Confessions of an OMHC

3 June 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — “Corpus Christi” 

Ever notice, dear readers, the growing number of acronyms in common use? We sometimes go to the RMV (Registry of Motor Vehicles). We read about SCOTUS, POTUS, and FLOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States, President of the United States, and First Lady of the United States). Then there’s BREXIT (Britain’s exit from the EU — European Union). We have CAT scans, EKGs, and HTN (Computerized Tomography scans, electrocardiograms, and hypertension). The Church is not immune to this trend.

Back in the day, most parishes had what we then called EMs (Eucharistic Ministers). Not anymore. Now a layperson who is, out of pastoral need, commissioned to assist the ordained clergy with the distribution of Holy Communion (for a specific period of time and in a designated location) is properly called an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. We have EMHCs not EMs, according to the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, formerly known as the NCCB — National Conference of Catholic Bishops). It’s a refinement in terminology that better describes the function. 

If we have Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, it follows that we also have Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (OMHCs). Indeed, we do. Bishops, priests and deacons distribute Holy Communion as ordinary ministers of the Body and Blood of the Lord.

I’ve never been an EM or an EMHC, but I’ve been an OMHC for decades. Over the years, I must confess, I have seen many and varied ways people receive Holy Communion.

Current Church practice in the United States provides for the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue with an option to receive Holy Communion in the hand. The choice of which of these two methods to use belongs to the communicant. Both presume that a person is a practicing Catholic in good standing who has kept the Eucharistic fast and is in a state of grace. 

Sometimes, a communicant will stand before you and give no indication whatsoever of how they have chosen to receive Holy Communion. They stand frozen, motionless. There is no body language to read. You have to wonder whether or not they are even Catholic or whether or not they are of age and have sufficient religious formation to receive Communion. Now what?

Sometimes, a communicant will simultaneously both extend the tongue and raise the hands for Communion. Can’t decide? 

When one intends to receive Holy Communion on the hand, the procedure is as follows: 

If the person is right handed, the left hand should rest upon the right. The Host will be laid in the palm of the left hand and then taken by the right hand to the mouth. If the person is left-handed, the right hand should rest upon the left and then taken by the left hand to the mouth. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty.

Consider hands partially covered by fashionable extra-long sleeves, hands wrapped in bandages, hands that are gloved, hands that are, shall we say, less than clean. In such cases, it would seem more prudent to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. No?

If you so indicate, the Minister of the Eucharist will place the Body of Christ on the palm of your hand. I have seen communicants reach out and take the Sacred Host directly from the hand of the Minister of Holy Communion. It can be startling. 

Occasionally, someone receives Holy Communion in the hand and, instead of consuming the Host immediately, just casually walks away with the Host in hand. Yikes!

Neither is Holy Communion on the tongue without its glitches. Experience has proven that if a person gives no indication of the chosen method for the reception of Communion, chances are they expect to receive on the tongue. They just forget to signal their intentions. What’s the poor Minister of Communion to do? 

There are some who open their mouths to receive Holy Communion but do not extend their tongues. You are expected to reach into their mouth? I’d rather not. Others extend and withdraw the tongue so quickly that, if you blink, you’ll miss the opportunity. Still others will extend their tongues while simultaneously saying “amen.” “Amen” then sounds like “Ummmnn.” Some give multi-word responses of their own creation. Others give no word of response at all. 

A Minister of Communion just never knows what to expect. I once gave Communion to a stranger. He asked, “Can I have two?” Two? “Yes, two please. My wife twisted her ankle and decided to sit in the very last pew. I need another one for her.” Oh dear.

I’ve found that most people didn’t get the memo that a physical sign of respect precedes the reception of Holy Communion. In the United States, it’s a simple bow of the head.

The act of receiving Holy Communion is Sacred. At that moment, we signify and realize our communion with God and with God’s people. This requires the utmost reverence.

Take it from an old OMHC: it’s good to occasionally review our manner of receiving Holy Communion.

Just saying. 

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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