Communion vessels

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: At the time for the priest to distribute the communion vessels off the altar to the extraordinary ministers, do you think it would be an abuse to have the priest hand some vessels first to the sacristan who can also help distribute vessels? The priest would still be the one to remove from altar. From reading your notes, it seems that the rubrics seem to be specific that the priest hand it to the minister of the vessel (#40 of NDRCH). With our layout around the altar and with the EMs circling around the sanctuary, it is a lot of walking back and forth and around for the priest. A sacristan’s assistance would shorten this action which currently is a bit lengthy.

Thank you for any wisdom,


A: I wouldn’t label this an “abuse”, but, no, the rubrics are as you suspect they are. GIRM 162 says that communion ministers “are always to receive from the hands of the Priest Celebrant the vessel containing the species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful.” The directive you cite, NDRCH 40, allows the deacon to “assist the Priest in handing the vessels containing the Body and Blood of the Lord to the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.” Furthermore, GIRM 160 says, “It is not permitted for the faithful to take the consecrated Bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them on from one to another among themselves.”

I probably have fewer ministers than you do, but at daily Mass I give the Body of Christ to the ministers, and then I give the chalices to every other minister. They may administer communion to another minister, they just may not pass the vessels from one to another. On Sundays, when I have a deacon, he assists me by administering the chalices, again to every other minister, and that saves some of the time.

I suspect the reasons for these directives are twofold. First, extraordinary ministers of holy communion are just that—ministers of communion, not of ancillary services. Second, the priest is carrying out the fourfold structure of the Liturgy of the Eucharist that comes to us in many places in the New Testament, where Jesus “took, blessed, broke and gave” bread. The priest’s responsibilities include giving communion to the faithful. When he places a vessel in the hands of a communion minister, he is performing an act of delegation that more directly appoints a person to extend his own ministry.

Of course, this only applies to Mass. A commissioned communion minister may open the tabernacle outside Mass and withdraw a vessel to distribute communion.