The Armchair Liturgist: Designated Minister

As First Communion season winds down, here’s a frequent request fielded by pastor and liturgist:

A family approaches (sometimes well in advance, sometimes at last minute) and announces an ordained uncle wishes to concelebrate the First Communion Mass and give Communion to his niece or nephew.

How do you handle it?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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12 Responses to The Armchair Liturgist: Designated Minister

  1. FrMichael says:

    Simple answer: welcome!

  2. Gavin says:

    This strikes me as something that the pastor, rather than the liturgist, ought to decide.

    In any event, were I a priest, I’d want a large amount of advance notice so that we’re on the same liturgical page. For example, my pastor sang the Roman Canon at first communion. If the concelebrant was untrained in that, I’d have to adjust my methodology somewhat and make sure that it’s not just a matter of “Fr. Gavin and some guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing.” I don’t know what division of labor is allowed in concelebration, but I’d be rather liberal in letting the visitor do as much as he can.

    As for distribution, I think the symbolism of the communicants receiving from the pastor is much richer than receiving from an uncle, and so I would not allow that. I would probably suggest that he could give the children the Blood, so long as he distributes to all and not to the one child alone.

    And if I got confronted with this one week in advance, it wouldn’t happen.

  3. I’d go with Gavin’s suggestion: let him administer the chalice to all the kids (and as a deacon, I’d gladly step aside to let him do so, even with less than a week’s notice).

    A couple of years ago our Pastor was called away the day before first communion because his father was dying. The uncle of one of the first communicants was a priest and was coming to concelebrate the Mass so, literally on a few hours’ notice, took over as celebrant and preached a great homily. So these uncle-priests can come in handy.

  4. Anne says:

    Is it really a “frequent” request? I see no problem as long as the uncle priest distributes to others and not only to the relative.

  5. Liam says:

    I second Gavin’s point that the pastor is a much more important relationship than an uncle in a liturgical context.

  6. SAF says:

    I’m so glad to have found your website yesterday!
    (A link from I-don’t-remember-where-it’s-Friday-night-my-husband-is-on-the-way-to-Confession-leaving-me-to-put-the-kids-to-bed).
    Scrolling through, lightly, as many of your posts as I could, I just appreciate the “Let’s not wave the heresy banner gleefully” part. The Catholic blogosphere has been extremely damaging to my health … we all wanna let our freak (sinful pride, arrogance) flags fly.
    What I’ve read on this blog affirms that we must remember NOT to give in to this weakness…

  7. I agree with “Fr. Gavin”…

    The concelebrant can proclaim the Gospel, take a share in the Eucharistic Prayer, and give the invitation at the sign of peace, although I’ve never seen that done. As pastor, I would preach.

    I’d handle administration of the Sacrament exactly as “Fr. Gavin” suggests.

  8. Gavin raises an important issue when he writes: “I think the symbolism of the communicants receiving from the pastor is much richer than receiving from an uncle, and so I would not allow that.”

    What is the “symbolism of the communicants receiving from the pastor?”

    It’s been 14 years since I was stationed in a parish where there was more than one priest assigned, but in that parish the pastor and I
    each presided at a couple of the First Communion liturgies, with the other concelebrating. In each case, the priest presiding was the one to give the Eucharistic Bread to the communicants.

    I understand that a pastor has a particular relationship to his people, whether assigned alone or with another priest. But what “symbolism” is at work here?

    My problem with Uncle-Father Joe stepping in to give First Communion to niece Mary is that it highlights a relationship which has little to do with the relationship we share with others in the Eucharist.

    Ditto for Uncle-Father Joe stepping in to baptize one in a group of 5 infants. (Although, that’s probably better than Uncle-Father Joe baptizing “privately” for his family after the parish folks have left the church!)

    I’ve not been in the Uncle-Father position but if I were I think I would ask to concelebrate – period.

  9. Fr. Totton says:

    How about an uncle-Father-godfather?

  10. In my first assignment after ordination I was stationed with a priest whose nieces and nephews addressed him as “Uncle Father John!”

  11. FrMichael says:

    I am in the relationship of #9– biological uncle and godfather of one of my nephews. He’s not old enough for his First Communion but I doubt the pastor of my family’s home parish is going to follow the policy espoused here by the majority of commentators. Especially given all the family baptisms I’ve conducted there.

    I’m curious to see if the commentators would extend this idea to the realm of another sacrament: Matrimony. Would you also prohibit priest-uncles from officiating at the Nuptial Mass of their nephews and nieces in your parish? The canons are far stronger on preferring that pastors conduct the weddings of their parishioners than anything one can find regarding First Communion.

    And I suppose that my great-uncle priest who made the trip cross-country to concelebrate at my ordination and whose presence was noted by the bishop was wasting his time, since he wasn’t a member of our local presbyterate.

    Get a grip folks: Catholicism is a family religion. The “domestic Church” isn’t just a slogan.

  12. Liam says:


    I read the original post by Todd to be referring to a First Communion Mass for the parish in general, not only the nephew-congregant. I would consider it odd to have the avuncular tail wag the parochial dog in such a situation, as it were, the “domestic” church notwithstanding, as that domestic church would only apply to one out of the many….

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