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“Ask a Priest: Should Extraordinary Ministers Stand Behind the Priest at the Consecration?”
Q: I’m an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion who is uncomfortable with what I might be asked to do the next time I’m to serve. A friend said that before the processional in the Mass she was to serve in, the ministers were asked for one of them to stand behind our priest as he said the words of consecration, in order to be ready to help distribute the body and blood of Christ to the ministers standing near the altar. None of them was willing to do this, and I don’t feel right doing it either … although I don’t know why. I’ve tried to find the answer online and haven’t had any luck. Can you help me with this? -V.C.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Thanks for your concern about the proper placement of extraordinary ministers at Mass.
The answer is no, the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should not be behind the priest at the moment of the consecration at Mass.
A webpage on Liturgy Guides, posted on the U.S. bishops’ conference site, says explicitly:
“If extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are required by pastoral need, they should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion. After the priest has concluded his own Communion, he distributes Communion to the extraordinary ministers, assisted by the deacon, and then hands the sacred vessels to them for distribution of Holy Communion to the people.”
So, the principal celebrant needs to have received the Host and the Precious Blood before the extraordinary ministers draw near the altar.
There might be various motivations for this norm. Among them: It prevents confusion about the role of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and that of deacons, concelebrating priests, and masters of ceremonies. These last three categories of ministers or assistants can be near the priest at the time when he receives Communion.
The norm also helps prevent needless distractions in the sanctuary at an important moment of the Mass.
I hope this helps. God bless.