The following comes from a September 7 OC Catholic article by Larry Urish:
While bishops, priests, deacons and acolytes (those on their way toward ordination into the priesthood or deaconate) distribute Holy Communion, there are an insufficient number of these ordinary ministers to do so without rushing the process. For this reason, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion assist with this sacrament.
“On a normal Sunday Mass at a parish, most of the time you’re going to have extraordinary ministers helping out,” says Lesa Truxaw, director of the [Diocese of Orange]’s Office for Worship. “The distribution of Holy Communion is supposed to be done reverently, with care. It’s not supposed to be unduly long, but we’re not worried about being inefficient with something so important.”
Thanks to the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (commonly referred to as EMHCs), every Catholic can receive Holy Communion in a solemn, worshipful manner. For this reason, EMHCs are essential.
This position is particularly necessary in the Diocese of Orange.
“In our Diocese, we’re blessed to have so many people going to Mass,” Truxaw says. “Christ Cathedral draws 9,000 to 14,000 people on a given weekend. In other places in the country, you won’t see these numbers, so Extraordinary Ministers aren’t necessary.”
Most laypeople become extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at the request of their parish’s clergy. To qualify, they must have been baptized, received First Communion and received Confirmation. Future EMHCs are trained in theological and practical matters.
“Practical training includes what you wear, some of the terminology, where you sign in, where you stand and scheduling matters,” says Truxaw. “Eucharistic theology includes concepts such as Eucharist as a meal and a sacrifice, transformation, real presence and the ecclesial nature of Eucharist.”
The number of training hours varies from parish to parish. The names of those who complete the training are then sent to the bishop for approval.
In the Diocese of Orange, an EMHC serves for a maximum of two years. “It is renewable,” says Truxaw, “based on the discernment of the pastor and priests of the parish.”
However, “If [an extraordinary minister] does something notorious or causes the Church to be seen in a negative light, he or she can be removed. This is very rare, but it illustrates how important the position is.”