Communion in prison

Inmates can serve as extraordinary ministers ­— i f they are repentant and strive to be models of virtue

Question: I am an inmate in a state correctional institution. I find it scandalous that some inmates are allowed to be extraordinary ministers of holy Communion at Mass. Is it really acceptable to have inmates act as extraordinary ministers? After all, none of us is here for anything noble. 

— Name withheld, Waymart, Pa. 

Answer: If there is a real need for them, such that Communion would be unduly prolonged without them, then the Church generally allows for the use of extraordinary ministers of holy Communion at Mass. Accordingly, such ministers might be necessary at Masses in a prison if the Catholic population is very large. 

In general, those who are chosen to be extraordinary ministers of holy Communion must be people of solid faith, have a firm belief in the Eucharist, be regular participants in the liturgical life of the Church and — not least — be people in good standing in the community and recognized as among those who live out the Faith in their daily lives. 

Can prisoners who have committed crimes fulfill the requirements for being an extraordinary minister? I suggest they can. If a prisoner has truly repented of his or her crime, seeks to live the Christian life within prison, and is accepted by his or her fellow Catholics in the prison as a model inmate and a man or woman of virtue, then there would be no good reason not to depute him or her as an extraordinary minister. 

You say that you find it scandalous that some inmates are extraordinary ministers in your correctional facility. Your objection would certainly be valid if the people chosen for the ministry of Communion did not fulfill the requirements I just outlined. But if they do fulfill them, then it is important to recognize that Christ calls broken and imperfect people to do his ministry in the world — in prisons, as well. Express your thoughts to the Catholic chaplain in charge, and he may be able to relieve your concern. 

Gender-free language 

Question: I am a member of a women’s religious community. Recently, our community received a new book of the Liturgy of the Hours. What bothers me is that nowhere in the book is God referred to in the masculine gender. Why these changes now, and who authorized them? 

— Name withheld, St. Louis, Mo. 

Answer: The Liturgy of the Hours to which you refer certainly does not reflect any officially acceptable Catholic translation of the psalms — or the Bible in general. There are a number of Bibles that use gender-neutral language for God, but these are not approved for use in Catholic liturgy. 

It is possible that whatever body in your congregation put the new Liturgy of the Hours together is using material from the 1995 psalter produced by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). This psalter is most renowned for its complete avoidance of masculine language when referring to God. It received the imprimatur of the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, but this imprimatur was withdrawn in 1998. 

I would surmise that the ICEL psalter is still in wide circulation in religious communities, against the wishes of the Holy See and the various official agencies that oversee Catholic religious life. No official body in the Church would approve a psalter which avoids traditional Trinitarian God language. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.