Tuesday, October 1, 2013

An EMHC writes to me, puts a face on the role

The other day, I was so disheartened by a truly pitiful remark by someone about lay people who take Holy Communion to the sick, I addressed it in a post: "The problem with the traditional fringe..."  Part of my anger over it stemmed from the way all EMHC's (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion) were broad-brushed in a very negative way, for the misguided things that some do. The other part of my anger flew forth from the damage that I saw such words causing for other tradition-minded Catholics.  Every time a tradition-minded Catholic flies off the handle with a sophomoric remark, he or she doesn't only put their spiritual immaturity on display, they inflict a wound on the Body of Christ by way of the rash judgment in which they engage.

Knowing what I do about the people in my own parish, which offers both the EF and a very traditionally celebrated OF Mass, I think there is a silent majority which does not approve of the behavior I talked about in that post, any more than it approves of behaviors by some EMHC's.  Many, sadly, are not properly trained.

Thankfully, God, in his mercy, can read the hearts of those who do this out of genuine love for others and for the Eucharist.  But the same God can read the hearts of the self-righteous, so we should also beg mercy for them.

EMHC's have become the butt of jokes because some bishops and priests have over-used them during Mass (see GIRM 162 and RS 88).  I've been at a daily Mass with no more than 30 people, and there were three EMHC's when none were really required because the fullness of the Eucharist is in the smallest Particle of the Host. This is why Redemptionis Sacramentum says the Communion-plate should be retained, yet it is rarely seen, even in Cathedrals (see RS 93)

A Reader Comments

A comment just dropped into the thread, which I share here. Jenna puts a face on the EMHC who carries our Eucharistic Lord to nursing homes.  I wonder how many self-righteous Catholics even visit nursing homes.

Thank you for this post! I have been bringing Holy Communion to the nursing home on Sundays for several years now. There are only 2 priests at our parish (and one very elderly at that), and many retirement and nursing homes to attend to in our area. So we, the lay people, have to do this. But there is a severe shortage of lay people that want to go to the nursing homes. 

I have also read some very snarky comments about EMHC's, and it has made me wonder if I should be doing what I do. (By the way, I did not have any real training and would love to know about those prayers your priest gave you when you were in the hospital.)
But then when I go there, and the people are so happy to see me, and so happy to be receiving Jesus, it's affirming and rewarding. But I don't do what I do to be rewarded or affirmed by the people I visit. I do it for Jesus. 

I do worry however about showing enough reverence for our Lord, as sometimes it is very difficult in nursing home situations. So I do the best that I can, and I pray that God is happy with what I'm doing.  

I have made many good friends over the years and I know that many of them are now praying for me in heaven. 


My Response

I'm going to answer Jenna's question, along with much more information which I invite all Catholics to read, including those who are blessed to have enough priests/deacons that there is no need for lay people to do this. 

First, The prayers are isolated from the Roman Missal for Communion outside of Mass in this document from the Diocese of Evansville.    This contains the updated language. This should be easy to print out. 

Secondly, I don't think you are the only person who seems to be lacking formal training.  Ask your pastor about this training.  Most dioceses have something more formal and it should include education on the Eucharist. It's never too late.  And, I would not stop my training there.  

Pete Vere, JCL, a man well known to many traditionalists, wrote a helpful document: "When Lay Ministers Take Holy Communion to the Sick."  He writes this as a canon lawyer, so it goes into some of the codes, but is a very easy, and informative read. Here is one snippet.

Fifth, a lay minister should observe the proper liturgical rite when taking Holy Communion to the sick. Depending upon the particular circumstances, there are several liturgical rites a layperson may use outside of the Mass. A lay minister should consult with the pastor when he or she is uncertain which rite to use. A lay minister should also prepare carefully, making sure that he or she is familiar with the rite and completely understands it. If the lay minister remains uncertain about a prayer, a reading, or an action to be carried out during the rite, he or she should consult with the pastor. 
Ordinary Visits to the Sick, the Elderly, and the Infirm 
A lay minister of Holy Communion may be called to visit the sick in a number of different surroundings. These may include private homes, hospital rooms, or nursing homes. There may be one sick person to visit or there may be several. Some will suffer the physical and mental effects of sickness, age or infirmity more strongly than others. Whenever it is possible, celebrating the Rite of Communion and the Celebration of the Word should be part of a more comprehensive visit with the sick. 
Because there is a short form and a long form of this rite, the lay minister of Holy Communion should carefully weigh each of the aforementioned facts. For instance, the long form is generally considered more appropriate for communal celebrations where those gathered are just beginning to feel the affects of their illness, infirmity, and age. Thus this rite is more appropriate in retirement homes or assisted-living facilities, where the sick and the elderly are gathered in great numbers and remain highly functional.

Further Reading

Something I would recommend to all lay people assisting the Church in any capacity, is a document written by Bishop Robert W. Vasa, now of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, when he was the head of the Baker, Oregon Church.  It's called, Giving Testimony to the Truth It is basic Catholic teaching, but many have not been taught these fundamental things.  Hopefully, this will enlighten anyone who reads it.  We are all the face of the Church and must mirror the love of Christ.  But, we must give proper witness.  This kind of message is sadly missing from most diocesan and parish training, I believe.


A book on the Eucharist in general that I recommend to all Catholics is a small book written by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, ORC called, Dominus Est – It Is the Lord! Reflections of a Bishop of Central Asia on Holy Communion.  Bishop Schneider is a patristics scholar who knows many languages which gives him access to books other scholars might not have.  He begins talking about his childhood after his family was exiled to Kazakhstan.  He explains how he had to receive his First Holy Communion in secrecy behind the Iron Curtain.  Then the bishop goes into what he learned by studying how the early Church distributed Communion, dispelling some popular understandings as to the way Communion was received in the hand.  His work was read by Pope Benedict and an excerpt appeared in the L'Osservatore Romano.  The bishop was flooded with mail from around the world, including many bishops, who thanked him for his work.  

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