By Father Kyle Seyler
There will soon be a change in policy regarding extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in our parish, one that pertains to the Sacrifice of the Mass. As many of you know, up until now, it has been the practice of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to go to the tabernacle themselves, immediately following the Mass, to take the Blessed Sacrament and bring this gift to those homebound, hospitalized, and in nursing care facilities whom they visit each week. Having both the approval of the pastor and the support of the pastoral council, I will be instituting a change that I first saw at my first parish assignment as a seminarian in Erie many years ago.
Going forward, starting at a date yet to be determined, those extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion who bring this Sacrament to the homebound/hospitalized/in nursing homes will come to the sacristy before the start of the Mass in which they are participating. They will give the sacristan, the priest, or the deacon their pyxes (if they have their own), to be placed on a tray of some kind, with a small piece of paper detailing their names and the number of hosts they need for their visits. At the start of the Mass, the tray with the pyxes will be on the high altar, near the tabernacle. After the distribution of Holy Communion, the priest or deacon who reposes the ciborium of hosts in the tabernacle will place the needed hosts into the pyxes and then bring the tray down and set it on a corporal on the main altar. Then, after the Prayer after Communion, immediately following the announcements, the priest will call forward the aforementioned extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, who will come up and stand at the foot of the sanctuary (bottom of the steps), facing him. The priest will then bring them the tray from the altar and distribute their pyxes to them. After this, he will offer a brief prayer over them and give them a special blessing, sending them forth from the Mass, there and then, to the people who they will visit. At some point later in the day/week, the extraordinary ministers will bring the pyxes back to the church (to the sacristy), until the next weekend Mass they attend, and so forth and so on. Under this new policy, lay people will not be going to and from the tabernacle, except under certain circumstances – for example, the sacristans going to and from it before the Mass starts to determine how many altar breads need to be put out and consecrated for the Mass, and any extraordinary ministers who come to the church alone, at a later time of the day, to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament or bring remaining hosts back to the tabernacle after they have made all their visits.
There are several reasons for/benefits of making this policy change. First, this new practice will visually and audibly highlight the importance of the ministry of bringing Holy Communion to those who cannot be physically present with us for the Mass, reminding all our parishioners that there are many of them who cannot come to the Mass and have a deep longing to be there in person. This practice will place greater emphasis on our solidarity with them in the life of the parish. Second, this new practice will foster greater reverence for the Blessed Sacrament in a number of ways. It will combat the temptation to casualize being in the sanctuary and approaching our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I believe that in many parishes in our diocese and in our country, there needs to be a greater awareness of the sanctity of the church building and especially of the sanctuary, which is the part of the church proper to the clergy (and altar servers during the Mass) and is the place where the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered and where Christ is reserved in the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. We know from the Old Testament that the people of ancient Israel had a strong sense of the power of God’s presence among them, first in the meeting tent during their sojourn in the desert, following the exodus from Egypt, and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. They took the presence of the Lord very seriously; it should be all the more so with us, given that we have the fullness of divine worship, of which the ancient worship was only a shadow, and the Real Presence of the Lord in the Sacrament of His love. Also, the new practice we are adopting will combat the temptation to see the Blessed Sacrament as something “taken,” as opposed to properly seeing it as something “given, received, and brought/carried to" those who cannot receive it in the Mass. Third, in connection with the second reason, the new practice will promote greater security for the Blessed Sacrament, given the tragic reality that there are people who come to the Mass in many Catholic churches in order to steal a Sacred Host for one reason or another, which is made possible by leaving the key in the tabernacle after and between Masses. Fourth and finally, the new practice will work at fostering priestly vocations by respecting and revering the sublime role of the priest in the Mass and His uniquely intimate relationship with Christ, particularly in the Blessed Sacrament. As I have said before, bishops and priests are the only “Eucharistic Ministers” because they are the only ones who can “confect” the Sacrament (i.e. make the Mass happen and change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ). They are men of the Eucharist and are the spiritual fathers of the Church who provide this divine food and drink to their flocks. In the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord gives Himself to His holy people, always through the priest and never apart from the priest. Furthermore, the priest is also guardian of the Blessed Sacrament, a divine gift entrusted to his care that must be defended against profanation. In light of all this, the new practice being established in our parishes will improve our understanding and appreciation of the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament (in the context of both adoration and spiritual nourishment), and the Sacred, or Ministerial, Priesthood.