Duties of a deacon distributing communion

Q:Recently I attended a youth Mass in another diocese, which was celebrated by an elderly priest, assisted by a deacon. The priest was evidently infirm, and at Communion time, the priest retired to a chair while the Eucharist was distributed by several of the students as well as by the deacon.

The deacon, who was the only ordained minister, held the cup - over toward one of the side aisles. My understanding is that, if both a priest and a deacon are distributing Communion, the priest is to offer the host, and the deacon the chalice.

So in this case, with the priest incapacitated, it seemed to me that the only "ordinary" minister (the deacon) should have distributed the consecrated host - and from the main aisle, the most prominent position. Am I being overly critical? (Albany, N.Y.)

A: Your question is a good one, and I'm not sure there is a simple and certain answer. The guidelines of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for Masses with a deacon say - as you point out - that the deacon "assists the priest celebrant in distributing Communion, especially as minister of the precious blood" and that "if Communion is given under both kinds, the deacon ministers the chalice."

So it seems a logical extension - in the situation you present - that the deacon would distribute the host. But I'm not sure that there is any firm rule to that effect.

In our parish - where, at large weekend Masses the priest is assisted by seven extraordinary ministers of holy Communion - I occasionally choose to hold one of the chalices as a way demonstrating that the precious blood is just as much the Eucharist as the host is.

By the way, your mention of students distributing Communion raises this point I find interesting: There is no universal church law on a minimum age for extraordinary ministers; bishops are free to set their own guidelines, and dioceses in the U.S. vary widely - from 15 years of age to 25. All agree that these should be regularly practicing Catholics who are living a life consistent with Catholic moral values.

Questions may be sent to Fr. Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.

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