LITURGY CORNER #9
"What then, brethren? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson...but let all things be done for the common good."
This statement by St. Paul (I Corinthians, 14:26) frames a truth that is very important in Roman Catholic Liturgy: in the celebration of the Mass, each member of the Christian assembly has their own appropriate role. This is an active role--no longer do the people simply 'hear' Mass while the priest 'says' Mass. Rather, the priest and the people together and according to the roles appropriate to each, fully, actively, and consciously participate in the sacred celebration. The Church continues to refine how we talk about the Liturgy, in order to convey more clearly her understanding of Jesus' will for us. For example, the word used to refer to the priest who was leading the Mass, until fairly recently, was the 'celebrant'. But, in order to emphasize the reality that the whole People of God together celebrate the presence of Jesus during the Mass, the term now in use for that priest is the 'presider'. This does not in any way diminish the unique sacramental, teaching, and leadership role of the priest at the Liturgy. Rather, it is meant to highlight that he 'presides' over the Liturgy during which all the faithful 'celebrate' together the presence of their Lord, each according to the roles appropriate to them. The guiding Church document for our celebration of the Mass, The General Instruction on the Roman Missal, helpfully points out what these different roles are.
I would like to comment on a few of those roles, in light of our experience in Christ the King. Because of the logistical complexities of our nomadic Pilgrim People life, we have combined or eliminated a few roles in the Liturgy. Now, however, due to the accumulated experience of our excellent support staff and the willingness of our people to continue to serve Jesus in the Liturgy, I believe we can move to incorporate in Christ the King's celebration of the Mass, some of those roles that the Church recommends. For example, until now, one of our acolytes carried the Lectionary during the entrance procession. According to the documents on the Liturgy, this is a role appropriate to the reader. This is important for two reasons. First, since the reader is the one who is going to read the Scriptures, it makes sense that the reader should carry those Scriptures. Second, and even more important symbolically, the presence of the reader in the entrance procession highlights that special role of the laity to be the ones who are proclaimers of the Word of God. It emphasizes their dignity in that special call.
Another role recommended for the laity concerns the offeratory procession. The General Instruction states: "It is desirable for the faithful to present the bread and wine, which are accepted by the priest or deacon at a convenient place." (GIRM, #49). This action not only underscores the fundamental importance of the laity in providing for the support of the Church, more significantly it symbolizes their offering of themselves and the Christian assembly they represent to their divine Master, Who offered Himself for them. They offer bread and wine to God, as a symbol of themselves. He receives it and turns it into Himself, and offers Himself back to them.
One last issue concerns a way that we have combined several roles at Christ the King. This concerns our acolytes. They actually fulfill a combination of three functions: acolyte, Eucharistic minister, and altar server, (i.e. altar boys). Recently, I was touched by reading several addresses that Pope Paul VI gave to altar boys, and I saw the importance that the Pope placed on that special ministry, not only for the sake of the community, but in a special way for the sake of the boys who participated in it, especially in terms of its potential vocational effect. We have decided to begin using altar boys at our Sunday Masses--we already use them at our weekdays Masses. They would serve in addition to our acolytes, fulfilling a liturgical role appropriate to their age. The importance of this special ministry was highlighted by Pope Paul VI when, addressing altar boys in Rome, he said: "We believe that we see the Savior's look also resting upon each one of you with special favor. Are you not the ones who come so very near to Him as you serve at the altar?" I believe that it is time for us to allow some of our boys the opportunity to serve Jesus in this way.
These issues may appear small, and in a certain sense they are, but I believe that the more we celebrate our Liturgies according to the mind of the Church, the more we will open ourselves to the presence of Jesus, Who is Lord of His Church. And, as Pope Paul VI said: "Moreover, in the Liturgy nothing is little, when we realize the greatness of the One to Whom it is directed."