Dear Rev Fr Surein,
RE: Resignation as Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion
Please accept this letter as resignation of my position as Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, effective immediately. I trust that the large number of Extraordinary Ministers appointed in our parish for the past two years provides adequate cover for my position.
My decision to resign before my term ends in 18 months’ time was finalized after long and careful consideration of all theological and practical factors, which I will explain below. I would like to emphasise my relationship with the EM leaders and fellow ministers have always been harmonious, and aside from 4 parishioners who may still feel aggrieved at me for denying them Holy Communion for not saying ‘Amen’ on cue, I believe my friendship with the Holy Family Church family members remain solid and intact.
My decision comes down to a deeper discovery of Sacred Tradition pertaining to the Sacred Species. The desire to be obedient to the teachings of our Church Fathers and the Successors of St Peter throughout the centuries led me to this humble juncture in my spiritual journey. It is my conviction that Lay Persons like myself are in no position whatsoever to handle and dispense the Holy Eucharist. I will offer scripture, Tradition and the teachings of Church Fathers, in particular St Thomas Aquinas, to support my argument.
About 12 months ago, I was curious to discover the preferred form prescribed by the Church down the centuries to receive the Holy Eucharist. I was determined to go back as long as possible, so I began my study on church documents. I was amply satisfied, from the Catechism of the Council of Trent that the preferred form was kneeling, on the tongue. Intriguingly, I also discovered from the Catechism that the Church has Always Prohibited Lay Persons from Touching the Sacred Species. The administration of the Holy Eucharist to the faithful has always been reserved to the consecrated hands of priests (acting 'In Persona Christi', 'In the Person of Christ'), whereas lay persons have always been forbidden to touch the Blessed Sacrament.
The key passage is as follows: "To safeguard in every possible way the dignity of so august a sacrament, not only is the power of its administration exclusively to priests, but the Church has also prohibited bylaw any but consecrated persons, unless some case of great necessity intervene, to dare handle or touch the sacred vessels, the linen, or other instruments necessary to its completion. Priests themselves and the rest of the faithful may hence understand how great should be the piety and holiness of those who approach to consecrate, administer or receive the Eucharist." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)
According to the Catechism of the Council of Trent, this practice of preserving the dignity of the Sacrament by limiting its handling exclusively to priests, is traced all the way back to Apostolic times (emphasis my own):
"It must be taught, then, that to priests alone has been given power to consecrate and administer to the faithful, the Holy Eucharist. That this has been the unvarying practice of the Church, that the faithful should receive the Sacrament from the priests, and that the officiating priests should communicate themselves, has been explained by the holy Council of Trent, which has also shown that this practice, as having proceeded from Apostolic tradition, is to be religiously retained, particularly as Christ the Lord has left us an illustrious example thereof, having consecrated His own most sacred body, and given it to the Apostles with His own hands." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)
So the Cathechim of Trent affirms that the power to consecrate and administer the Holy Eucharist is reserved exclusively for a validly ordained priest (with the exception of emergency, as shown above, which I will address in detail later), and this practice is part of apostolic tradition, going all the way back to the Lord’s Supper itself. As we agree, it was at the upper room when our Lord instituted the Sacrament of Eucharist and the Priesthood – which explains why only a priest can self-communicate, as per the apostles.
This practice has been echoed by many Holy Popes throughout Church history. For example, "There is nothing which belongs more to the Church and there is nothing Jesus Christ wanted more closely reserved for its shepherds than the dispensation of the sacraments He instituted." (Pope Gregory XVI, Commissum Divinitus, 1835). Very few bishops today pay the least heed to the admonition of St. Pope John Paul II in his letter Dominicae cenae, 24 February 1980 “To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained”.
The decrees of previous Councils in church history, was even more decisive in its language:
> Council of Saragozza (380AD) had launched excommunication to those who dared to treat the Most Holy Eucharist as if they were in a time of persecution, a time in which even lay-people found themselves out of necessity, touching the Sacred Species with their hands. (SAENZ DE AGUIRRE, Notitia Concilorum Hispaniae, Salamanca, 1686, pg 495);
> Saint Eutichiano, Pope from 275 to 283 AD, so that laypeople would not touch the Sacred Species with their hands, forbade them to take the Blessed Sacrament to the sick: 'Nullus praesumat tradere communionem laico vel femminae ad deferendum infirmo' (Let no one dare consign Holy Communion to a lay man or woman for them to take to the sick) (P.L. V, coll.163-168); and
>The Council of Rouen (around 650), forbade the minister of the Eucharist to place the Sacred Species in the hand of lay communicants. 'Whosoever will have transgressed these nowms, disdain God Almighty and in doing so will have dishonoured himself and should be removed from the altar'. (P.G., vol. X, coll. 1099-1100)
The greatest theologians in the Church has also affirmed that the dispensing of the Holy Eucharist is reserved exclusively for the priests whose hands are consecrated for this purpose. "Laymen are officially incompetent to dispense any sacrament: and that they can baptize in cases of necessity, is due to the Divine dispensation, in order that no one may be deprived of spiritual regeneration." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church). In other words, St Thomas is teaching that the only Sacrament a laity like myself can dispense, is Baptism, and only in the case of necessity. There is no such thing as a minor office designed for the dispensing of the Eucharist. The great doctor explains why: "The dispensing of Christ's body belongs to the priest for three reasons. First, because...he consecrates as in the person of Christ. But as Christ consecrated His body at the supper, so also He gave it to others to be partaken of by them. Accordingly, as the consecration of Christ's body belongs to the priest, so likewise does the dispensing belong to him. Secondly, because the priest is the appointed intermediary between God and the people; hence as it belongs to him to offer the people's gifts to God, so it belongs to him to deliver consecrated gifts to the people. Thirdly, because out of reverence towards this sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest's hands, for touching this sacrament. Hence it is not lawful for anyone else to touch it except from necessity, for instance, if it were to fall upon the ground, or else in some other case of urgency."
As can be seen, it is unlawful for a laity to touch the Eucharist or dispense it, except in grave case of necessity. Traditionally, these grave circumstances include to pick it up if it had fallen to ground, if facing persecution and there were no priest or deacon around, and for all the hermits who live in the desert (St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church, c. 369 A.D.). Even the post conciliar document issued on 29 January 1973, Immensae caritatis, by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, also outlined clearly that the appointment and usage of Extraordinary Ministers is to be limited to cases of genuine necessity.
When I look at Sacred Scripture, there are numerous passages that convinced me that handling the Blessed Sacrament unworthily carries grave consequences. ‘whoever, therefore, eats the bread of drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have fallen asleep’ (1Cor11:27-29). During the time of King David, when Uzzah touched the ark of the covenant that was the exclusive privilege of the Levites, God’s anger burned against him and was struck dead (cf. 2 Sam. 6:6-7). This reminds me of Catechism of the Council of Trent: "It should never be forgotten that the Sacraments, although they cannot lose the divine efficacy inherent in them, bring eternal death and perdition to him who dares administer them unworthily."
In the New Testament, we read that the blessed Virgin, upon accepting the mission to be the mother of our Lord, and carrying him in her womb for nine months, is so rightly honored to the point when all generations shall call her blessed; if the blessed Baptist trembled and did not dare to touch the holy head of Jesus at Jordan; if the tomb in which He lay for some time is so venerated, and the shroud that covered his crucified body is venerated as a relic, how holy, just, and worthy must be the person who touches the Lord with his hands, receives Him in his heart and mouth, and offers Him to others to be received.
The message from scripture and sacred Tradition is clear: the handling and dispensing of the Holy Eucharist is a ministry best reserved for the consecrated hands of priests, except in cases of grave necessity. I strongly suggest that most parishes in the world, including ours, are experiencing such grave circumstances and overwhelming demand for the Eucharist that Lay people need to be ushered in to be placed in a position so contrary to Tradition. Clearly, one only has to look at the fruits of this practice to see that its introduction has caused great harm. As a direct result of this Lay ministry, which has no historical precedence whatsoever, together with permitting the faithful to receive communion in the hand, belief in the Real Presence has plummeted, the priestly roles are confused, reverence and respect for the Holy Eucharist are down sharply, and selected members of the faithful have been placed in the situation of potential sacrilege.
For those that argue that Mass would be unduly prolonged if there were no lay Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (hence remarkably qualifying it as a grave necessity), they may be asked how much time they spend each week watching television, browsing on facebook and swiping their handphones. One might also remind them that the additional time can be very profitably spent in thanksgiving for the great gift of the Holy Eucharist.
Objectively, I knew I had to walk away from the ministry, in obedience to truth and the dictate of my conscience. However, I hung in there for a little longer, because I told myself I was serving the people, especially the home bound. “I need you all to bring Jesus to the home bound because I am too busy” the priest would tell us during our formation session - we are indeed living in strange times in which priests are engaged in activities which laymen could undertake, while laymen undertake their work of taking Holy Communion to the sick, is positively bizarre, a fitting epitomization of the ethos of Church today. Over the years I administered the Blessed Sacrament to the sick, the bedridden 80 year old saint who kisses my hands every time I wave goodbye, the lady who just survived brain surgery, the elderly woman in the old folks home, and yes, my own grandmother as she was nearing her end. I listened to their stories, and grieved when they would tell me the same story again next week due to their fading memories. I would hold back my tears as their family members tell me the Eucharist was all that was keeping their mother alive the week she passed away. As much as I told myself that this arrangement is probably the best what the church has to offer them, I knew that if I had been in their condition, I would have wanted a priest, ordained in HOLY ORDERS, to give me the comfort of Our Lord Jesus, being himself consecrated for that purpose, with the authority invested in him by the Roman Catholic Church, Our Lord’s Mystical Body.
Yours in Christ,