Prestige of the Body


Tony commented in yesterday’s Bride and Groom post about Eucharistic ministers, ordinary and otherwise. It wasn’t really the point I was trying to make, which was that if a Catholic is somehow honored by an extraordinary (in the example given) role, it is an opportunity to the entire Body to share the joy.

Like Tony there are some good liturgical discussions I choose not to resist. I think there’s a lot of needless fussing about lay roles in distributing the Eucharist.

“Too many lay people,” some say.

“Myob, if it’s outside your parish,” I think.

Long-established practices have guided parishes and their pastors over the years. Sunday morning at my parish, with ninety minutes (too short a time!) in between starting times for Masses, decisions have been long-established that we use lay people to distribute Communion in significant numbers for the significant numbers who come to Mass.

It’s a decision so well established in parishes that it never gets examined unless and until a renovation or new parish church goes up. It’s well below the radar of pastors and liturgists. Which is nearly always a good thing, if you don’t want to be reinventing the wheel every week. It might be that long-established practices should be examined from time to time. I’m not above considering breaking a paradigm now and then. But it should necessarily happen at the initiative of the local parish. Not Rome. Not in the blogosphere. And it should happen once other more important matters have been attended to. Sometimes, traditionalists are practicing avoidance, especially if their criticism is unjustly or ignorantly levelled at places outside of their own parishes.

“As far as readers go (“Lector” is an ordained position) if a church has a deacon, he should be doing the reading.”


The deacon is ordained to read the Gospel. Practically every pastor in North America has zero or one deacon and most often three or even more Masses. Lay people are trained and prepared for the role, and often, the best lay lectors, with their experience in drama, public speaking, and the vocal arts, are more skilled than the clergy in the proclamation of Scripture.

“What has happened with both EME’s and readers is that it has become a ‘part’ in the ‘play’. It is something they are qualified to do and by extension, you are not.”


This is a pretty big assumption to follow if one hasn’t experienced the withering stares of superiority from every sanctuary in the land. While it’s entirely conceivable a few narcissists have invaded the pulpit and altar–maybe some are ordained–most people I know have a healthy respect for their role, a deep devotion to Christ, and a high regard for their parishioners whom they serve. I think sense of ministry trumps any other intent at least 99% of the time.

That’s not to say that some parish entities don’t suffer from a certain clique-ishness from time to time. As a liturgist, it’s my job to step in and stamp it out. Or the pastor’s job, when he doesn’t delegate to a liturgist. But you have such attitudes across the social fabric of the Catholic Church: in the curia, in religious life, in schools and universities, in parish clubs, committees, and volunteer efforts of all sorts. There is no logic in condemning a practice for the occasional abuse one finds. If that were so, the 1570 Mass would lack any such foundation of perfect praxis.

“I have also seen an attitude of the ‘minister of the Body’ is a more ‘prestigious’ position than ‘minister of the Precious Blood’ beside the sin of pride, this is simply bad catechesis.”


I have to say I’ve only seen anything close to this in the clergy. Over the years and the hundreds of Eucharistic Ministers I’ve scheduled, I’ve had two or three who request to be scheduled for Body or Blood exclusively, and in each case, it’s been a special preference involving their physical ability or comfort level. If such an attitude has been present otherwise, it’s never been enough for me to notice it. I would have a no-nonsense approach to a EM making a frivolous choice over it.

What I can say is that spiritual formation of the laity involved in the liturgy must be a high priority in parishes. Retreats, speakers, suggested reading, times of reflection, continuing formation should be liberally offered. If a parish lacks a liturgist, it is the pastor’s responsibility to see to it.

There is agreement that we live imperfectly in an imperfect existence. But rather than cast doubt and mud on good people who willingly and devotedly serve in parishes, consider an approach more in tune with Paul’s theology of the Body:

But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. (I Cor 12:24b-26)

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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