More Catholic Trivia #JusJoJan

chalice-and-ciborium
Chalice (l) and ciborium. Don’t mix them up.

Mary and I were trained as extraordinary ministers of Communion when we still lived in Chicago, back when it was still quite new to have lay people administer the Body and Blood of Jesus. The Latino contingent of the parish, which was much larger than the Lithuanian contingent, had already been using extraordinary ministers for some time, and they figured it was time for the rest of us to have them as well.

Back in the old days (when I was in grammar school), only priests and deacons (the ordinaries, those who had been ordained) could handle the Sacred Host and Precious Blood. As an altar boy, one of my jobs at Mass was to hold the paten, a gold or silver plate attached to a handle, under the chins of communicants as a priest placed the Host onto their tongues, so that the Body of Christ wouldn’t fall on the floor by accident. Allowing the host or the consecrated wine to drop on the floor was a disaster not unlike nuclear fallout, requiring the priest to pick up the Host and either eat it himself or take it back into the sacristy (where they vested for Mass, a sort of Catholic locker room) and burn it. Altar boys could handle the unconsecrated wine and bread, but after it had been transubstantiated, only a priest or deacon could touch it. We couldn’t even handle the purificator, a white cloth with which the priest cleaned the Sacred Vessels (the chalice which had held the wine, the ciborium which contained the hosts if it emptied out during Communion, and his paten, which had held the large Host that he consecrated during … the Consecration).

I remember the day one of the priests told me after 8:30 Mass one weekday, “Do me a favor, put my purificator in my drawer.” I had a crisis in faith. On the one hand, a priest had told me to do it, and one just never disobeyed a priest; on the other hand, we were told that unconsecrated hands should never, ever, ever, EVER touch anything that had come in contact with Jesus. I was supposed to be in school by then, so I finally convinced myself that I wouldn’t burst into flames if I did what Father asked, so I did and ran off to school. Not even scorched.

At some point during the Seventies, the Pope and College of Cardinals decided that no one else would burst into flames, either, and soon the priest, instead of sticking the Host on our tongues, would hand us the wafer and we would stick it in our own mouths. We were also allowed a shot of the Precious Blood (i.e. the wine), which heretofore was a logistical nightmare. And, they decided that, since many more hands were needed to distribute Communion and handle the cup from which we could drink, responsible lay people could assist.

Anyway, Mary and I were two of the responsible lay people chosen to be extraordinary ministers, and served in that capacity until we moved to Atlanta. Since we were under the jurisdiction of a different Archdiocese which had different rules, we lost our certification, and decided it wasn’t worth the effort to regain it.

We were at Mass one Saturday evening back in Chicago, and the priest, who was a friend of ours, said he didn’t want to give us his cold, and that the extraordinary ministers would be handling both the bread and wine. This was fine with everyone except for Jimmy, a parishoner in his thirties who was a bit strange (I’m sorry, that’s the kindest way I can put it). He went to Communion and when he reached the front of the church and saw that a lay person was to give him the Host, he shouted “NO!” and ran to the back of the church, screaming the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel before storming out. Jimmy was prone to outbursts like this during Mass, and we ignored it.

The shortage of priests in the Church has made extraordinary ministers and permanent lay deacons (married men who have been ordained as deacons) a necessity. When I was in the hospital, I was visited daily by one, and it was a real boost to me and I think helped in my recovery.

This rather long contribution for day 26 of Just Jot It January was from the prompt “extraordinary,” sent to us by Kelli of Forty, c’est Fantastique!, who probably regrets it by now.

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Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

7 thoughts on “More Catholic Trivia #JusJoJan”

    1. I can be the same way. Our current parish, which is very modern and liberal, was hard to adjust to. In fact, we joined and left on several occasions. Finally Mary said, “look, I’m going to Transfiguration, you can do what you want.” Took a while, but I saw that they were a lot more traditional than I thought originally, and my experience with the Eucharistic ministers while I was in the hospital changed my mind.

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  1. Our parish is run by an Order of Brothers who are very particular about how things are done but they do still rely on Eucharistic Ministers. I can also remember being at a 1st Communion Mass at our Cathedral when a man, clearly not a Catholic received the host and popped it into his jacket pocket. The priest instructed one of the Eucharistic Ministers to retrieve it. Just a little awkward!

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  2. When I was a kid, hats, Latin, and so many rules. Now, not so much.
    They say spiritual companionship is essential for healing, as it raises the spirit and provides comfort. I don’t know if it’s true, but in my ‘Hospice and Your Family’ pamphlet, it says so. The atheist in question says he’s enjoying his non-denominational minister’s visits, so you know, it definitely doesn’t hurt.
    I think a little care and concern goes a long way.

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    1. It does help, sometimes just knowing that there’s someone out there. I think I learned that in the hospital.

      Mary once said she’d make a lousy Baptist, because she doesn’t like wearing hats or pantyhose. Hard to remember we Catholics were the same way, at least after Vatican II.

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