It has been suggested that Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion be merged into this article or section. (Discuss)

An Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC), often incorrectly called a Eucharistic Minister, is a term used in the Roman Catholic Church for members of the laity who have been authorized to distribute the Eucharist to members of the congregation during Mass. Typically, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion can also distribute Holy Communion to those in prisons, hospitals, and nursing homes, or are otherwise sick and unable to attend Mass.

In general

In the Catholic Mass, the ordinary ministers of the Eucharist are the bishop, priest, and deacon. In the absence of enough ordinary ministers, laypeople may be delegated to assist in the distribution of Communion and are referred to accurately as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. [1] As stated in the Vatican document, Redemptionis Sacramentum, in paragraphs 154-156, the term "Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion" is the proper title and should be the only one used. Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and a few Protestant denominations believe that the Eucharistic elements (or "species", that is the consecrated bread and wine) are not symbols, but instead contain the presence of Christ, though the degree to which each denomination interprets this varies. They are also sometimes referred to as "Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist", or EME. Pope John Paul II discouraged the usage of the acronym, "EME", fearing that it might removing the original intended piety of the term.

Specific training and instruction are generally prerequisite to becoming an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, whereby special consideration is given to such candidates who are first reviewed and deemed qualified to undertake such responsibility. Unlike priests and bishops, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are neither permitted nor able to consecrate bread as is done in the Eucharistic Prayer by a priest or bishop. Their only permitted role is to distribute Holy Communion after it has been consecrated.


At the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC's) in the United States were no longer permitted to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels at Masses. In an Oct. 23 letter, Bishop William S. Skylstad, then-president (2004-2007) of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), asked his fellow bishops to inform all pastors of the change, which was prompted by a letter from Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The U.S. bishops asked the Vatican to extend an indult — or church permission — which had been in effect since 2002, allowing EMHC's to help purify the Communion cups and ciboria when there were not enough priests or deacons to do so. That indult had been granted for a period of three years and was an exception to the worldwide directive given in 2002 in the third edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM).

When, after the three-year period expired, the U.S. bishops asked the Vatican to extend the indult or make it permanent, the request was declined.

Bishop Skylstad, who heads the Diocese of Spokane, Wash., said Cardinal Arinze asked Pope Benedict about the matter during the June 9 audience “and received a response in the negative.”

Noting that the GIRM “directs that the sacred vessels are to be purified by the priest, the deacon or an instituted acolyte,” the cardinal said in his Oct. 12 letter that “it does not seem feasible, therefore, for the congregation to grant the requested indult from this directive in the general law of the Latin Church.”[1] A controversy ensued over the ability of EMHC's to purify the chalice and other sacred vessels after a question of piety was raised. One church coined the catch phrase, It's not "doing the dishes". Because Catholics believe in the "Real Presence" of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, the Catholic Church requires that a priest or deacon perform the purification rites of the sacred vessels.


  1. Sacred vessels include chalices and ciboria.

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