On June 10, the Church will celebrate the solemnity of the Most
Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Prior to 1970, the feasts of
Corpus Christi and the Most Precious Blood were observed separately.
Pope Urban IV extended the feast of Corpus Christi to the
universal Church in 1246 during a time when few received Holy
Communion. Pope Pius IX instituted the celebration of the feast
of the Most Precious Blood in the middle of the nineteenth century
to emphasize the saving power of the blood of Christ. The
solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is observed
with eucharistic processions and opportunities for adoration. The
celebrations focus on bringing about a stronger sense among the
faithful of the importance of the Eucharist in our lives of faith.
The solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
is an opportunity for parishes once again to commit to further
develop in the community the full, conscious, and active participation
called for in the celebration of the Eucharist. Parish leadership
or liturgy committees might review how the Communion Rite is
celebrated in the parish. Is it celebrated with joy and reverence in
a dignified manner that makes it obvious that receiving the body
and blood of Christ is at the very heart of our Christian lives?
Parishes that do not distribute Holy Communion under
both species might want to re-examine that. It has been more
than 20 years since the faithful in the United States have been
receiving Communion from the chalice, responding to Jesus' command
to "take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of
my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant . . . ."
And so, in memory of him, we do as we are commanded: coming
together on the Lord's Day, the body of Christ gathers for the
eucharistic banquet, and we receive the cup of salvation. In memory
of him, we drink from the chalice, receiving the blood of
Christ, the new covenant through which God redeems, saves, and
makes us his own. In memory of him, we receive the cup into our
hands and, in so doing, we commit ourselves to living in imitation
of him. In both memory and imitation of him, we receive the
cup-the image Christ used in referencing the heart of his messianic
mission, the sacrifice he made on the cross, asking, "can you,
too, drink from it?" (Matthew 20:22). In receiving from the cup,
we commit ourselves to living lives of self-sacrifice for others.
With the offering of the Precious Blood to the faithful in
Communion, other ministers are needed to assist the priest. To
help facilitate this, the Church has authorized bishops to mandate
trained extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.
When the priest or the deacon offers the cup, the extraordinary
minister responds, "Amen," receives the cup, and drinks from it.
This is a profound act of faith. The document of the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops, Norms for the Distribution and
Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of
the United States, notes that "the communicant's 'Amen' is a profession
in the presence of the saving Christ, body and blood, soul
and divinity, who now gives life to the believer" (#15). After
receiving from the cup, the extraordinary minister wipes the rim
of the cup with the purificator, and, with the cup, proceeds to the
assigned station. To avoid confusing the communicants, who may
think the minister has a plate of consecrated bread, the extraordinary
minister of the cup might wait a few steps away from the
assigned spot until the consecrated bread is in place.
Be sure to leave enough space between the stations where
the body of Christ and the blood of Christ are received. This will
help alleviate any back up of communicants, where those waiting
to receive from the cup are blocking those who have yet to receive
the body of Christ.
Extraordinary ministers of the cup noticing that the procession
has slowed because of communicants waiting for the cup
should move to make more room. After a communicant has given
back the cup and before the next communicant in line approaches,
take a step away from the person with the body of Christ. The
next communicant in the procession will most likely understand
what the extraordinary minister is trying to do and will follow.
In offering the cup, be sure to hand it completely to the
communicant. If the communicant wavers, or seems unsure of
whether to receive the cup, an extraordinary minister could give
some gentle direction.
Remember that not all communicants will drink from the
cup. Extraordinary ministers should not give the impression that
all should receive from the cup. The extraordinary minister is a
servant (in imitation of Christ, remember) who responds to the
needs of others. No judgment is made on those who do not
receive from the cup. The Church always has understood that
Christ is completely and totally received in either of the consecrated
After reaching the assigned place, the extraordinary minister
should unfold the purificator. This will allow full use of the cloth.
(Note that the purificator is, indeed, a cloth. Purificators that are
made of anything other than cloth are not permitted. There are
no disposable purificators.)
After a communicant has drunk from the cup and returned
it to the extraordinary minister, the rim is wiped with the purificator,
inside and out. The cup is turned a quarter turn before
offered to the next communicant. The purificator should be
turned in the hand each time as well, so that a clean area is used
after each communicant has drunk.
If some of the Precious Blood should spill out of the cup, the
area where the spill occurred should be washed with water and
the water poured into the sacrarium (see GIRM, #280).
Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should be well-acquainted
with the procedure in their parish for when this happens
or for when a piece of the consecrated bread is dropped.
(Extraordinary ministers should immediately pick up and consume
dropped hosts.) By knowing the procedure beforehand, the
extraordinary minister can respond with a calm reverence.
Self-intinction, where a person receives the consecrated
bread but instead of consuming it immediately approaches the
Precious Blood and dips, or intincts, it into the cup, is not permitted
(cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, #104). To avoid confusion,
be sure that the whole parish is aware of this.
After the Communion procession has ended, the extraordinary
minister should place the cup on the altar or credence table.
Any remaining Precious Blood must be consumed. Extraordinary
ministers may drink the remaining blood with permission of the
diocesan bishop. If an extraordinary minister cannot consume
what remains of the Precious Blood, assistance of other extraordinary
ministers, the priest, or deacon should be requested.
Purificators should be refolded and placed on the credence
table for later washing. Avoid stuffing the purificator into the
In October 2006, the Holy See did not renew the temporary indult
given to the bishops of the United States to allow extraordinary
ministers of Holy Communion to assist in purifying the sacred
vessels. This indult had been given in 2002 for three years. Since
the indult was not extended, extraordinary ministers of Holy
Communion may not purify cups and other Communion vessels.
Extraordinary ministers should be sure of the practice of their
parish concerning the placement of the Communion vessels for
purification. They should also be aware of any practice regarding
the further washing of communion vessels after they have been
purified. The indult cited above only concerns the ritual act of
purification of the vessels. It does not affect the custom by which
many parishes wash the vessels with soap and water after Mass.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal specifies that the
Communion song should begin while the presiding priest receives
the sacrament and continue "for as long as the Sacrament is
being administered to the faithful" (#86). The same article also
cautions, "Care should be taken that singers, too, can receive
Communion with ease." This can create something of a logistical
conundrum for music ministers regarding when and how to
receive Communion while also serving the assembly through the
entire Communion Rite.
When the music ministry at a liturgy consists solely of a
cantor and organist/pianist, options are limited. If the organist
and cantor were to receive at the beginning of the Communion
procession, the music would be delayed while the priest and
extraordinary ministers receive Communion. This distorts the
clear intention that the music for the Communion Rite starts at
the beginning of Communion. It also could give the impression
that the reception of Communion by the priest and ministers is a
separate part of the rite, rather than a seamless piece of the whole.
The Communion Song, then, should be announced (if necessary)
and begun immediately following the assembly response, "Lord,
I am not worthy. . . ." An added benefit of starting the song at the
beginning of the rite, as the GIRM specifies, is that a verse or two
of the Communion song may be started while most of the people
are still in their places. With the song or refrain already upon
their lips, they more likely will sing in the procession and after
returning to their places.
The only logical time for the cantor and organist's reception
of Communion, then, is at the end of the procession. Coordination
is important, so that one bread minister and one cup minister
know to wait for the musicians to finish the Communion song.
The cantor and organist can receive immediately following the
song and at the beginning of the time of silent private prayer
(GIRM #88) after all have received.
For liturgies where a choir is present in addition to the
organist/pianist and cantor, there are more options, although
working with any of them will take coordination and planning.
As with any other liturgy, the song should begin while the priest
is receiving. A possibility is for the cantor to start the song with the choir and for the choir to go to Communion by sections or
altogether, while the cantor maintains vocal leadership. Once all
choristers have returned to their places and taken up the song
with full voice, the cantor has the option of leaving the microphone
to receive Communion. In parishes with vibrant assembly
singing, this can be done when there is no choir; the cantor brings
in the people on the final refrain and leaves the microphone as
the assembly continues singing. (What a powerful message and
affirmation of the importance of the assembly's voice and the true role of the cantor in empowering the song of the people!)
If your choir sings from a loft, you might consider inquiring
whether members of your choirs feel called to be extraordinary
ministers of Holy Communion. If so, they could go to the
altar with the extraordinary ministers and bring Communion
directly to the choir. While this will not change the logistics appreciably,
it will ensure that none of the singers or instrumentalists
need to travel far and will permit more flexible pacing of the rite
for your group without training a non-musician regarding the
music ministry's needs and the pacing of the music.
If your ensemble has instrumentalists in addition to the keyboard,
especially guitars, the instrumentalists can take turns supporting
the singing while the others receive Communion; the
guitarist and bassist can receive while the piano supports the sound.
Once they return and take up playing, the pianist can leave the
instrument to receive. Alternatively, a musically beautiful and effective
technique, particularly with a full four-part choir, is to invite
all to sing the final refrain a cappella, thus enabling instrumentalists
to receive Communion and allowing the assembly to hear its
harmonically embellished voice unsupported by instruments.
Following reception of Communion, the option is offered
in the GIRM, #88: "When the distribution of Communion is
finished . . . a psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may
also be sung by the entire congregation." It should be noted that
in no place in the General Instruction or any other document is
there the option of a "Communion meditation" or other choir-only
piece of music; this is clearly intended to be a moment of
congregational song, if a song is to be offered. Parishes incorporating
this option find it a successful alternative to the recessional
hymn that has become common practice in most places but is
not specified in any document. The psalm, canticle, or hymn is
still part of the Communion Rite and draws together all gathered
in a moment of communal praise and thanksgiving before being
sent forth into the world to be the body of Christ.
Ministering at more than one Mass on a Sunday often is a concern
to extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Sometimes,
for example, in addition to serving a Mass at which they have
been scheduled, an extraordinary minister is asked to fill in for an
absent minister at the following Mass. The law of the Church
allows a member of the faithful to receive Holy Communion
twice in the same day "only within the eucharistic celebration in
which the person participates" (C. 917).
Extraordinary ministers serving at a second Mass should
participate in the whole eucharistic celebration. That is, extraordinary
ministers should not be absent from the Mass, appear
to distribute Communion, and leave again. The extraordinary
minister is to participate fully and actively in the
Catechesis regarding receiving from the cup, and
Holy Communion in general, can always benefit the
faithful. The solemnity of the Most Holy Body and
Blood of Christ is a perfect opportunity for such catechesis.
Parishes might include articles or inserts in
the bulletin for that Sunday. The topics of these articles
or inserts could be any of the various elements of
Holy Communion, and could be approached from a
number of standpoints: the theology of the sacrament,
the spirituality of the Eucharist, the liturgical
celebration of the Mass, etc.
During the week before or after the solemnity,
parishes might schedule an evening of formation and
prayer in regard to Holy Communion and especially
Communion under both species. A mystagogical
walk-through of the Communion Rite, including
commentary or catechesis on all aspects-prayers,
music and hymnody, ministers involved, postures,
and gestures-would help to further develop appreciation
and understanding of the Eucharist, the liturgical
celebration and the full, conscious, and active
participation of the faithful.
Of course, such an evening could also serve as further ministerial
and formational development for extraordinary ministers
of Holy Communion. This might be the occasion for renewing
the diocesan mandates of the extraordinary ministers and for ritually
celebrating their commitment to this liturgical ministry (cf.
Order for the Commissioning of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy
Communion, chapter 63, Book of Blessings).
||"Let us pray (for the willingness to make present in our
world the love of Christ shown to us in the eucharist). Lord
Jesus Christ, we worship you living among us in the sacrament
of your body and blood. May we offer to our Father in
heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love. May we offer to
our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of
that kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen." (Alternative opening
prayer, solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of
Christ, Roman Missal).