Today I was asked to be an (extraordinary) minister of the Precious Blood at the 12pm Mass. It’s struck me recently just how big of a task this is. Remember that the priest celebrating Mass celebrates in persona Christi – in the person of Christ. When the priest says the words of institution, Christ Himself is speaking – through the priest, to the Father, in the Spirit, with the people praying along with the priest. (I’m disturbed that I almost typed that the priest says the words of institution to the people… this is why we need ad Orientem prayer). When the priest says “the Body of Christ” to each communicant, it is Christ Himself, through the priest, speaking these words. So, when one is an extraordinary minister of the Precious Body or Blood, one is representing and speaking as Christ (though not quite in the same way as the ordained priest). One has the responsibility of being Christ during the distribution of communion. Of course, this is true at all times, not just during the liturgy, but it is especially true at this official worship of the gathered mystical body of Christ.
This is why I’m not a big fan of extraordinary ministers of communion. I wonder how many people realize how serious a task is the distribution of communion. From my parish at home and my time at Boston College, I’ve come to realize that the position of extraordinary minister of communion is often used as something to get students or parishioners to “actively participate” in the Mass (though this could easily distract them rather than help them participate. More on this in another later post). In other words, the position of extraordinary minister becomes ordinary. Not only does this ministry lose its meaning, but the meaning of the priest’s role as ordinary minister of communion is blurred. Now, I’m not against the position per se. If a priest serves at a parish without any other priests or deacons to help him, it makes sense to have one, two, maybe three ministers to aid with communion. (Remember that it’s not a necessity to offer the Precious Blood at every Mass. In fact, it’s recommended that the Blood be offered on special occasions, such as weddings or funerals. According to my feeble knowledge of traditional practices, usually only the priest receives from the chalice.) Undue stress should not be put on priests or deacons to travel extreme distances to help with communion, especially when the number of priests and deacons is so low that everyone needs all the help they can get. But when there is a community of over 60 or 70 Jesuits living in the building attached to the chapel that Mass is being celebrated in, surely one or two priests might be present to aid in the distribution of communion.
All in all, the only I ask is that those who serve as extraordinary ministers of communion realize what they are doing when they are doing it. They are standing in the place of Christ, and thus should order not only their exterior but especially their interior self according to that model. That is actively participating in the Mass, whether one is distributing communion or “merely” receiving it.