According to Redemptionis Sacramentum, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion (EMHC) is a layperson formally instituted to administer — that is, distribute — Holy Communion during the Roman Catholic Mass. They are referred to as extraordinary because the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are ordained clergy: bishops, priest and deacons. According to instructions by the Vatican, EMHC's should be used only when truly necessary, i.e., when there are not enough ordinary ministers and instituted acolytes available.
The common utilization of EMHC's occurs, in some opinions, much more frequently than is permitted by the documents of the Catholic Church. It is common for at least one EMHC to assist the priest in distribute Communion at all Masses, which some argue means that they cease to be "extraordinary". Their use in this case is only permitted where the priest (or, if other ordinary ministers are present) would cause a considerable delay if he were to distribute alone. There use is also proliferated by the regular distribution of Communion under the species of both bread and wine. Some consider that where there is only one ordinary minister, this practice should only take place occasionally to preserve the "extraordinary" nature of this ministry. The document "Redemptionis Sacramentum" would seem to support these views.
Acolytes are considered to be "auxiliary" ministers of Holy Communion at all times and places, whereas lay persons who are not acolytes are restricted in where and to whom they might administer the Holy Communion. However, because most instituted acolytes are seminarians, their usage is rare. The subdeacon's role in the Eastern Catholic Churches is roughly equal to this practice, especially in the Middle East amongst Melkite and Maronite Catholics.
Extraordinary ministers were originally called "special ministers of the Eucharist" (Immensae Caritatis, 1973), and were frequently referred to as "Eucharistic ministers"  or "extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist" until the 2004 instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 156 reprobated these usages. This misnomer, however, persists.
To be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, a ministry candidate must be a fully initated Roman Catholic, meaning that the candidate must be baptized and have received the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confirmation in the Catholic Church. The candidate must attend a training seminar that a parish or diocese sponsors at a specific church or churches or even at the seminary. After the training session, there is an orientation at the candidate's own parish church. They are commissioned at a Mass where they are presented with a certificate or card from the diocesan bishop's office. The age requirement is 17 years old or older, if in a Catholic High School setting the candidate must be a junior and must be fully initated.
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