Thursday, August 11, 2005

On the Proper Activity of EME's

I just read the 1997 instruction Ecclesiae de Mysterio, which deals with contemporary issues regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained in the duties of the ministerial priesthood. The document was signed off by eight dicasteries of the Holy See, including the CDF, the CDWDS, the Pontifical Council for the Clergy, and the Congregations for the Clergy and for Bishops. While I would certainly recommend reading it, most of the contents and clarifications are not new to those who are knowledgeable in liturgical law. The emphasis on terminology is important, as the document distinguishes between munera ("function" - the Latin term is also prominent in the Code of Canon Law) and officia, with the laity having God-given gifts which are to be used in ecclesial functions, but which should not be viewed as supplanting the office of the ministerial priesthood with the abilities of the common.

At any rate, what I wish to comment on is the section on Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist (EME). The instruction lists three practices which are to be particularly "avoided and eliminated" when it comes to the use of EME's. Two of these - the use of any EME "renewal of promises" which parallel religious vows, and the habitual use of EME's to the extent that judgment behind their usage becomes largely arbitrary - are obvious enough, with only the latter appearing to be a very widespread abuse. However, the document also says that compentent authorities must be on guard against "extraordinary ministers receiving Holy Communion apart from the other faithful as though concelebrants" (Part 4, Article 8, 2).

I am trying to understand how this directive should be properly understood and implemented. I cannot recall seeing a parish use any other practice than having EME's come forward to receive the Eucharist separately from the assembly, followed by their being given the species to distribute to the faithful. Does this constitute a confusing and exceptional means of receiving the Body and Blood apart from the assembly? Or are we to understand the directive specifically through the lens of the phrase "as though concelebrants," thereby only taking offense if EME's assume activities explicitly reserved to concelebrants (e.g. self-communicating)? This does not really seem to be the case, since self-communicating is the only major distinctive act of concelebrants after the Eucharistic Prayer, and the instruction would surely have mentioned self-communication specifically if it was the overriding issue.

However, the position concelebrants take within the sanctuary and near the altar is also quite privileged; and so it is possible that EME's are being exhorted not to mimic that role. Of course, I find it hard to see how any of the assembly (who had been paying any attention whatsoever throughout the Liturgy of the Eucharist) could possibly mistake an EME coming up well after the Eucharistic Prayer for a concelebrant. There is also the fact that the practice of having EME's step forward is simply the most efficient and practical. If anything, I would say that the restriction should be placed on their stepping into and waiting in the sanctuary before the priest communicates (plenty of parishes instruct the EME's to wait until after the priest communicates, rather than during or immediately after the sign of peace). I think, naturally, that it would be most fitting to have EME's not enter the sanctuary at all; but then there is the legitimate question of requiring the priest to bring Communion and the ciboria and chalices down to each EME.

These are mostly practical considerations, and it will certainly depend upon a proper evaluation of the individual parish situation and sanctuary scheme when it comes to implementation. If there are any other thoughts or insights into this particular directive, please place a comment.

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