The Mass—the central act of Catholic worship—can be a richer experience for everyone, as shown in these popular essays written by the most accomplished liturgists in the country. The contributors examine the roles of all the people involved in the Mass—the congregation, presider, deacons, lectors, musicians, eucharistic ministers, ministers of hospitality—and offer a wealth of practical advice to deepen Catholics’ appreciation of the Mass. The articles in Celebrating Good Liturgy are written in an accessible, popular style. They were originally published in America magazine as one of the most popular series in the magazine’s history. They will prove helpful to everyone involved in the Mass—especially those many Catholics who regularly celebrate it.
“There is terrific wisdom, common sense, and practical information in this collection of brief essays. Priests and deacons should read it; members of parish liturgy committees should read it; and above all, ‘the folks in the pews’ should read it.”—Mitch Finley, author of The Seeker’s Guide to Being Catholic
“A rich—and immediately useful—collection of ways to engage the assembly at Mass and deepen our understanding of this most important hour each week.”—Paul Wilkes, author of Excellent Catholic Parishes: The Guide to Best Places and Practices and The 7 Secrets of Successful Catholics
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About the Author
James Martin, SJ, is associate editor of America magazine. A prolific author, writer, and editor, his books include My Life with the Saints, A Jesuit Off-Broadway, Searching for God at Ground Zero and In Good Company. He is the editor of Awake My Soul and Celebrating Good Liturgy. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Tablet, and Commonweal. Fr. Martin resides in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
James Martin, SJ
How many debates have you heard about the way that Mass is celebrated in your parish?
Few discussions can animate (and agitate) American Catholics more than those over liturgical topics. In other words, if you want a lively discussion in your parish, just bring up any of the following topics: the use of inclusive language, the selection of hymns, the quality (and length) of the homily, whether to kneel at the consecration, the role of eucharistic ministers, the perceived degree of “reverence” among the congregation, who shakes hands and who doesn’t at the sign of peace, and how closely the presider follows the prescribed rubrics.
When carried out in a parish community with trust, such conversations can lead to improvements in parish life and a deepening of appreciation of the Mass. Just as often, however, they can devolve into what are known as “liturgy wars,” leading to frustration and even anger. Too often, the “sacrament of unity” can be a source of disunity in parishes.
Unfortunately, such “liturgy wars” can distract Catholics from what they care most about—the Eucharist, the sacrament described by the Second Vatican Council as “the true center of the whole Christian life for the universal church and the local congregation.”
In an attempt to refresh Catholics on the subject of the liturgy, America, the national Catholic magazine, recently offered its readers a multipart series entitled Good Liturgy. This book gathers together all those essays, which proved popular with readers, especially pastors and pastoral teams across the country. After the initial series appeared, the magazine received dozens of requests for reprints—a more or less infallible indication of the usefulness of a particular article.
In the following chapters, some of the country’s leading liturgical scholars, experts, and practitioners consider the liturgy from the vantage point of the variety of “roles” of the participants in the Mass. They examine how each participant can more fully contribute to the celebration of “good liturgy” in the church today.
You might be curious about the structure of the book. Why focus on the roles that make up the celebration of the liturgy?
Why not focus, for instance, on the structure of the Mass itself—
for example, one essay on the introductory rite, one on the readings, one on the Eucharistic Prayers, and so on? That was certainly one possibility. But in the end, it seemed better to focus on something both more specific and more practical: the individual contributions that each person makes to the Eucharist, in order to offer people a better sense of how they could participate fully and actively in the Mass. Not only would this enable persons serving in these ministries to reflect on their own roles, it also would enable Catholics to better understand what the other person is doing. In other words, I imagine a deacon might say, “Now I better understand what our ministers of hospitality really do,” or a eucharistic minister saying, “Now I finally see why the music ministers are so important.”
Our essays begin with the assembly, the role in which the vast majority of Catholics find themselves during the celebration of the Eucharist. Indeed, the assembly is seen at the heart of all the ministries in the book: presiders, deacons, lectors, eucharistic ministers, music ministers, parish liturgical councils, and ministers of hospitality. All these ministries are viewed, essentially, as serving the assembly. The final essay, by Nathan D. Mitchell, associate director of the Center for Pastoral Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame, is a sort of drawing together of the previous chapters and also offers a short list of what makes for a “good liturgy.”
The essayists were asked to take a broad look at each role in order to situate the particular ministry: its underlying spirituality and theology, as well as its history, current questions about its place in the Mass, helpful practices, and also practical ex-
amples from personal experience. Though our writers are experts in the field and often teach liturgical theology in colleges and universities, I asked them to avoid a purely academic approach and, instead, to speak more personally to readers.
You’ll notice that our writers make ample use of Scripture, historical documents, and recent Vatican teachings. At the same time, the contributors were asked not to focus too much on the hot-button topics that have bogged down liturgical scholars and experts during the past few decades. So while some essays mention these disputes (for example, when does the eucharistic minister receive Communion?), they center more on the basics of the individual ministries.
As an aside, you don’t have to be a liturgical scholar or an expert in liturgical practices to appreciate these essays. (I am certainly neither of those things.) A few things, though, are helpful to know from the outset.
First of all, nearly all the essayists refer to a document called Sacrosanctum Concilium. This was the first major publication of the Second Vatican Council and was issued on December 4, 1963. Vatican documents usually take their names from their first two words. Sacrosanctum Concilium really means “This Sacred Council,” but it is often referred to by its official English title, “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.” (Sometimes the essayists simply use the shorthand S.C.)
One of the most well-known writings of the Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium set in motion the grand liturgical reforms that were a hallmark of Vatican II. Besides reminding Catholics that the liturgy is the central act of worship in the church, S.C. called for “full, conscious, and active” participation by the laity during the Mass. The document inspired a host of reforms that revolutionized the liturgy, most famously in its desire for clarified and simplified rituals, and especially, the call for the Mass to be celebrated in “vernacular” or local languages. Indeed, if you ask most American Catholics what Vatican II did, the first answer you’ll probably hear is, “It changed the Mass from Latin to English.” That’s primarily the work of Sacrosanctum Concilium.
Like many Council documents, Sacrosanctum Concilium not only laid the foundations for eventual reforms of the church but also makes for inspiring reading in its own right. At the end of this book are some of the more important passages from S.C. I hope that these brief selections from this great work of the Council will help deepen your understanding of the essays, as well as provide you with some beautiful passages for personal prayer and reflection.
Another document frequently referred to in this book is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, also referred to by the rather infelicitous acronym G.I.R.M. This was a document on the celebration of the Mass published in 1969 by the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation of Divine Worship. The General Instruction was intended as part of the new Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI. Essentially, it addressed the specific ways and practices that are required for the celebration of the Mass, a kind of how-to manual of liturgical practices. In 1975, it was slightly altered; and then, in 2002, a new document, the Revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal, was issued.
Now a bit of a personal note. Part of the fun of collecting and editing these essays was not only revisiting some topics I first encountered during my theology studies, but also discovering some brand-new ideas and insights. Frankly, it never dawned on me until I read Keith Pecklers’s essay on presiding that one reason that it’s preferable not to speak aloud all the celebrant’s prayers is that a little silence is not such a bad idea. For another thing, I hadn’t really thought of hospitality as “everyone’s ministry” until I read Thomas Richstatter’s reflections. And then I thought, Of course. And until I read Kathy Lindell’s chapter on the parish liturgical committee, I never imagined what kinds of challenges and difficulties such groups could face.
After collecting and editing these essays, I noticed that not only did I celebrate Mass a little differently (and better, I hope!) but also that, to paraphrase Vatican II, I more fully and actively understood the value of everyone’s ministry. All of this added to my appreciation of the church’s great sacrament.
Overall, I hope that this book will prove helpful to all members of the worshiping community—clergy and laypersons alike—and serve as a reminder that, in the words of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the church everywhere “seeks continually to understand and to live the Eucharist more fully.”
James Martin, SJ
July 31, 2005
Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola
Robert D. Duggan
The Reverend Robert D. Duggan is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and is a columnist for Church magazine.
One of the most important pastoral challenges I have faced as a parish priest over the past thirty years has been helping the faithful overcome a legacy of passivity and the notion that it’s “Father’s Mass, not ours.”
Certainly progress has been made since the Second Vatican Council, but a survey of the current liturgical landscape reveals mixed results. Catholics have a solid, well-articulated theology of the assembly’s role at the Eucharist, a vision backed by numerous official pronouncements stretching back to Pius X in the early twentieth century. But many people in the pews are unaware of that theology. And they continue to struggle with a deeply entrenched clericalism and disenfranchisement of the laity at Mass, conditions passed on from generation to generation through subtle attitudes and behaviors that continue to communicate the message that it really is “Father’s Mass.”
Still, more and more among the laity are beginning to make connections between their dignity as baptized persons and their responsibility to participate actively in the Eucharist. The ongoing work of liturgical renewal has made many inroads, developing an awareness of the importance of the assembly’s role at worship and teaching a variety of practical skills that enable fuller participation. Nonetheless, old habits die hard, and practices still taken for granted in many parishes militate against real ownership of the liturgical action by the assembly at large.
The Assembly Since Vatican II
If history is ultimately to judge the Spirit-led aggiornamento, or “updating,” called for by Pope John XXIII a success, it will in no small measure be the result of the people of God awakening to the privileges and responsibilities that are theirs by virtue of baptism.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Second Vatican Council’s renewal of the liturgy, now a work forty years in progress but truly just beginning in earnest. The hierarchical church has done its work reasonably well—despite some signs of retrenchment in recent years—by publishing an entire corpus of revised liturgical books, enacting enough rubrics and liturgical laws to fill a small library and overseeing the process of translation and inculturation with watchful, if somewhat timorous, eyes. What remains to be accomplished is mostly at the local level, where the people of God gather on Sunday mornings to face the challenge of breathing life into the liturgy, turning “correct” liturgical forms into true celebrations of faith.
Much has been said since the Council about what must be done to renew the various ministries that collaborate in the Eucharist. But the foundation for all ecclesial renewal, and for a renewed liturgical experience in particular, rests with a faith-filled, well-informed, and committed assembly of the faithful who do their job with the “full, conscious, and active participation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 14) that is rightly theirs by virtue of their baptismal consecration as a royal priesthood.
Since Vatican II, there has been no lack of official documents that emphasize the importance of the ministry of the liturgical assembly. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that at Mass the people of God “offer the spotless Victim not only through the hands of the priest, but also together with him . . .” (No. 95). Another recent document from the Vatican—entitled “Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy” and released in 2002—minces no words in describing how historical factors during the Middle Ages and afterward resulted in a passive, nonparticipatory role for the faithful at Mass, a problem we are still working to overcome. The directory points out that one cause of this lamentable development was “a weakening of a sense of the universal priesthood in virtue of which the faithful offer ‘spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God, through Jesus Christ’ (1 Pt 2:5; Rm 12:1), and, according to their condition, participate fully in the church’s worship” (No. 48).
Today, the impact of these official documents needs to become part of the awareness of the assembly at large. It is they—just as much as the presider—who must offer the great sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God. It is they—just as much as the presider—who carry responsibility to say the prayers and sing the songs prescribed for them in the ritual texts. It is they—just as much as the presider—who must be channels of the Spirit’s consecratory power, allowing the gift of themselves to be transformed as surely as the gifts of bread and wine are changed into Christ’s body and blood.
For nearly two decades, I have been blessed to minister as pastor in a parish community that takes seriously its responsibility for eucharistic celebrations that are vibrant and faith filled. Without wishing to suggest that we have “arrived” or are a “model” parish (we haven’t and we aren’t), nonetheless, I have experienced firsthand some of what it takes to restore to the assembly its sense of ownership of the liturgical action. Realizing that others may wish to add to my list, I offer my own formula for success in helping the assembly achieve that “full, conscious, and active participation” at the Sunday Eucharist of which the official documents speak.
• Help the entire assembly find its voice in singing at the Eucharist. As long as large numbers of Catholics remain mute when the liturgy calls for the assembly to sing, true liturgical renewal will elude us. No single element will make as much difference as the empowerment of the faithful. We still need a better repertoire, better training, better song leaders, and a shared conviction that song is an essential way for us to lift our voices in prayer as a community of the redeemed. But when all those pieces fall into place, the assembly experiences the power of its prayer in a way that, as one of my parishioners said, “knocks their socks off.”
• Proclaim and preach the Scriptures in a way that engages at a deep level the attention (and faith) of the assembly. There is no more profound experience of communal participation in the liturgy than the utter stillness that overtakes a community that has just heard the word of God proclaimed (or preached) with a power that takes the breath away. Lectors and homilists carry a heavy burden if they are to reach that degree of effectiveness on a regular basis. But members of the faithful also share responsibility for becoming more scripturally literate and for demanding a higher-quality experience from those who minister the word to them on Sunday morning.
• Rework the choreography of the Eucharistic Prayer in order to engage the assembly more actively in its proclamation. This will require more refined skills by presiders who proclaim the text, a more interactive structure (like the sung acclamations that punctuate the children’s Eucharistic Prayers), and a more coherent “body language” that allows for a single posture (preferably standing along with the presider) from start to finish. Most critically it requires—on the part of the faithful—a more highly developed interior awareness of offering themselves, along with the presider, in the great sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise that is the Eucharistic Prayer.
• Address issues of ecclesiology and Christian identity as the backdrop against which full and active participation makes sense. The people of God require a lived experience that “We are the church.” In order for this to happen, many other aspects of church governance and polity will have to be considerably different from their present experience. In addition, membership and belonging must be defined in terms of a faith that is deliberately chosen and consciously lived (as it is presently, for example, in the adult-initiation process). This kind of faith must characterize the assembly at large. Moreover, conversion to discipleship—not mere cultural Catholicism—must be the normative understanding of our Christian identity. It would be wonderful if the hierarchy were to take the lead in this regard, but the parish is where people live their lives. Nothing prevents local communities from offering their members right now a practical “ecclesiology of belonging” to meet these needs.
• Implement regularly the full range of ritual options that already help the assembly’s active participation, and keep an eye open for others that might yet be developed. A good example of this is the adult-initiation model, which stresses the ritual involvement of the entire community in the “work” of making new Christians. This requires of the assembly a willingness to be “stretched” in its ritual repertoire of gestures, processions, and other elements that call for the engagement of their bodies, as well as their minds and hearts. Ordinary Catholics need to know in their bones that their full participation in the ritual action is crucial for its success. You will know this is working when more people arrive on time and fewer leave early!
• Promote as the context for the Eucharist a gathering that is warm and friendly, welcoming of diversity and hospitable to the stranger. We can no longer tolerate the perception that parishes where the worship is more relaxed and friendly are “Protestant” in style. The call to be evangelizing communities requires that the “frozen chosen” thaw out and show in real, human terms—above all, when they gather for worship—the joy that befits a community claiming to know in a personal way the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The isolationism seen in the privatized, individualistic way so many Catholics still worship must give way to a more highly developed awareness that the eucharistic liturgy is public and communal by nature, the “work” of the entire people of God united in a single prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
• Continue to teach, reflect on, and preach about the importance of baptism and its intimate connection with the offering of the eucharistic sacrifice. Catholics need to have a strongly developed liturgical spirituality that makes them more aware that at the Eucharist they join with the presider in the offering that Christ, the one and only high priest, makes to his Father for the life of the world. The royal priesthood of baptism consecrates the assembly of believers to a life of worship that finds its “source and summit” in the eucharistic gathering, and the faithful deserve to know about the solid theology that supports this perspective.
• Recognize that the assembly’s full participation in the Eucharist requires as a normative practice Communion under both kinds from elements consecrated at that liturgy. Denying the cup to the entire assembly and serving “leftovers” consecrated at a previous celebration are vestiges of a pre-Vatican II practice and strike at the heart of the assembly’s full participation in the Eucharist. The faithful who still do not value the importance of partaking of both bread and wine consecrated at this particular sacred meal need to be helped to gain that appreciation. The complicitous silence of the faithful as their bishops solve the priest shortage with “Sunday Communion Services in the Absence of a Priest” is symptomatic of a failure to claim their right to the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist as baptized members of the Body of Christ. That such a solution is spreading so quickly (and with so little protest) indicates how much work remains to be done among the people of God in order to reclaim the vision described so glowingly by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter “On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy” (Dies Domini).
Personal experience has taught me that these steps are not only important, but also achievable. The Council’s call for a renewed liturgy—celebrated by assemblies that participate fully, consciously, and actively in the Sunday Eucharist—is not the idle fantasy of starry-eyed idealists. Rather, it is the inspired vision of Spirit-led leaders, who dared to dream of a renewed church, gathered around the table of the Lord, singing God’s praise with all the gusto of true believers.
Presiding at the
Liturgy of the Word
John F. Baldovin, SJ
John F. Baldovin, SJ, teaches historical and liturgical theology at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Father Baldovin’s newest book is Bread of Life, Cup of Salvation: Understanding the Mass.
There is a saying, “Well begun is half done.” Liturgical celebrations are among the places where that is especially true. What follows is one presider’s and teacher’s reflection on the first half of the liturgy of the Mass, from before the entrance procession to the end of the Prayer of the Faithful. The basic principle here is that the role of the priest-presider, or celebrant of the Eucharist, is to serve and encourage the prayer of the assembly that God has gathered in a particular place, so that they can give praise to God and grow in their response to the gift of Christ in word and sacrament.
The tone of the liturgy is set by the presider at the very beginning. After some comments on the history, theology, and spirituality of the Liturgy of the Word, I will turn to some dos and don’ts of presiding, and conclude with some reflections on preaching.
A Very Brief History
As far as we can tell, during the first four centuries a.d., the Liturgy of the Word began with a liturgical greeting by the president of the assembly; then came the readings—and that was about it.
St. Justin Martyr (writing about mid-second-century Rome) tells us that on Sundays, “[T]he memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as much as there is time for. Then, when the reader has finished, the one presiding, provides, in a discourse, admonition and exhortation to imitate these excellent things. Then we all stand up together and say prayers. . . .”
In some of the early church communities, as many as four or five readings were proclaimed. By the Middle Ages, the Western church, with some rare exceptions, used two readings: one from the Gospels and another from Paul or some other New Testament book. Biblical chants (mostly psalms) always have been interspersed among the readings. As the chants became more elaborate, the texts were abbreviated, so that very few verses were sung. Another medieval development, probably an expansion of the alleluia verse, was the sequence hymn sung on special occasions—for example, “Sion, Praise Your Savior” on Corpus Christi, “Dies Irae” at Masses for the Dead, and “Praise the Paschal Victim” on Easter. The Gospel was traditionally chanted by a deacon. This is, as the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, a ministerial, not a presidential function in the liturgy (No. 59). The Nicene Creed became a regular part of the Sunday Eucharist in the tenth century, imported from the Greek East. The Prayer of the Faithful disappeared after the beginning of the fifth century but has been restored in the post-Vatican II rite.
Theology and Spirituality
With what theology and spirituality can the presider approach this combination of rites that we call the Liturgy of the Word? A few principles from the General Instruction can help. First, the entrance rites should “ensure that the faithful who come together as one establish Communion and dispose themselves properly to God’s word and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily” (No. 46). Second, the instruction emphasizes that in the proclamation of the word, God is speaking: Christ himself is present in our midst (Nos. 29, 55).
There are two spiritual implications that might inform the presider’s approach to these basic aspects of the first part of the Mass: humility and reverence. If presiders are not awe-struck by the fact that Christ is really present in his word and that God is actually speaking to us, how can we expect anyone else to appreciate God’s word as the most fundamental source of our faith? So the presider’s task is to exercise a kind of enthusiastic humility (if that’s not too much of an oxymoron) during the Liturgy of the Word.
Second, the instruction also affirms the presence of Christ in the midst of the gathered assembly (No. 27). This implies that the presider needs to show reverence not only for the liturgy but also for his fellow members of the Body of Christ, for whose leadership he has been called. The presider’s role during the entrance rites and the Liturgy of the Word is a rather modest one. He leads by listening. The priest has a very delicate role in the liturgy: He represents Christ to the assembly (which is the Body of Christ), and he represents the body of Christ to God. In a sense, he is the quintessential middleman.
Pitfalls and Good Practices in Presiding
There are both opportunities and pitfalls for presiders, right from the beginning of the entrance rite to the end of the intercessions. The entire celebration can start off on the wrong foot when a cantor or commentator begins with something like, “Good morning; let’s all stand and greet our celebrant, Father Jim, with the hymn . . .” I think (I hope) that everyone knows that the point of the opening song is not to greet the presider, but to gather the assembly to praise God and to hear God’s word.
The liturgical scholar Ralph Keifer pointed out some time ago that there is an irony about the post-Vatican II liturgy. While today’s liturgy balances the role of the priest and the assembly theologically, it seems to give more emphasis to the personality of the priest and so reverses that balance ritually. Given the danger that the liturgy can so easily be mistaken for entertainment (instead of a communal response to God’s invitation), the presider needs to be very careful not to make himself the center of attention. There are several ways this can happen. The priest might add “Good morning” to the ritual greeting “The Lord be with you.” I have heard priests respond, “Thank you” to the people’s “And also with you.” Or the priest can act as if he were host of the gathering in his introduction to the celebration: “I’m so happy you can be here today.” I’ve heard even visiting priests do that. It is not for nothing that some have suggested that we have merely substituted a new, more informal, clericalism for the old one.
The Sacramentary and General Instruction both allow for the priest to offer a “very brief” introduction to the liturgy of the day in his own words immediately after the greeting. How is a new clericalism to be avoided here? One way is to think of this introduction as exhortation rather than information. It is not meant to be a summary or preview of the homily but a means of helping the assembly to praise God, to recognize their need for forgiveness, and to hear God’s word.
I should also mention the practice of adding phrases like, “My brothers and sisters, the Lord be with you.” During the course I teach to future priests on liturgical presiding, I ask, “How do those added words improve on what the church is offering in the liturgy?” I rarely hear a good answer. This is not liturgical nitpicking so much as a way to point out that the liturgy is a common possession of the people of God, not the property of the priest, however well-meaning he may be.
This leads to a larger issue: Is there a legitimate variety of liturgical styles? The answer is, quite simply, yes. The presider’s style of introducing the liturgy may well differ among African-American, “Anglo,” and Latino assemblies, since these varied groups may well need different approaches in order to gather in praise and be prepared to listen to the word of God. At the same time, we need to be wary of a simplistic equation of formality with a cold manner or stiffness. It seems to me that the best presiders combine respect for the assembly and ritual formality with great warmth and engagement—what I like to call “high-church-with-a-heart.”
Let us turn to the penitential rite. The third form of the rite, which combines acclamations directed to Christ with the response “Lord [Christ], have mercy,” has become the clear favorite in our celebrations. The priest (or deacon or cantor) may use the acclamations printed in the Sacramentary or others. Note, however, that when the directions say “using these or similar words,” they mean that what is improvised should follow the form and intent of the examples given. First of all, then, these are acclamations addressed not to the persons of the Trinity but to Christ; second, they do not focus on our sins but on Christ and his activity (“You came to call sinners”). It is also good to remember that the rite of sprinkling is recommended on Sundays (especially in the Easter season) as a way of remembering our baptisms.
“Glory to God in the Highest” is a hymn that we sing every Sunday except in the seasons of Lent and Advent. It is the nature of a hymn to be sung. Many of our congregations have difficulty with singing, and sometimes this difficulty is exacerbated by the reluctance of their priests to sing. We certainly need to take much more seriously in our seminary education the training of priests to sing. The “Glory to God” is followed by the opening prayer, which brings a close to the entrance rites. This is one of the places where the re-emphasis on silence noted in the General Instruction is important. The priest says, “Let us pray.” This invitation refers to the silence in which all who are gathered offer up their prayer. The technical name for what follows is the “collect”: it sums up or collects the silent prayers of the assembled.
Can it be said that presiders do not need to be active during the proclamation of the word? It is clear that reading the Scriptures is a ministerial, not a presidential role. The presider is to cede the reading of the Gospel to a deacon or to a concelebrating priest, if there is one. I sympathize with priests who are going to preach and want to read the Gospel so that they can give it their own emphasis, but this value does not outrank the importance of respecting the liturgy as a combination of coordinated roles imaging the body of Christ.
On the other hand, even when the presider is not speaking, he should be an active hearer of the word. If the presider does not have his eyes on the reader or otherwise show that he is listening attentively, the rest of the assembly receives a subtle but nonetheless clear signal that it is not important for them to listen either. What would change in our liturgies if we all believed that the word of God is a matter of life and death? After all, it is.
Proclaiming the Word
There are four ways in which we respond to the proclamation of God’s word: the homily, the Creed, the Prayer of the Faithful, and the Eucharistic Prayer and Communion. Preaching is obviously the most important thing presiders do during the Liturgy of the Word. Presuming the presider’s strong and living faith, I offer here only three points on something that deserves a much longer reflection. First, it is important to remember that the liturgical homily is a way to connect a particular assembly’s experience with God’s living word. Second, this means that the preacher must have a good “feel” for each assembly. He is not merely offering an exegesis or explanation of the Scriptures—although that prior work needs to be done in his office and in his prayer. Third, there is no substitute for being an interesting person. Preachers need to read (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry); they need to go to movies and concerts, and watch television; they need to listen to music of many sorts. In other words, they need to be thoroughly engaged both in reflection on Scripture and theology, and in the culture in which they live. They should have something significant to say.
On Sundays and major feast days we proclaim the Creed. The newest edition of the texts for the Mass gives the option of using either the Nicene or the (much shorter) Apostles’ Creed. Creeds are not so much a series of statements giving information about God as they are a way of expressing the grammar of faith and a means of praise. (We also need good and relatively easy melodies so that the creeds can be sung more often.)
The final element in the Liturgy of the Word is the Prayer of the Faithful. Once again, the presider’s role is modest but significant. He introduces the petitions by an invitation to pray. (Note that the invitation is not itself a prayer.) As mentioned earlier with regard to reading the Gospel, the Roman Catholic liturgy is a “team sport” and calls for a reader, cantor, or deacon to read the petitions. The presider then concludes the prayer by speaking a formula, examples of which are given in appendix 1 of the Sacramentary. Published sets of original prayers composed with the readings of the Lectionary in mind may also be useful.
Together with Christ
I have been using the word presider, in addition to the terms used by the General Instruction, priest or priest-celebrant. I have adopted this terminology deliberately. In a real sense, the entire assembly is the celebrant of the liturgy together with Christ, whose Spirit calls it into being. The presider’s role is both critical and limited. He is given the noble task of symbolizing the community’s unity and calling it to worship the Lord of all. That is no small grace, but a wonderful privilege.
The revised edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal provides us all, clergy and laypeople alike, with a golden opportunity to reflect on the importance of carefully preparing and engaging in our eucharistic celebrations. May that reflection deepen our worship and response to the God who never ceases to call us to deeper and richer life.
Table of Contents
Introduction James Martin, SJ xi
1 The Assembly Robert D. Duggan 1
2 Presiding at the Liturgy of the Word 9 John F. Baldovin, SJ
3 Presiding at the Liturgy of the Eucharist 17 Keith F. Pecklers, SJ
4 The Ministry of the Deacon Joseph DeGrocco 25
5 The Ministry of the Lector James M. Schellman 37
6 The Ministry of the Parish Liturgy Committee 45
Kathy A. Lindell
7 Music Ministry J. Michael McMahon 55
8 Ministers of Communion 63
Margaret Mary Kelleher, OSU
9 The Ministry of Hospitality 71
Thomas Richstatter, OFM
10 Celebrating “Good Liturgy” Nathan D. Mitchell 79
Selections from Sacrosanctum Concilium 87
About the Editor 99