Q: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal has:
“284. When Communion is distributed under both kinds:
a) the chalice is usually administered by a Deacon or, in the absence of a Deacon, by a Priest, or even by a duly instituted acolyte or another extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, or by one of the faithful who, in a case of necessity, has been entrusted with this duty for a single occasion;
b) whatever may remain of the Blood of Christ is consumed at the altar by the Priest or the Deacon or the duly instituted acolyte who ministered the chalice. The same then purifies, wipes and arranges the sacred vessels in the usual way.”
The altar is given as the location to consume what remains of the Blood of Christ. I think this is the only location that is given for this in the Roman Missal (n. 163, 183, 247, 279).
I am confused then, that only an instituted acolyte is listed as doing this. Does it mean that other Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion could or should consume what remains elsewhere? If it is acceptable for them to do this at, for example, the credence table, why is it required that a Deacon consumes what remains of the Precious Blood at the altar?
A: Here in the US, we have some clarifications through the Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America. I’m told that the practice in Australia differs.
So let’s drill into the particular paragraph you cite, which both of our conferences share.
Because the GIRM is dealing with Mass, and not with, say, communion to the sick, it treats the procedures for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Extraordinary ministers of holy communion are just that: distributors of holy communion. They serve at Mass with the ordinary minister, the priest, and perhaps with other ministers. Explanations concerning the drinking of the Precious Blood, the location for doing so, and the cleansing of vessels pertain to one of these other ministers who would be present with the extraordinary one.
The GIRM does not expressly forbid extraordinary ministers to perform these actions, though NDRHC does.
In the US, a bishop may permit extraordinary ministers to consume what remains in their chalices. He could then direct them to the credence table. I think the GIRM mentions the altar simply because it is the most logical place to return vessels as the communion rite draws to a close.
In my view, the GIRM has not thought through the situation that many of our parishes faced in the years before the pandemic: multiple vessels and ministers, multiple stations, and a lacuna on explaining who may consume the remains and then purify the vessels. The GIRM provided guidelines with smaller celebrations in mind.