Guide for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion

What is an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion?

The extraordinary minister of Holy Communion is a lay person who has been commissioned to distribute Holy Communion in the case of a serious necessity and when there are not sufficient priests or deacons available.

The extraordinary minister is called extraordinary in order to be distinguished from the ordinary minister of Holy Communion, who is a bishop, priest, or deacon (Code of Canon Law, c. 910).

What is the proper name for this role?

In different places, you might hear those who perform this function called "Eucharistic ministers," "special ministers," "Communion ministers," or something similar. The proper name for the person who performs this function is "extraordinary minister of Holy Communion." Technically speaking, the only "minister of the Eucharist" is a priest, since he is the only one able to consecrate the sacrament. A recent document from the Vatican, Redemptionis Sacramentum, clarifies the terminology as follows:

This function is to be understood strictly according to the name by which it is known, that is to say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not “special minister of Holy Communion” nor “extraordinary minister of the Eucharist” nor “special minister of the Eucharist”, by which names the meaning of this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened. (Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 156)

May an extraordinary minister delegate someone to take his/her place?

Unless that person is also a lawfully commissioned extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, no. Redemptionis Sacramentum explains:

It is never allowed for the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion to delegate anyone else to administer the Eucharist, as for example a parent or spouse or child of the sick person who is the communicant. (Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 159)

At Mass

During the sign of peace, go to the sacristy and sanitize your hands.

During the "Lamb of God," come to the foot of the sanctuary steps and stand to the side.

Once the priest has drunk from the chalice, enter the sanctuary and line up.

Distribute Holy Communion.

Bring chalices to the credence table. Bring ciboria to the altar.

If necessary, you may consume any of the Precious Blood that remains (Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at Mass). The priest or deacon can also do this for you.

Return reverently to your place.

What do I do if a Host falls or the Precious Blood is spilled?

Remember that Christ is completely present under even the smallest recognizable particle of the Host or drop of the Precious Blood. Therefore, these small particles and drops must be treated with the utmost reverence.

Sometimes, accidents happen. If they are not intentional or due to culpable negligence, then they are not sinful. The best thing to do is to proceed calmly, if necessary getting the attention of the priest, especially if the Precious Blood has spilled.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal instructs: 

If a host or any particle should fall, it is to be picked up reverently. If any of the Precious Blood is spilled, the area where the spill occurred should be washed with water, and this water should then be poured into the sacrarium in the sacristy. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002), n. 280)

What is the sacrarium?

The sacrarium is the small sink in the sacristy that leads directly to the ground rather than to the sewer. The sacrarium is used for reverently disposing of sacred items like holy water, the water used for cleansing the altar linens or the sacred vessels, etc.

Recognizable particles of the Host or the Precious Blood must never be poured down the sacrarium (see Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 107). They must be consumed.

When Visiting the Sick

When taking Holy Communion to someone who cannot attend Mass, an extraordinary minister should use a pyx (a special container for transporting the Blessed Sacrament). The parish has these available for use.

The Eucharist should be taken immediately from the church to the person who is to receive it, without other stops or errands beforehand if at all possible: 

A Priest or Deacon, or an extraordinary minister who takes the Most Holy Eucharist when an ordained minister is absent or impeded in order to administer it as Communion for a sick person, should go insofar as possible directly from the place where the Sacrament is reserved to the sick person’s home, leaving aside any profane business so that any danger of profanation may be avoided and the greatest reverence for the Body of Christ may be ensured. Furthermore the Rite for the administration of Communion to the sick, as prescribed in the Roman Ritual, is always to be used. (Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 133)

What do I do with the pyx?

If any of the Blessed Sacrament remains, it should be brought back to the church immediately and reposed in the tabernacle. If this is not possible, it can be practical to make sure that all of the Blessed Sacrament is distributed (e.g., by giving the last person that one visits two Hosts).

Remember, also, that any recognizable particles of the Host must be consumed. If the pyx cannot be brought back to the church and reposed right away, then it is best for the extraordinary minister himself to consume any particles that remain.

The pyx should be purified by a priest or deacon when it is brought back to the church. It can be left by the sacrarium in the sacristy as a reminder to them.