Do you know of a document that gives norms of what extraordinary ministers of holy Communion can and cannot do? Also, are they able to expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament for adoration?
—Name withheld, via email
Answer: Yes, there are norms. The most authoritative norms come from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The title of the document is “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at Mass.”
The brevity of this column makes it impossible to speak of every aspect of this ministry. However, some of the more common questions and concerns that are addressed in this document are as follows.
Extraordinary ministers of holy Communion should be theologically and spiritually trained for this ministry. They should exhibit the greatest reverence for the Eucharist by their demeanor, their attire and the manner in which they handle the consecrated species. They should only be used if ordinary ministers (bishops, priests, deacons) are not present. They should not approach the altar until after the celebrant has received Communion. If patens or ciboria are brought from the tabernacle, this should be done by the priest or deacon. They must receive Communion before distributing it to others. They should not take patens or chalices from the altar themselves, but should receive them from the priest or deacon.
In distributing Communion, they must follow the wording, “the Body of Christ” or “The Blood of Christ.” No words or names should be added.
Only a priest, deacon or instituted acolyte may purify the vessels after Communion. If there is an extra amount of the precious blood that remains, extraordinary ministers may assist in consuming it.
In the absence of a priest or deacon, an extraordinary minister may expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament. But they do not confer blessings, or wear the cope or veil. Neither do they incense or say prayers. They simply place the Blessed Sacrament out for adoration or return it to the tabernacle.
The Good Thief
Question: In St. Luke’s Gospel, there is mention of the Good Thief on the cross near Jesus who repents. No name is given him, but most say his name is “Dismas.” Is this true?
—B. Quinn, Philadelphia
Answer: We don’t know. The story itself is very moving, and there is naturally a human tendency to want to know more. Thus traditions and legends often arise in cases like these. But the historical accuracy of such things is often difficult to assess. “St. Dismas” is a name that tradition supplies us in the Western Church.
Interesting though these traditions are, we sometimes miss the main point when biblical figures are not named. If you are prepared to accept it, you are the good thief who “steals heaven,” if you are willing to repent, take up your cross, be crucified with Jesus and persevere to the end, asking God’s mercy and admission to his kingdom.
The “good thief” was not so much good as he was smart. He knew he was a sinner, justly condemned, and that his only hope was grace and mercy. Having repented, he turns to Jesus and in faith seeks his salvation. Jesus says, “No one who comes to me will I ever reject” (Jn 6:37). Thus he is saved. Smart!
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.