Of all the liturgical roles available, Silvana Rueda was sure that becoming an extraordinary minister of holy Communion was ideal for her.
“The aspect of giving is a really important part of my life. I feel that by being a minister of Communion, it gives me a chance to reach out within my church,” said Silvana 17, who has now served in that role for four years at her parish, Ithaca’s St. Catherine of Siena. “It really connects me to my religion and to those around me.”
Silvana and many other diocesan teens have had growing opportunities for such ministry since 1997, when Bishop Matthew H. Clark issued the “Gifted to Serve” guidelines that call diocesan parishes to fully integrate young people into liturgical roles.
Tanya Bollenbach, junior-high youth minister at St. Catherine of Siena, reports that six young people serve in the parish as extraordinary ministers, and can opt to administer either the host, the cup or both.
“From my perspective, we want to see young people active in the church — that whole ‘faith in action’ thing. The kids are welcomed just as much as the adults,” Bollenbach commented.
Indeed, according to Silvana, “I got a lot of feedback from people who were very happy that I was doing it. The entire congregation is pretty much supportive — I don’t feel that somebody is sort of waiting for me to mess up somehow and say ‘see, she’s too young.’ That’s not the case at all.”
Frank Massi, 16, of Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception Parish, and Jacque Mangefrida, 14, of Greece’s St. Charles Borromeo Parish, have each served as extraordinary ministers for about a year. Both said they moved toward these duties because they felt they were outgrowing their previous roles as altar servers. “This was another way to help the church out,” Jacque said.
Michael Theisen, diocesan director of youth ministry, said many parishes follow in the spirit of “Gifted to Serve” — but there’s more work to be done. He said altar serving is still the only widespread liturgical role for young people, while the perception continues to some degree that other liturgical duties are reserved for adults. Ironically, Theisen observed, altar serving requires the most extensive training — so it stands to reason that young people also have the capacity to become extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, lectors and ushers.
Theisen suggested that parish leaders not only put invitations in their bulletins but also personally invite youths for these roles. He hopes that youths will take full advantage of the opportunities and set the tone for even greater youth involvement.
“I know of the power and potential they have as role models for other young people in their community,” he said.
Bollenbach said she encourages liturgical ministry at St. Catherine of Siena by arranging Masses for middle-school students in which youths fill all the liturgical positions. Similarly, at Immaculate Conception, Frank was among the many young liturgical ministers for a family Mass on March 6. Theisen said special Masses such as these are good ideas — provided they encourage regular liturgical activity by young people, as opposed to being one-time-only opportunities.
Frank feels that readiness for such a role shouldn’t be determined by age. “I think it’s more on a personal level,” he said.
Bollenbach agreed, saying the criteria should be that “they show responsibility and respect.” She added that she’s impressed at the maturity displayed by young extraordinary ministers of holy Communion in her parish.
“I thought, ‘wow, they have so much courage, getting up in front of the church community.’ For me, it’s one of the most intimidating ministries. There’s this huge level of responsibility,” she said.
In his ministry Frank said it’s important for him to adapt to all people, regardless of their age, mannerisms and rituals when they receive the host and cup. “It’s not as simple as it looks. You’ve got to roll with the punches, work with the people and make them feel comfortable,” he said, adding, “I try to make eye contact, try to make it like I’m not just giving (Communion) to them. I’m trying to make a brief spiritual connection with them.”
Eye contact is an imperative for Silvana as well, who added that “it’s always really important for me to smile. To have this beam and have this happy expression — I’m giving you the body of Christ, rejoice.”
Saying “The body of Christ” and “The blood of Christ” are cherished responsibilities for Frank and Jacque as well.
“It’s something you don’t say on a regular basis, so it’s definitely something special,” Frank remarked.
“I can bring God to other people. It’s a good thing, sharing something that sacred with someone you don’t even know,” Jacque said.