Non Solum: Name Tags and Crosses for Eucharistic Ministers

Moderator’s note: “Non solum” is a new feature at Pray Tell for our readership community to discuss practical liturgical issues. The title comes from article 11 of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Therefore there is to be vigilance among holy pastors that in liturgical action not only are laws for valid and licit celebration to be observed, but that the faithful should participate knowingly, actively, and fruitfully.” (Ideo sacris pastoribus advigilandum est ut in actione liturgica non solum observentur leges ad validam et licitam celebrationem, sed ut fideles scienter, actuose et fructuose eandem participent.) May the series contribute to good liturgical practice – not only following the law, but especially grasping the spirit of the liturgy!

Today’s question:  Name Tags and Crosses for Eucharistic Ministers

In several of the parishes I have recently visited I have seen the Eucharistic Ministers wearing name tags, cross, or both to denote that they are Eucharistic Ministers.  Do you think this is an appropriate practice?  Is it an attempt to be hospitable, and if so does it work?  Is it proper to “label” the Eucharistic Ministers or does this in some way alienate them from the assembly of which they are a part?  Furthermore, could the usage of a pseudo-pectoral cross for the Eucharistic Ministers confuse ecclesial symbols?  Do they really need to be identified at all?  From my perspective, some ministers such as Hospitality Ministers lend themselves to name tags, but I question whether Eucharistic Ministers warrant being so specifically identified.  What are your thoughts?  What does your parish do, and why?  Please comment below.

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26 comments

  1. Since I’ve arrived in the UK, I’ve noticed an interesting piece of vesture used by Eucharistic Ministers in most of the parishes that I’ve visited.

    As the Eucharistic Ministers go up to the altar at the Agnus Dei, they slip on a sort of V-shaped piece of cloth that lays over the shoulders. This cloth matches the liturgical color of the day. After the distribution of communion is finished, it is removed.

    I’m not sure where this particular piece of vesture arises from, but I’ve not seen a parallel in the US.

  2. I’ve notice that in certain countries its common for Eucharistic Ministers to wear albs. I’ve always wondered why this isn’t common in the United States. We have altar servers vest as clerics because they take the role of instituted acolytes, why not the same for lay people who take the place of clerics distributing holy communion?

  3. If ministers of Communion wear special ornaments, why not lectors? Perhaps ministers should be recognized by their ministry done well, rather than by special garments and jewelry.

  4. In my parish growing up in the 70’s all liturgical ministers – EM’s, Lectors, Choir, Cantors, Altar Servers wore albs. I don’t quite see how that would work in my current parish, since often the ministers fill in at the last moment when the assigned minister doesn’t show.

  5. The crosses for Extraordinary ministers in my parish serve a practical purpose–volunteers take the crosses as they arrive at church, so it’s easy for the presider and liturgist to see whether we have enough people helping and to recruit more before Mass starts if necessary.

    1. @Ellen Joyce – comment #5:
      I have worked at several different parishes and the crosses all served the same practical purpose- to show at a glance that we were fully supplied (or not) with Eucharistic ministers.

  6. Albs can work for any ministries, if you have to have something. But pectoral crosses? Name tags? I completely fail to see the point.

  7. When I used to do the rite of commissioning of extraord mins of Holy Communion, part of the rite included blessing crosses that were place around the new ministers necks. They were subsequently worn when serving as EMHC at Mass, I felt it added a bit to the gravitas and reverence for both the Eucharist and the minister.
    I was never in favor of albs for EMHC but the way some ministers dress I sometimes wish they could have been covered by an alb.

  8. No name tags, but crosses which when taken and worn by CM’s as they sign in let us know at a glance that we may be short. I also have day dreamed about a simple garment that might be worn by reader’s and CM’s that could cover a multitude of sins (less appropriate garb). The one referred to in GB sounds intriguing.

  9. Hmmm. From the pews might this set up a visual us/them distinction? I like Eugene Walsh’s old take on this. Let the lectors, CM’s, choir and others move in and out of their place in the assembly in order to do their assigned jobs at the proper time. Being part of the assembly is distinction enough.

  10. The problem with the V-shaped piece of cloth seen by Chase Becker in the UK (#1) is that it is highly reminiscent of a stole, and thus endows the wearer with “clerical connotations”! I would suggest that it is coincidental that he has seen this in most of the parishes he goes to. In fact the majority of parishes do not have this practice. and in one or two dioceses it is specifically banned.

    It seems to me that any special clothing or insignia goes against the main signal we want to give: that liturgical ministers who come forth from the assembly to minister to the assembly — lectors, cantors, lay ministers of Communion, ushers and collectors — are precisely lay members of the assembly, wearing the same clothing as the assembly and not distinguished from them by special signs, unlike those whose traditional habitat is the sanctuary and who are by tradition vested or robed.

    While I can appreciate the comments of Ellen Joyce (#5) and Jack Feehily (#9) about the practicality of crosses, I think giving lay ministers of Communion any kind of insignia when we do not do the same for lectors or cantors runs the risk of making it appear that we think these ministers are in some way more important than the others. But they aren’t.

    Whenever I see a lay minister of Communion wearing something round his or her neck, especially if they are ministering the chalice, I’m always reminded of those pewter labels that are frequently suspended by chains around the necks of decanters. Any day now I am expecting to come face to face with a minister whose label is declaring “I’m a medium-dry white” or “I’m a full-bodied red” !!!

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #11:
      agree – in addition, we used to announce the names of all ministers – EMs, lectors, altar servers, etc. before each liturgy. We have finally stopped that practice.

      To reinforce what Paul has said in his second paragraph – key point…..ministers come forth from the assembly to minister (they are not mini-clerics nor should they be clericalized). We now have EMs and Lectors sitting with their families and coming forward when they need to and then returning to their families.

      My father was one of the first EMs in a parish where the monsignor resisted and delayed communion under both kinds for 20+ years. Finally, the 3rd bishop forced his hand but he severly limited the number of EMs; made them wear albs, cinctures, crosses, etc. and sit in a special pew.

      It really does miss the principle behind the ministries and focuses on something that is secondary/accidental.

    2. @Paul Inwood – comment #11:

      Why should we worry about making the Eucharistic Ministers seem as though they are different from the other members of the assembly? They are performing a role that is specifically clerical, a priest who isn’t concelebrating but is distributing communion has to wear choir dress. I guess what I’m asking is why is it ok to vest altar servers (who take the place of instituted acolytes) but not lectors (who take the place of instituted lectors) and Eucharistic Ministers (who take the place of ordained clerics)?

  11. I really don’t think anyone in my parish thinks that the temporary donning of a particular cross during Mass creates an elite sub group! We all know the practical purpose they serve. The new pastor has asked that we not wear shorts or flip-flops for this ministry or for proclaiming the Word.

  12. In our large (1800 seat) church, we schedule 19 Extraordinary Ministers at most Masses. They sign in on a map before Mass, choosing any open position. Our coordinators/captains make sure all positions are filled before Mass begins.

    No special attire or cross, the EM’s simply come out of their place in the assembly when needed.

    Our ushers do wear name tags with the parish logo, so that anyone in need can easily find someone to help.

  13. In the Vibrant Parish Life Study of 129 participating parishes and 46,241 respondents the following items were ranked near the bottom of the 39 items in importance

    #32 Encouragement to become involved in parish ministries
    #33 Invitation of members to share the responsibility of leadership
    #34 An annual stewardship appeal, asking for time, talent, and treasure

    People are turned off when parishes begin to act like non-profit organizations and parish members are seen to be there to help the staff of the organization rather than as members of a community.

    In the same study people indicated they want community which includes both getting to know more people and getting to know them more deeply as evidenced by the following four items in the top ten in importance (however all these were half way down the list in being done well.)

    #2The parish as a supportive, caring community
    #4 The parish exhibiting a spirit of warmth and hospitality
    #6 New members of the parish are welcomed
    #8 Support for families who have experienced death

    The old plastic disposable name tag has become much nicer looking, capable of being hung around the neck and reused many times. I think parishes should experiment with them at Mass and other events in the parish. They can easily be saved in one’s car or purse. They are also easy to make so that one can merely arrive early at an event to get a new one. Also most are made so that they can be two sided. On one side (e.g. for Mass) one simply puts one’s name (first name in very large letters) with last usually longer name in somewhat smaller letters underneath. On the reverse side one can put besides the name any useful other conversation starters (e.g. for coffee and donuts after Mass). That could be ministry, job, hobby, etc.

    When a local parish implemented Little Rock Bible study in small groups, I interviewed individuals by phone about their experiences. Among the questions I asked people to give me the first names of members of their small group. Since I also asked how many times they had attended, I found that on the average people learn one person’s first name each time they meet. After sharing the data with the large group, the next season of Bible study we begin using nice name tags. People responded well. We just placed the tags on the tables in alphabetic order for them to pick up. My hunch is that it would be best to begin using them outside of Mass; if they become popular enough they will probably migrate to Mass with a little encouragement.

    I have a collection of nicer name tags from various conventions and meetings. I often take one that I have personalized to meetings rather than use the old sticker types they many still hand out.

  14. Just thinkin’ and a-wondering: Seems most prefer that EMOHC not wear any alb, insignia or vesture because they “come from the community” to minister to the community. But doesn’t the priest come from the community as well? Does his wearing vestments just reenforce an attitude of clericalism? Or, would ‘vesting” EMOHC in some way visibly symbolize and connect them with a sacramental ministry?
    I dunno. It’s late. Just wondering.

  15. In our diocese, EMHC’s are required to wear albs (although for some reason, some parishes interpret that to mean men wear albs, & women wear white academic-style gowns, but that’s another discussion…). In my parish, lectors wear albs as well.

  16. It’s not so much about sacramental ministry (John Swencki, #17) as about who you are and where you are.

    My rule of thumb, as previously articulated in this forum, runs something like this:

    Ministers whose normal habitat is the sanctuary (priests, deacons, servers) and who walk to and from there in procession are by tradition robed/vested.

    Ministers whose normal habitat is the assembly and who come forth from the assembly to minister to the assembly (lectors, cantors, lay ministers of Communion) wear the same clothes as the assembly.

    That being said, of course the alb, as the baptismal garment, is common to all ministry. But in that case one would have to ask everyone attending (all the members of the assembly minister to each other) to wear the alb. This is clearly impractical. The only denomination that I am aware of where every member wears special ritual clothing (including underwear!) is the Mormons (but they have a strange and rather unhealthy notion of cleanliness and freedom from contamination).

    The one “difficult case” is the choir. Robed choirs are found in a small proportion of our parishes. Sometimes the justification given is that they, too, walk in procession (most don’t, in fact, but some do — I leave aside the question of whether they should or not). Sometimes Gospel choirs wear them because that is the tradition of their non-catholic sisters and brothers. But the question for the choir is whether wearing robes separates them / alienates them from the assembly instead of making them one of the forms of “liturgical cement”.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #18:

      Paul,

      Currently institution to the orders of lector and acolyte is restricted to men and few other than seminarians received them.

      Suppose Francis abolishes the restriction to men. It has been suggested many lay ecclesiastical ministers ought to be installed in these orders or in other similar orders (e.g. catechists) which bishop conferences can establish subject to Roman approval. One argument is that order as an office would give more canonical stability, rights and protections to lay ministers in the church. Without debating whether or not this is good idea, let suppose it happens, and that in addition to readers and extraordinary Eucharistic ministers we have instituted lectors and acolytes doing the same things.

      In my local Orthodox parish women often read the epistle and other readings. They, along with some men, do this from the appropriate place i.e. the center of the church in their normal garb (they simply step out of the pew into the aisle).

      However there are some men who have evidently been ordained as readers. These men sometimes wear cassocks but still stand in the pews with other laity. When they read the epistle they actually leave the center of the church process to behind the altar to receive the priest’s blessing then return to the reading location in the center of the church. (They seem to be operating on something like your principle, i.e. their natural habitat is the altar even though they stand in the pew. They even exercise their ministry with a procession).

      If we have instituted ministers in the future could or should they be vested, e.g. in albs? Would you see them doing this even though they were seated in the pews with their family? In other words when we see a person sitting in the pew in an alb and coming to the lectern or give communion we would know they were instituted lay ministers of the parish. Although they are lay not clergy, their natural habitat is the parish because they are in either paid or extensive voluntary ministry.

      Might deacons do the same? Often deacons don’t assist at Mass doing the functions of deacons but prefer to stay in the pews. Might not deacons assist at Mass sitting in the pews with their family wearing an alb. If they are called to read the Gospel or give communion, they would simply put on a stole when they go to the sanctuary for that function. Francis seems to be modeling something similar being comfortable in his cassock but putting on the stole only for the time when it is needed as a sign of official ministry.

  17. Agree with Paul’s distinction but, now, another question – do altar servers need to wear different dress?
    (notice that in summer vacation spots with liturgies, one is just happy that someone acts as *server* – the question about what to wear never comes up.
    Is this just part of our historical legacy? is this another one of those – altar servers must be male because that is one way we can get priest vocations?

  18. Jack (#20):

    I think the idea of having people in albs in the pews would be seen as bizarre. The only occasion this ever happens is at an ordination, where the candidate(s) is/are often seated with his/their families before he/they are called forward.

    Stanislaus (#21):

    I would not agree with you that these ministers are necessarily taking the place of instituted or ordained ministers. It is quite clear that Paul VI, when he reintroduced lay ministers of Communion, was not promoting a caste of mini-clerics who were “helping Father”; he envisaged a lay ministry in its own right. The same thing applies mutatis mutandis to other lay ministries. They are not substitute clerics, but lay ministers with their own specific non-clerical role. The medieval period, when all lay ministries were taken unto the priest by a process of accretion, does not indicate that these ministries were previously conceived of as specifically clerical.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #24:
      I’m confused, how can a function that is exercised only in the absence of a sufficient number of priests and deacons be anything other than a substitution for.a cleric in the way that an altar server substitutes for an instituted acolyte?

      1. @Stanislavsky koala – comment #25:

        It was not always thus. Only in 1997 did the instruction Ecclesia de mysterio on certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the sacred ministy of the priest, orchestrated by Cardinal Medina of the CDW, try to “claw back the priest’s authority” under the mistaken impression that phenomena such as widespread use of lay ministers oif Communion were undermining the priesthood. Most people did not hear about the instruction, and those who did hear simply ignored it and continued with their previous practice. It had little or no impact.

        However, the CDW’s 2004 instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, signed by Cardinal Arinze, reinforced the change of Roman view evident in the 1997 instruction, and now indeed we do have a situation where it often appears that lay ministers of Communion are substitute clerics. Some (including some bishops), however, have continued to ignore that instruction too, but many more were brought to observe it.

        Nevertheless, going back further to Paul VI’s Fidei custos (1969), Ministeria quaedam (1972) and Immensae caritatis (1973), it is quite clear that this was not the original intent. These three documents constitute a deliberate dismantling of the clerical system that had existed for the previous 1500 years or so.

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