Serving to the fullest
In his past columns, Father Thu Nguyen, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Fort Worth and diocesan director of liturgy and worship, has given us a deeper understanding of the role of the assembly, the importance of music, and the meaning of gestures in the celebration of the Mass.
In this issue, he looks at some special roles the laity may have in the liturgy.
What are the sources for the current teaching on the roles of the laity?
Fr. Nguyen: In 1903, Pope St. Pius X wrote that it was the liturgy where the laity acquires the Christian spirit “from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.” In short, Pope St. Pius X thought active participation was the assimilation of the divine mysteries, particularly the Blessed Sacrament itself so that the faithful could be more and more configured to Jesus Christ from the celebration of the Eucharist and apply it to their lives outside of Mass.
Before the Second Vatican Council, many liturgical ministries, such as lector and acolyte, were known as minor orders and reserved for men on the path to ordination.
Pope Pius’ ideas were expanded upon and developed during the Second Vatican Council. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the council’s constitution on the sacred liturgy, “emphasized that participation should increase the vigor of the Christian life and was more than just either external or internal participation.”
Inspired by the Second Vatican reforms to increase participation of the laity in Church ministry, Pope Paul VI issued a motu proprio in 1972 in which he instituted specific ministries for laity, such as altar server, reader, and usher. Sacristan has a long tradition of being designated to the faithful.
What roles can the laity serve in the celebration of Holy Mass?
Fr. Nguyen: We commonly see seven special functions performed by laity: reader, altar server, sacristan, cantors and musicians, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, hospitality ministers, and ornamenters of the Church.
Two other designated roles are uncommon. We might see the master of ceremonies at a complex celebration at which the bishop presides. The commentator, rare in the U.S. but common in Vietnam and other countries, serves by introducing each reading and some Mass parts with a summary.
How do I discern if I’m called to be a lay minister?
Fr. Nguyen: St. Paul addressed this in his letter to the Romans: “Brothers and sisters: We, though many, are one Body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:5-8)
The USCCB also gives guidance in the document, “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord,” which states: “Among the baptized, all of whom are called to serve the mission of the Church, some experience a further specific call to lay ecclesial ministry. The call may come in a dramatic moment. More often, it comes over time, as the person grows — within the community of faith — in love for God and a desire to do His will. One begins to consider that the graces received could now be put in service to the Church. A period of discernment begins.”
Discernment of a call to liturgical ministry is a process which requires prayer and contemplation. It is both personal and communal and must involve dialogue and evaluation with the parish leadership.
How does one become a liturgical minister?
Fr. Nguyen: Liturgical formation is required so that all follow the ministerial functions of its ministry and learn the specific requirements of the role and the reasons for the process.
Conduct and attitude are also elements to maintain the sacredness of the celebration.
According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, paragraph 91, “All, therefore, whether ordained ministers or lay Christian faithful, in fulfilling their function or their duty, should carry out solely but totally that which pertains to them.” Paragraph 97 in GIRM also stresses the gladness and willingness from the faithful as it states, “The faithful, moreover, should not refuse to serve the people of God in gladness whenever they are asked to perform some particular service or function in the celebration.”
After training, is a liturgical minister prepared to serve?
Fr. Nguyen: The pastor needs to bless these liturgical ministers, with a blessing found in the Book of Blessings, chapters 61-63. Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are commissioned by the pastor only for that parish after their names are submitted to the diocese indicating they have received theological and practical formation of the Eucharist.
Next issue, Fr. Nguyen will explain some specifics about the various roles of ecclesial lay ministers. You can read all his columns at NorthTexasCatholic.org/understanding-the-mystery.