Lay people and Nuns giving out Holy Communion during Mass was rightly considered an unthinkable act of sacrilege and irreverence only 30 years ago, and for centuries preceding. But now, lay people administering the Blessed Sacrament is an ordinary sight in the average Novus Ordo parish Church, and most Catholics think nothing of it - for they have been desensitized to desecration.
The terms "lay minister" and "Eucharistic minister" have been used rather loosely up until this point, because this is the terminology often found in parish bulletins. In actuality, there is no such terminology as "Eucharistic minister", the proper term is "EXTRAORDINARY MINISTER".
On January 29th 1973, an Instruction was issued by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship that authorised the introduction of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist called Immense Caritatis. This document does not grant some revolutionary indult for any and every parish to permit lay people (including Nuns) to administer Communion, it authorises the use of extraordinary ministers in CASES OF GENUINE NECESSITY which are listed as:
* When there is no priest, deacon or acolyte. * When these are prevented from administering Holy Communion because of another pastoral ministry or because of ill health or advanced age. * When the number of the faithful requesting Holy Communion is such that the celebration of the Mass or the distribution of the Eucharist outside Mass would be unduly prolonged.
The Instructions stipulates that:
"Since these faculties are granted only for the spiritual good of the faithful and for cases of genuine necessity, priests are to remember that they are not thereby excused from the task of distributing the Eucharist to the faithful who legitimately request it, and especially from taking and giving to the sick."
First of all, it is not an act of disloyalty or disobedience to question the wisdom of the document in the first place, particularly when this permission is a revolution against all pre-Vatican ll rubrics that existed for centuries, rubrics that existed for reason of reverence, to safeguard against desecration and that were a matter of Catholic common sense. But even taking this document at face-value, it is difficult to envisage circumstances that would justify the use of extraodinary ministers. Todays so called Eucharistic ministers are actually operating in defiance to existing Vatican norms.
The bishop and priest alone are the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion. The deacon is the extraordinary minister, but he must have the permission of the local ordinary or of the pastor which may be given for a grave reason, and may be legitimately presumed in case of necessity (Canon Law 844) Article 1 - of the Minister of Holy Communion. In Pope John Paul ll's Encyclical Inaestimable Donum, he clearly states the role of women in the Celebration of the Mass. His Encyclical FORBIDS WOMEN TO BECOME ALTAR SERVERS.
Father Edward Schillebeeckx, an influential liberal theologian at Vatican ll, admitted that placing deliberate ambiguity in the Council documents was a key strategy of the progressives. He said: "We have used ambiguous phrases during the Council and we (the liberal theologians) know how we shall interpret them after." The main ambiguity which probably gave rise to today's proliferation of extraordinary ministers was the justification of their use if Mass would be unduly prolonged. Now, does this mean 5 minutes or 6 minutes unduly prolonged? It depends on who interprets it. And in instructions of this nature, lack of precision gives rise to wide interpretation, and wide interpretation gives rise to the establishment of an abuse under the appearance of fidelity to Church regulations. And once a fad like "extraordinary ministers" becomes wide spread (like communion in the hand), and everybody's doing it simply because everybody's doing it, then who will pay attention to existing guidelines? Lets violate the law, and in the end we'll have the violation established as local custom.
This unlawful abuse is so well established as local custom that even Pope John Paul ll, who made at least a paper attempt to curb the abuse was completely unsuccessful. In his letter Dominicae Cenae 24th February 1980, the Pope restated the Church's teaching that "to touch the Sacred Species and to administer them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained." But for whatever reason, this 1980 document contained no threat of penalty to any laymen, priest or bishop who ignored the Pope's plea. A law without a penalty is not a law, it's a suggestion. And this 15 year old letter of Pope John Paul ll, has been taken as an unwelcome and unheeded suggestion by the hierarchy and clergy in particular the English speaking countries.
On the 21st September 1987, a letter was sent from the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Sacraments through the proper channels to a number of Episcopal Conferences, including our Australian Bishops, on the subject on Extraordinary Ministers. In summary, the letter (which can be found in Michael Davies "Privilege of the Ordained") stated that Rome has received many complaints of abuses regarding Extraordinary Ministers. As a result, the Pontifical Commission officially ruled that:
"when ordinary ministers (bishops and priests) are present at the Eucharist whether celebrating or not and are in sufficient number and are not prevented from doing so by other ministers, the extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist are NOT ALLOWED TO DISTRIBUTE COMMUNION EITHER TO THEMSELVES OR TO THE FAITHFUL.
This ruling too has been completely ignored. I ask you all, the Clergy to reconsider your positions when concerning the use of Extraordinary Ministers and to give your full obedience to the Pope and his directives. All those who believe and understand the way I do will pray that our Church leaders will finally come to the realisation that when it comes to the Blessed Sacrament, you don't reform an abuse, YOU ANNIHILATE IT !