The ministry of Holy Communion: Bringing God to men

Marco Carvalho

To be invested as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion is at the same time a great honor and a great responsibility, but it is also increasingly a necessity, given the lack of vocations we are witnessing all over the world. How do you see this God-given assignment?

Paulo Cordeiro de Sousa: As a great honor, but also as a huge weight on my shoulders because it is also a great responsibility. We know quite well that we are here to help, to do whatever it takes to make the Church stronger, but we also feel that this is an enormous responsibility. We often ask ourselves why were we chosen. But then again, it’s God’s plan at work.

I would ask you the exact same thing. To be a minister of the Eucharist, what does it mean for you? Is this greater involvement in the life of the Church a gift from God?

Mário Augusto de Souza: Yes, it is indeed a great responsibility. But it is also an enormous grace to be able to help people around me by distributing Holy Communion.

Here in Macau, we still don’t face a very severe lack of vocations, so to speak. In what sort of situations can this role of extraordinary minister of Communion be useful here in Macau? What does the Catholic Diocese of Macau ask of you as extraordinary ministers of Communion?

Miriam Baganha: First and foremost, that we ensure, interchangeably, the distribution of Holy Communion during community Masses. We were also asked to be available, if needed, to distribute Holy Communion to the sick, to the people who are unable to attend the Eucharist and, therefore, unable to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord.

How did the three of you prepare for this assignment? What have you been told by the priests who accompanied you in training?

Miriam Baganha: We did several sessions of an institutional training, basically to guarantee that we are able to pass on the correct theological explanation on the importance of Holy Communion. But I believe that this is only part of the training that is needed. When we talk about formation, perhaps the most important aspect is about learning to be available and to be aware of the grace that is attributed to being able to distribute the Body and Blood of Jesus. This is not our power to give, but it is a great grace to be able to allow others to receive the Body of Christ. This sort of learning is of a more interior nature. Obviously, this process needs to be accompanied by the Church: it points to a formation in terms of prayer, in terms of reading, in terms of silence and in terms of trying to assimilate everything that the love of Christ wants to offer us.

Pope Francis often says that we have, as Catholics, the responsibility to work as missionaries, of reaching out to others and bringing them the Good News…

Mário Augusto de Souza: I think that it is something that happens, first and foremost, through love. Only through love can we be of service to God.

Taking a more active part in the life of the Church by distributing Holy Communion – is it also an act of love towards others?

Paulo Cordeiro de Sousa: Yeah. It’s clearly an act of love…

Miriam Baganha: I think it builds up from there. If we think about it, it is, first and foremost, Christ’s ultimate act of love. From our perspective, it only makes sense if we consider it a continuation of that first act of love. An act of love that gives meaning to everything. We need to have that in mind if we want to have a more active role in the life of the Church. We need to understand that the Church has to be the Church and that the community has to be the Church. If we don’t live the Word of God in its essence, if we don’t share it, then we are not really doing all that we should as Catholics.

Is it also a duty? In addition to an act of love, is it also the duty of a good Catholic to take on a more active participation in the life of the Church?

Paulo Cordeiro de Sousa: It is also a duty, of course. I clearly felt it a duty when I was called, when Father Eduardo told us about this possibility. I feel that we have a duty, as Catholics, to participate and support these good initiatives. Deep down, that’s what it is. And we have a duty to be a part of this process, and by process what I mean, is being a part of the Church. But, indeed, I feel this is a duty; a duty, a responsibility and an act of love, of course.

Perhaps half a century ago the perspective of seeing a woman distributing Holy Communion would have been unthinkable. Is this act of empowerment an acknowledgment of the role that women have always had in the Church?

Miriam Baganha: This entire culture of the ministry, of the smaller ministries, has existed since the early days of the Church. It involved women when there were no men involved, but that involvement was always an informal aspect of the life of the Church. That perspective changed in January of 2021. All that involvement that existed and that was always very visible and very present was kept informal because according to the Canon of the Church, the institution of women as ministers was not allowed. Pope Francis changed the Canon to allow that the institution of lectors, ministers of Communion and acolytes could encompass women as well. I see this change as a very natural change because if, in fact, women are present in all aspects of society, it makes sense that they could also be institutionally in the Church. It is an evolution that is very natural to me. But it is an evolution that I welcome, especially because the laws must reflect the core values of society and the spirit of society. I don’t think, however, that this should be seen as some sort of fracture. I see nothing more in this than what it is and what it is, in my opinion, is merely a reconciliation with practice and with life.

Could this personal choice – that the three of you made – set an example to other Catholics?

Miriam Baganha: If someone has to choose someone as an example, I hope they don’t choose me (laughs)…

Paulo Cordeiro de Sousa: I hope it helps. I hope this choice may help someone. I don’t know. I don’t know how it will turn out, but I hope so.

Miriam Baganha: I would like to add something to what was already said. I think it is noticeable that if we could do something with the little we give… In fact, to be honest, we always give much less than we receive. People probably think that they don’t have time to spare, that they cannot commit themselves because they have a family, they have a job and they have children in need of attention. But the truth is that they don’t have to give anything up. Most of the time people want to do something more, but they think they can’t. Well, most of the time they don’t even need to worry about anything, because if we organize ourselves we will always find a way to offer a little bit more. We all have to come to terms with this and to realize that we only do what we can do.