QA at the foot of the cross-Holy Communion

Who can administer Holy Communion? Ordained pastors only? Staff ministers? Can a female administer the Sacrament to other females? What is permissible? And—a better question—what is beneficial?

The ministry of proclaiming the gospel is entrusted to every Christian. Ever since baptism made us full “sons” of God (Galatians 3:26-28) with all the privileges that entails, the keys of the kingdom of heaven belong to each one of us. God calls every royal priest to declare his praises before the world (1 Peter 2:9).

But that doesn’t mean we should all rush forward to the pulpit or altar on Sunday morning to preach or administer the Lord’s Supper. One priest publicly serves other priests only when given the privilege to do so through a call to public ministry (Hebrews 5:4). It is typically our pastor whose call is so defined that his tasks include public preaching and administering the sacraments.

Yet here we must remember that the Sacrament’s validity does not depend on the person who administers it. The Sacrament is valid because Christ promised that when we eat and drink the Supper according to his institution, his true body and blood are received with the bread and wine. We do not believe that ordination imprints some kind of “indelible character” on a pastor, giving him special power to administer the Sacrament.

Therefore, any man whom the royal priests of God call to that task can administer the Lord’s Supper. That is true whether that request comes through a formal call (such as pastors, staff ministers, principals) or informal call (elders and other lay leaders). In all those cases, Christ’s promise assures us that the Sacrament is as valid as if Christ were administering his own Supper. The call of the congregation simply gives one royal priest the privilege to administer that sacrament on behalf of his fellow royal priests.

But you’ve asked another question. Before addressing whether a female could administer the Sacrament to other females, let’s state clearly why we don’t typically see a woman administering the Lord’s Supper. Certainly it’s not because a sacrament administered by a woman would be invalid. Every Lord’s Supper administered according to Christ’s institution is valid whether the administrant is male or female.

But there’s another biblical principle to consider. God gave us clear instruction that public ministry duties that include the exercise of authority over both women and men are the responsibility of the men in the congregation (1 Timothy 2:11,12). Certainly administering the Sacrament exercises the same level of authority as preaching the gospel from the pulpit. Both are rightly reserved for any male whom the royal priests call to carry out those ministry tasks.