By Mikaela Pannell
Communion ministry (or eucharistic ministry, as many call it) is an important calling for laity within the Church, one that should not be taken lightly. It offers the lay faithful the opportunity to bring Christ to others in the most compelling form available to us—his body, blood, soul and divinity present in the consecrated host.
The joy and mission experienced by many extraordinary ministers of holy Communion often spills over into their family life and strengthens their faith. For two men in our diocese, this ministry has done just that.
Bringing Christ to the homebound
Rory King is a parishioner from Sacred Heart Parish in Aberdeen. He and his wife have six children, 18 grandchildren and a busy life. He is a lifelong Catholic but only recently has been able to start giving his time as a Communion minister, specifically to the homebound. It is a ministry that had been on his heart for much of his life, and now that circumstances have allowed him to serve in this capacity, he has made it a priority in his life.
Rory has had six communicants over the past couple of years, one of whom is his aunt. He brings them Communion every Sunday after attending Mass with his wife, and then spends much of the afternoon visiting with them. He draws on his own love for the Eucharist as his reason for being a Communion minister.
“I know how important it is to me, and I know it’s important to other people, too, who can’t get to Mass,” Rory said. “I just felt that that would be a great ministry.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully states that “the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.” Rory takes that truth to heart. “It’s the center of my life.”
For Catholics who aren’t able to be present for Mass, fellow parishioners who bring the Eucharist to them are quite literally being the hands and feet of Christ. Homebound parishioners are equally called to have the Eucharist be the source and summit of their lives, and Communion ministers bridge the physical gap between them and holy Communion.
“They’re part of a body of Christ,” Rory points out, “and I’m their connection to it when I’m bringing Communion to them.”
Communion ministry has a way of impacting the ministers themselves, often through the individuals they are visiting. One communicant in particular who had an impact on Rory is a woman who had MS. She was homebound and largely confined to her couch, but her hope and joy touched him, recalling how it was “inspiring for me to see her…witness her faith and her hope. She lives for the life to come, which is what the Eucharist is all about.”
Filling in the gaps
Observing others’ depth of faith is very influential in growing the faith of people who accompany them in this life. Rory definitely has noticed how giving of himself in this ministry has given him incredible blessings in return.
“It’s strengthened my faith in the Eucharist so much…I have over the years really grown in my love of the Eucharist,” he said. “Many many things have been part of that, but this has been a big part of it.”
With a worldwide priest shortage, Communion ministers have been a necessary presence in providing accessibility to the faithful who might otherwise go weeks without receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. This is especially true in rural communities, where priests have multiple parishes spread out over a large geographical footprint.
Rory points out that the Aberdeen area priests in particular have done a wonderful job of taking care of their flock, regularly visiting with their homebound parishioners at least once a month. In between those times, however, is when ministers to the homebound are able to make a huge impact in serving their faith community.
Many parishes have only one priest, and they may or may not have a deacon. Since it isn’t feasible for just the clergy to distribute Communion at most parishes, lay Communion ministers play an important role in helping the Mass flow smoothly.
Ministering at Mass
Larry Hames has been married for nearly 58 years, and they have 3 children and 10 grandchildren. He and his wife started out together in Yankton, but moved around the country for his job. When retirement came around, they decided to settle down back in Yankton. Though their geographical location has changed throughout the years, his dedication to Communion ministry has remained steady.
Larry’s journey to being a Communion minister started in 1974, when the priest at his parish (they were in Colorado at that time) asked Larry and one other parishioner to become Communion ministers. In fact, they were the first ever lay Communion ministers at that parish. He has remained one ever since.
Larry’s role as a Communion minister is the more visible side of this ministry, as he ministers at Mass. He has observed that more people choose to receive the gift of the Eucharist, or at least a blessing.
“It used to be that the women and the kids went up…back then it was more selective,” Larry said. “Now, what we’re seeing is basically everybody in church goes up and either gets a host or a blessing.”
Having dedicated nearly 50 years of his life to serving as a Communion minister, Larry has no plans to stop. “I feel I’m helping. I’m contributing to the Mass.” He still gets spiritual nourishment and satisfaction from it.
“Even after all these years, when I’m done distributing Communion and get back to the pew, I actually feel…excited,” he said. “You can just have a good feeling internally that you’ve actually done something that’s been helpful and you’ve helped distribute the body of Christ to a number of parishioners. It just feels good.”
Larry’s example of dedication has had an impact on his family, and their service to the Church. His wife is also a Communion minister.
“She’s been a eucharistic minister here in Yankton for over 20 years, and she distributes holy Communion twice a week at the Sister James Nursing Home and once a week at the Sacred Heart Hospital,” Larry said. He also has a daughter and two granddaughters who have been involved in Communion ministry.
Larry has been able to be a Communion minister for family weddings and anniversary Masses, as well as at funerals. One especially memorable experience happened recently when he was able to distribute holy Communion to all of his children and grandchildren at a Mass where they were all gathered together.
“It’s just a wonderful experience,” he says.
What is Larry’s advice to those discerning giving of themselves in this ministry? “Go for it. It’s wonderful.”
Citing his wife’s role ministering to those in nursing homes and the hospital, Larry encourages people interested to explore the different avenues that Communion ministry offers. Every one of them is important to serving the body of Christ.