Dear Grace: During the Mass, is it permissible for extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist to give Communion to themselves under the species of wine? In other words, are they permitted to approach the altar on their “own” initiative and take the chalice into their own hands without first “receiving” it from another minister?
What this question refers to is the whole notion of self-communication when a person gives Communion to himself. This is never permissible. The priest, after he has received Communion, takes the paten or ciborium and goes to the communicants, who, as a rule, approach in a procession. The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them from one to another (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 160).
What is important to keep in mind here is that there is no “taking” of Communion, rather only a “reception” of Communion. The grace that Christ offers us in these mysteries is initiated by Him, not by us. Therefore, we may never attempt to give the Eucharist to ourselves.
Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist perform a great service in assisting at Mass when needed, but we must never confuse their role with that of the priest or deacon. They are properly called “extraordinary” ministers because they are not the norm.
The priest may be assisted in the distribution of Communion by other priests who happen to be present. If such priests are not present and there is a very large number of communicants, the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, e.g., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose. In case of necessity, the priest may depute suitable faithful for this single occasion (GIRM, no. 162).
Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion, and they are always to receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing either species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful. (GIRM, no. 162). The “ordinary” minister of Holy Communion at Mass and outside of Mass is the ordained bishop, priest, or deacon. After them, an instituted acolyte is the most appropriate.
So, the answer is no. Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist may never give Communion from the chalice to themselves, nor will they wish to when they properly understand their role.
More importantly, let us focus on the fact that in the Church all the Christian faithful possess a true equality with regard to dignity, and we all have different roles that have been willed by Christ in order for the members of His Body to serve the Church’s unity and mission (CCC # 872). We are all one body, and each one of us is very important in God’s eyes.
© Copyright 2003 Grace D. MacKinnon
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Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine and teaches in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit her online at www.DearGrace.com.