Ministers of the Eucharist

Formation for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion

Q   Questions for discussion
V   Video Resource
S    Scripture passage for reflection
R   Reading resource

All the materials for this course can be found at



  2. To know who we are, we need to know where we have come from! 

in distributing Communion. To start with a little exploration into this ministry, puts where we are now into perspective.

Lay ‘ministers’ played an active role during the early days of the Church. After the Sunday Celebration, they would take Eucharist to the sick. Communion for the dying, Viaticum, was considered very important.  Communion would be brought by whoever was able (including children).  It was also customary for people to keep the Eucharist in their houses in order to receive during the week. The emphasis was on the act of sharing and this was done with great fervour.

V  St Tarcisius

By the Middle Ages, the development of formal ministerial roles meant that the laity were no longer involved and eventually they were forbidden from taking an active part. Also, the notion of ‘unworthiness’ meant that people no longer received communion regularly.  ‘Ocular Communion’ and reverence to the Blessed Sacrament became popular and in spite of efforts to reform, it wasn’t until the 20th Century, beginning with Pius X and eventually Vatican II, that frequent Communion meant that lay ministers were again required.

  • Over the centuries, different emphasis has been placed on the importance of receiving Communion and Reverence to the Blessed Sacrament.
    Q Is one more important than the other? Is regular Communion necessary?
    S Matthew 16:24-25



Please don’t assume that everyone has some understanding of the theology of the Mass. It’s these basic explanations that are likely to make the biggest impact.

  • What do we already know?

Ask the group to discuss or write down (less threatening) what they understand the Mass to be.  Come back to this at the end of the session. Have peoples thoughts changed?

  • We are a Worshipping Community

R Read Justin Martyr’s account of Eucharist.
We gather as a worshipping community. It is a communal activity though many still see it as an individual devotion.

Q What strikes you about how the Early Church celebrated Eucharist?
 Does this sense of community exist in our own parish celebration? What outward signs of community action are there in our Sunday Celebration? (Gathering, singing, shared gestures and postures, responses, processing to Communion etc.) 

  • Mass as Meal and Sacrifice.

V Draw near.

My Sacrifice and Yours.

It is not a re-enactment of the Last supper, but ‘Christ is really present in the very assembly gathered in his name, in the person of the minister, in his word, and indeed substantially and uninterruptedly under the Eucharistic species. GIRM 39.’

We share in Christ’s saving work, offering our sacrifice of praise. We talk a lot about wanting to ‘get something’ from going to Mass as if it is primarily for our benefit. But the Sacrificial element involves us too, in offering praise and thanksgiving to God.
Q In what ways do we offer ourselves to God?
R  1 Corinthians 10:16-17 


  • The Celebration of the Eucharist

General Instruction of the Roman Missal

This is a document that most of the faithful have not come across. It is a wealth of

Knowledge that deserves to be shared. I know from experience that people have said ‘I never knew that’ or ‘nobody ever told me that.’  This is a brief guide, with a few selected passages.

Introductory Rite.

The purpose is to ensure that the faithful, who come together as one, establish communion and dispose themselves properly to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily. GIRM 46

Q How can the assembling community best gather and prepare?

Liturgy of the Word.

God speaks to his people, opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation, and offering spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present through his word in the midst of the faithful. GIRM 59

Q How do we actively participate during the Liturgy of the Word? How could this be improved in our own parish?

Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The Priest calls upon the people to lift up their hearts towards the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving; he associates the people with himself in the Prayer that he addresses in the name of the entire community to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the meaning of this Prayer is that the whole congregation of the faithful joins with Christ in confessing the great deeds of God and in the offering of Sacrifice. The Eucharistic Prayer requires that everybody listens to it with reverence and in silence. GIRM 78

Q This is the ‘centre and high point of the entire celebration.’  How easy is it to listen and take a full part in the Eucharistic Prayer?

Communion Rite

It is most desirable that the faithful, just as the Priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass and that, in the cases where this is foreseen, they partake of the chalice so that even by means of the signs Communion may stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated. GIRM 85
Q How do we prepare for receiving Communion? 

Q How can we best be worthy of carrying out our ministry?

Concluding Rite

We are sent forth ‘so that each may go back to doing good works, praising and blessing God.’ GIRM 90

(3 passages)  John 6:35 6:51 ,    6:53-57



Commissioned lay ministers are of service to their own worshipping community.
They are so-called ‘extraordinary’ in that the priest is the ‘ordinary’ minister.
They may assist with the distribution of Holy Communion, take Communion to the sick and housebound, and those in hospitals. They may also take a Communion Service in the absence of a priest. They are not ‘helping Father!’ Their work is a witness of Christian faith undertaken in a very practical way and requires both spiritual and practical preparation.

Q What qualities are needed for an EMHC?

Because details will vary, the following points need to be discussed in the light of your own parish situation.

  • When and how to approach the altar and where to stand.
  • Where to stand for distribution.
  • When to return to the altar.
  • How to deal with remaining bread and wine.
  • Where and how to purify the vessels.
  • When to return to your place.
  • The procedure when taking Communion to the sick and housebound.

Common issues

  • Spiritual preparation.
  • Arrangements for those who can’t walk to receive communion or…
  • Those who require a gluten-free host.
  • What to say when someone approaches for a blessing (a Trinitarian blessing should be kept for the Dismissal).
  • All movement should be discreet! There is no such thing as the ‘procession of the EMHC’!
  • Always bow to the altar, the symbol of Christ.
  • Appropriate respectful, modest dress.
  • What to do if something is spilled or dropped?
  • Do I ever refuse anyone? No!
  • Am I allowed to pass the chalice around? No!
  • Should I address people by name? No!

This will vary according to your own circumstances. A lot of practice is essential in order for people to at ease and carry out their role to the best of their ability. Ideally, over more than one session in church, be sure to cover the following;

Approaching the sanctuary (bowing to the altar)
Bringing ciboria from the tabernacle (if needed)
Where to stand
Giving Communion from the chalice and ciborium
Giving a blessing
Giving to those with special needs

Purifying vessels

Preparing a pyx

What to do with remaining hosts/wine.  


V  The bow before Holy Communion

V (audio only)  Fr Larry Richards. The Mass  Part 3.
R  Giving Communion in my parish


Loving Father,
You brought us in a new and intimate relationship with you through your son, Jesus, who tells us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” As Eucharistic Ministers, help us to treat others as we would treat Jesus. Let us welcome one another and serve one another with all the kindness, respect and generosity that we would offer Christ.”

We ask this through Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God for ever and ever. Amen.


This is by no means a full guide. Communion in the absence of a priest and Communion for the sick, need just as much attention.

Hopefully it is useful for those taking part in the Sunday Celebration, helping them  grow in knowledge and faith!


All the resources referred to in this article are available on my website:

Guide for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion
Kenneth A. Riley and Paul Turner. Liturgy Training Publications, 2007.

The Lay Eucharistic Ministers Handbook.
Ann Tomalak.  Canterbury Press, 2003.


Maria Hall studied Pastoral Liturgy at the National Centre for Liturgy, St Patrick’s College Maynooth. She lives in Preston in the North of England and after a long teaching career, is now a full time consultant in Liturgy, Music and Religious Education.




Written by Maria Hall for Intercom Magazine


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