Question Corner
With Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. Recently, I have noticed some people, after they receive holy Communion, take a second host. They seem to receive it in a small container and then place it in their pocket or pocketbook. I assume that they are bringing the host home for a family member who is ill or incapacitated and unable to get to Mass. So my question is: Can anyone do that? I thought that only a priest, deacon or officially designated eucharistic minister could distribute holy Communion. (Central Wisconsin)

A. You may be observing officially designated extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, a practice allowed in appropriate circumstances by the church’s Code of Canon Law.

“Redemptionis Sacramentum,” an instruction issued in 2004 by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, speaks of such enabling circumstances. Paragraph No. 158 explains the most common, which is “when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of the Mass would be unduly prolonged.”

Frequently, extraordinary ministers also are recruited by a parish to take Communion to the homebound or to those in nursing homes. They carry Communion in a small gold-colored metal container called a “pyx,” supplied by the parish.

Extraordinary ministers should be qualified by proven virtue, appropriately trained and commissioned by their pastor in an appropriate ceremony (the church’s Book of Blessings provides one). Their names are submitted to the office of the diocesan bishop.

Many parishes hold a commissioning ceremony annually on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (formerly called Corpus Christi).

In addition to those formally commissioned, “Redemptionis Sacramentum” says that “in cases of an unforeseen nature, permission can be given for a single occasion by the priest who presides at the celebration of the Eucharist” (No. 155).

That may happen, for example, when an extraordinary minister assigned to a Mass fails to appear or when the crowd of worshippers is unexpectedly large. Logically, this would seem also to cover the circumstance when someone is at home recovering from surgery and the spouse asks the priest for permission, that day, to bring holy Communion home.

The priest can give that person a pyx and, without a formal ceremony of commissioning, allow him or her to take a second host when Communion is distributed at that day’s Eucharist. If the situation is going to continue on a regular basis, that person should be formally commissioned when a parish ceremony is next held.