St. Michael's Parish - Cobourg

Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion -Homily September 18, 2016

Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion                           -Homily September 18, 2016

 

This weekend we will celebrate the recognition of the Eucharistic Ministers of our parish, and we will commission them for this task for a period of time. This will be the first of several celebrations of recognition: altar servers, lectors, musicians, ushers, etc. Let me say something about these celebrations in general, and then more in particular about the ministry of holy Communion that our brothers and sisters will undertake today.

 

1. Celebrations of recognition. “In these celebrations, as in all liturgy, our primary purpose is to praise God for his gifts to us. Here we acclaim God who cares for us in all our needs. A second purpose is to enable us to recognize a particular facet of our corporate identity, to know the face of our own Christian community in those who minister among us. The third goal, the one which is specific to these celebrations, is to recognize, accept, commission and support those who help to care for our Christian community. […] All of these celebrations help to maintain order within the community of believers, clearly identifying the different ministries and mandating those who are called to a specific service.”

 

Installation or recognition? “The fundamental distinction between the role of the pastor, whose particular sacramental responsibilities are proper to holy orders, and the many essential ministries provided by the lay members of the parish community, is expressed in the different title of the celebrations. The pastor is welcomed in a celebration of installation; other ministries are acknowledged in celebrations of recognition.”

 

3. Extraordinary Ministry of Holy Communion.

“The liturgical ministry of lay people for distributing holy Communion is not really a new one in the history of the Church. According to some references in the eighth century, laypersons were often commissioned to bring holy Communion to those absent from the eucharistic celebration, to the sick or to prisoners. Later and until the twentieth century, this ministry was gradually reserved to the clergy.”

 

“On June 7, 1969, the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments granted to each of the Ordinaries in Canada: “the right to permit a qualified person to distribute Communion in churches and in public oratories during mass when it would otherwise take too long to distribute Communion, especially if there is a lack of clergy.”

 

This takes us to an interesting point. Is it licit for a lay person to distribute holy Communion? Of course it is: it is in the tradition of the Church and in the Canon Law. Does it mean that anyone can give holy Communion, or in any circumstance? No: it must be a “qualified person,” and there must be a need for it, as we have heard. Why is this so? Because the Eucharist is the greatest gift that God has given to human kind: it is the gift of himself. When something is important for us, we try to show it by visible signs: we dress better for special circumstances, and we deal more respectfully with people who have a particular role of leadership. The way to show visibly that the Eucharist is the best we have, is to allow only certain people to deal with it. If anyone could do it, we would not see clearly how important it is.

 

That is also why I would put a blurb in the bulletin if I need people to help with a bake sale or something like that. Even Fr. Andrew can help with that, if he learns to cook. But if we need ministers of holy Communion, or lectors, or something like that, I cannot give the impression that “anyone can do that”; and although Eucharistic Ministers are people like anyone else, they deal with something that is so important, that they must be “carefully chosen.”

 

I imagine that at this point the Eucharistic ministers in the parish feel a little uncomfortable. “Have we been carefully chosen? Are we not the same as everybody else? Are there no other people better than us in the parish? Are we not sometimes aware of our own lack of fitting witness?” If you feel like that, this is a good sign. Imagine how I felt when I was ordained or about to be ordained, and they told me that St. Francis of Assisi had refused to become a priest because his soul was not pure enough… Still, it is true that a Eucharistic minister, precisely because of this ministry, has a greater responsibility of being a witness to the faith.

 

4. Duties and responsibilities

Let me read an extract from a letter of Bishop De Angelis, in response to my request of instituting Eucharistic Ministers at St. Michael’s, in 2011: “Please remind them that they are called to serve with humility. In fact, they must be always aware that it is Jesus that they give to the people. Therefore, they must strive to live exemplary lives, especially making use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to prepare themselves to worthily act as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. They must likewise remain faithful to the official teachings of the Church. By their own comportment and views they must be witnesses of fidelity to Christ and His Church. Their function is a privilege and not a right.

 

May God bless them with a humble sense of dedication in the building up of the Kingdom of God, by cooperating with their Bishop and pastor. In their lives may they be ever conscious of their Christian calling to be witnesses of Jesus in all that they do.”

 

In the book of celebrations and recognitions, it says: “The persons commissioned as extraordinary (or auxiliary) ministers of Communion are to be carefully chosen: they should distinguish themselves by their Christian life, faith and morals; they should strive to be worthy of this great office; they should deepen their devotion to the Eucharist and be an example to others by their piety and reverence for this sacrament. Amongst other things, they are to be properly instructed in eucharistic doctrine, in the meaning of their ministry, in the rubrics to be observed and in the reverence to be shown.”

 

I want to thank them for their ministry at St. Michael’s: I know that sometimes it may be demanding and difficult. I want to encourage them to fulfil their ministry in the best possible way. I ask the parish community to be also thankful to God and to them for their ministry, and to pray for all who give holy Communion to their brothers and sisters, so that we may be less unworthy to touch with our own hands the body of Christ.  –Fr. Andrew