The Catholic Defender: A Military "Lay Eucharistic Minister LEM"
The Catholic priest is the Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion working for the Bishop of their Diocese or other designation. An Extraordinary Minister helps serve the people of God helping usually in the local parish.
I was honored to serve as an Extraordinary Minister through the Archdiocese of the Military beginning in 1985 while Stationed at Fort Stewart Georgia until my Deployment to Iraq ended in April 2010.
Through these 25 plus years that I served in various places for the Church, I had many encounters, many opportunities to grow and help others.
Living on the military post, my family always went at the post chapel for Mass. So I was placed on rotation with our lectors and LEM's which we had to be approved by the Archdiocese of the Military.
There really is no difference of how LEM's are to support the priest on or off post. In a regular parish, the LEM's work for the Diocese, that means training is involved and it is usually the local priest who sends the names for the bishop's approval. That is that standard.
While on a 30 day deployment at Fort Polk Louisiana (JRTC) Joint Readiness Training Center, I prepared the Catholic Lay Service. This was Spring 2006 preparing to go to Iraq this coming October.
At this time, the Field LEM's were entrusted to give Holy Communion in the absence of a priest. This is my highest honor of my life, being given this opportunity to have Jesus present with me in Holy Communion.
I worked with our Unit's Chaplain's Assistant who played the guitar and we prepared a really neat presentation singing "Roll Away The Stone" for our Easter Celebration. I had readers to participate along with the lectionary I had for LEM's in the field. Despite not having a Catholic priest available, Soldiers were able to receive Jesus in Communion on that Easter day.
Early In 2007, Archbishop Edwin Frederick O'Brien changed the duty of the LEM's in the field taking the Eucharist out of our hands because of some potential abuse. I am aware of Brigade (Protestant) Chaplains ordering the Catholic LEM's to surrender the Eucharist to their office. I refused to do this because the only person I would surrender Our Lord would be to a Catholic priest.
It was during our Deployment to Iraq that this change was enforced so what we were able to offer were the Liturgy of the Word Services when there was the absence of a priest.
Throughout the year's Deployment, I was utilized by our Command for Catholic Services when there was no priest available.
We had a number of Joint Security Stations that we maintained and when the opportunity arose, I would travel with the Unit Chaplain who would conduct the Protestant Services while we held our Liturgy of the Word services.
When we were fortunate to have a Catholic priest available for Mass, it was just as much an honor to help Father by reading the scripture, serving as an Altar server, or helping with Communion. As I look back at my military career, there are many highlights, but certainly, this ranks the highest because there is no greater joy or reward than serving the King of kings.
What an honor, and it is my hope and prayer that people will seek to serve the Lord through His Holy Catholic Church. We need more people willing to take Christ out at the Tip of the Spear.
If what we do can help just one person, then it is all worth the sacrifice. We can't be simply satisfied with the past, but we must continue to strive to do God's will through service.
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." 1 Corinthians 9:24-27