Sunday Reflection: Serving in Back

This is a simple personalOrdination, March 25, 1990 reflection.  No big agenda, no big point to make.

I love being a deacon for many reasons.  But one of the things that is always a blessing is something I’ve been doing most of my adult life, even before being ordained a deacon: distributing Communion at Mass.  It is one of the most profound and moving experiences of ministry.

eucharistic ministerAt my current parish we have been encountering growing numbers of parishioners over the last couple of years, so much so that we’ve had to adapt our normal arrangements for communion to meet this need.  At our most highly attended Masses, after I distribute the Precious Blood to other communion ministers, I take a ciborium and head to our “cry room”.  Then I walk to the back of the Church and up the stairs to the choir loft, which is actually used for overflow seating (the choir is down near the altar), and then I go back downstairs and take a position at the back of the Church and begin distributing communion back there.

What I have come to love about doing this is that it feels very “diaconal” to be taking Christ to people who are “in the back” for a variety of reasons.  Some are there because the want a head start getting to the parking lot after Mass; but they are there.  Others are back there because they have little children and they want to be able to do what might be needed if the kids get fussy during Mass; but they are there.  Still others are there because they were running late or because they don’t like to move toward the front for some reason; but they are there.

Normally we take a position somewhere near the sanctuary and remain statically in place while people come to us for Communion.  What I find wonderful is the idea of a minister going out to where the people are.  It communicates so well that, not only during Mass but at all times, we are to carry Christ to wherever he is most needed, and not simply wait for people to come forward.

Gotta love it!


9 comments on “Sunday Reflection: Serving in Back

  1. While I won’t quarrel with the beauty of your imagery here, Bill, I can’t refrain from adding another perspective. I’m not sure folks in the Communion procession are coming to us, ministers statically in place. Rather, I think of them coming from all over the church to the altar, to the Lord’s table where they share in the Supper that makes us all one in his Body and Blood. It’s from that point, that place, that all of us are fed and nourished to go out to the world to carry Christ wherever he is most needed.

  2. Mark C. Miller says:


    Just a small point; you speak of distributing the Lord’s body in the form of bread:

    [I take a ciborium and head to our “cry room”. Then I walk to the back of the Church and up the stairs to the choir loft, which is actually used for overflow seating (the choir is down near the altar), and then I go back downstairs and take a position at the back of the Church and begin distributing communion back there.]

    The USCCB, when speaking of the deacons role, says …


    “After the priest’s communion, the deacon receives under both kinds from the priest himself and then assists the priest in giving communion to the people. But if communion is given under both kinds, the deacon ministers the chalice”.

    This seems pretty straightforward to me — the deacon’s proper role when communion under both species is the norm for a particular church; and I somehow got the impression that your parish was doing exactly that, is specifically to administer the cup.

    I’m certainly not qualified to discuss the nuances of the Bishop’s statement, but I am interested in your response and explanation.


    Deacon Mark

  3. Deacon Fergal O'Neill says:

    I’m only ordained almost 4 months and I am with you on this. It is truly a humbling mission we are charged with during the Holy Mass.

  4. Dear Fr. Austin,

    Thanks for this perspective. I completely agree with you, as well. My reflection was just that: a personal response that struck me this morning during our Masses. Thanks for visiting!

    God bless,


  5. Dear Mark,

    First, I would never hang your hat on a simple liturgical aid from the USCCB (except the ones I wrote while I was there!! Just kidding. . . !), but, rather, go to the source documents. In this case, that would be the GIRM itself. The responsibilities for the deacon, as expressed in various locations in the GIRM, give a more complete picture. Certainly, there is a special relationship and responsibility for the deacon and the Cup, but that’s not an EXCLUSIVE relationship. Deacons are ordinary ministers of Communion; we are to assist with the distribution based on the pastoral needs of the community involved. NORMALLY, that might be reflected by serving the Cup, but there might be other considerations. In OUR situation, I normally distribute from the Chalice. Even during the Masses I described in my post, I begin by ministering the Cup. But then I take up the Ciborium when finished with the Cup. It’s both/and, not either/or. Nothing in the USCCB document or the GIRM upon which it is based should be read in a way that RESTRICTS the role of the deacon to the Cup only would be overly restrictive. I discuss this in more detail in my book The Deacon at Mass: A Theological and Pastoral Guide; it might be helpful.

  6. Vicki Hawkins says:

    Thank you Deacon! Great reflection for all ministers of the Eucharist!

    Sent from my iPad

  7. Thanks Bill. Another perspective on this is that I occasionally don’t vest for Mass when I have a number of our 11 grandchildren in attendance with us. It’s a medium sized parish, but there are times when I feel very comfortable sitting in the pews with my wife and being ministered to. We have many acolytes and altar servers and eucharistic ministers, so unless I’m preaching I do that. A couple of weeks ago the new Archbishop turned up unexpectently to introduce himself to the parishioners: he didn’t celebrate, simply dropped in and introduced himself before Mass. As he left via the main aisle, he saw me with my wife and 6 of the grandchildren and introduced himself to them, and remarked to my wife and myself how nice it was to see the parish deacon ministering and witnessing [to his married state] from the congregation. We felt that it was a lovely affirmation of my ministry of 22 years. Deacon Mick, Canberra, Australia

  8. Dcn. Tom Berna says:

    Bill, I appreciate your post. I, too, enjoy taking Communion to those who cannot approach the altar. I do this at Mass, then I visit parishioners who are home-bound. I remind them, “Jesus makes house calls!” In your writing and witness you have affirmed us, stressing that Christ the Servant serves beyond the walls of the church building. It is an honor and blessing to minister to ALL members of the Body – especially to those who, for one reason or another, cannot or will not approach the altar.
    T O M
    Pittsburgh, PA

  9. Reblogged this on Deacons hold the bowl and commented:
    Written from a Roman Catholic perspective, not that different from the United Methodist Deacon.

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