May extraordinary ministers approach the altar before the priest receives Communion?

By December 31, 2014 7 Comments

Full Question

At my parish, extraordinary ministers go up to the altar before the priest receives Communion. They also stand close to priest and receive Communion before he does. Is this allowed?


The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states the following:

The priest may be assisted in the distribution of Communion by other priests who happen to be present. If such priests are not present and there is a very large number of communicants, the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, e.g., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose. In case of necessity, the priest may depute suitable faithful for this single occasion. These ministers should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion, and they are always to receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing either species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful. (GIRM 162)

When the GIRM says “These ministers should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion” it doesn’t mean they cannot be in the sanctuary. However, it does mean that their role as “extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion must be correctly applied so as to avoid generating confusion.” (The 1997 instruction on “Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained,” 8 §1). For example, when extraordinary ministers stand too close to the celebrant at the altar and receive Communion before the priest, it can easily confuse their role as “extraordinary” ministers of the Eucharist with that of the priest, who is the minister of the Eucharist and the “sole dispenser of the mysteries for which they are preparing” (“Certain Questions,” 2 §5). The 1997 instruction also states: “To avoid creating confusion, certain practices are to be avoided and eliminated where such have emerged in particular Churches: extraordinary ministers receiving Holy Communion apart from the other faithful as though concelebrants” (8 §2).


  • DaveW says:

    Tell these people they have no business being up there at all. Only the priest is consecrated to distribute the body and blood of our lord.

    • Marv Ack says:

      “Extraordinary” means “outside of the ordinary.” Or rather, “for highly unusual circumstances.”
      You know what I think the problem is? One of the 6 precepts of the Church is “to assist at Mass.” It’s that word, “assist” that causes problems. It comes from the Latin “assistere” and it means “to be present,” which is what we are supposed to do. Go and be present at Mass. But in modern English, “assist” means “help” and too many people think they have to get up on the altar and help the priest.
      Which gives them a chance to play priest without putting in the years in seminary and making all the sacrifices…

    • MarySam says:

      thank you for that remarkable comment

  • john says:

    I’m sorry Dave but you’re mistaken. Extraordinary ministers do have business being at the altar standing aside from the priest. That’s where they are to receive the gifts that they are to distribute. Some may distribute the Eucharist, some may distribute the blood of Christ. A single priest cannot do all of this.

    • Greg Araujo says:

      They should only be used if there are many receiving the sacrament and if the priest chooses to use them. Unfortunately EMs are over used in many masses and without regard to sex, this has caused a feminization of the altar

  • john says:

    My comment sounds rude I’m not intending to be rude. Only the priest make consecrate that you Kristen he’s the only ordained person there. But the extraordinary ministers are allowed to distribute the Eucharist once it has been consecrated by the priest. However under no circumstances should the EM ever receive communion before the priest.

  • Jonathan says:

    What about deacons? They are Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion having received the Sacrament of Holy Orders!
    Can. 1008 By divine institution, the sacrament of orders establishes some among the Christian faithful as sacred ministers through an indelible character which marks them. They are consecrated and designated, each according to his grade, to nourish the people of God, fufilling in the person of Christ the Head the functions of teaching, sanctifying, and governing.
    Can. 1009 §1. The orders are the episcopate, the presbyterate, and the diaconate.
    §2. They are conferred by the imposition of hands and the consecratory prayer which the liturgical books prescribe for the individual grades.

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