Walsh in suburban Chicago wrote a terrific piece for us about his own spirituality of communion ministry. Now, how is this bad?

It would be a tragedy if this ministry were restricted once again just because of a clerical identity crisis. If anything, we should all think of ourselves as servers at the Lord's Table, whether in the liturgy or outside it.

Related: Truthiness in Phoenix about communion from the cup

Feeding the hunger: The spirituality of being a communion minister