“The Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.” (No. 14)

This quote is from the Second Vatican Council Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (CSL), 1963. Ourright and duty” by reason of our baptism, is very strong language! You might say that it is akin to injustice if, as a member of a liturgical assembly, we are not given our right and duty to participate. Yet, there are many ways that those involved in leadership of our liturgical celebrations unconsciously discourage or dampen our participation. This is, perhaps, most strongly felt as regards song in the liturgy:

   ·   If musicians use song that is not a part of common repertoire, or they do not provide a worship aid, members of the assembly have no means to participate. Consequently, they submit and allow the musicians to do it for them.

   ·   The assembly is given only half a chance to be fully participatory in ritual song if words only, without music notation, are provided,

   ·   If music directors choose sung acclamations, responses and songs that are not found in the worship aid available in the pews, they send the immediate message that the participation of the music ministers is more important than that of the assembly.

   ·   If the main energy and musical balance of the entire liturgy is weighted towards the music ministers’ participation, unconsciously the assembly becomes observers, not full participants.

   ·   If the comportment of the musicians communicates personal performance, the assembly is coaxed into the inappropriate role of “audience,” rather than full participants.

   ·   If the musicians’ gestures and facial expressions reveal an attitude of student-to-teacher, or leader-to-follower, the assembly will respond in that manner.    

Participation in the liturgy is not only our right and duty, it is our responsibility:  

“The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred service conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full involvement.” (CSL No. 48)

There are other patterns of behavior at liturgy by which assembly participation can be further discouraged.

   ·   If, as the community is gathering, greeters and ushers do not relay a spirit of openness, connectedness, unity and belonging, then people enter the space feeling like spectators, present only to observe the necessary ritual actions and maintain personal time with God.

   ·   If assigned lectors do not prepare effectively, choosing to serve in their ministry without a depth of understanding and personal commitment to the message of the reading, the rest of the assembly is denied the unifying and motivating power of God’s Word in that given moment in the life of the Church. It is a lost opportunity for the full potential of the Word to grow in the heart of the church gathered. 

   ·   If ushers and other community members offer personal greetings during the communion procession, the assembly’s conscious participation as the one body of Christ is interrupted or broken apart.

   ·   The felt experience of one body in Christ can also be disrupted if the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are visibly disorganized, or if the sign of peace overlaps into the Breaking of Bread, both distracting and splitting the assembly’s attention.

Any of these inaccuracies in the liturgy interfere with the oneness we share during the Communion Rite. They scatter us as individuals, rather than uniting us as one body, sharing communion in Christ. The attitudes, gestures, actions and words of the whole community must be unified or our active and conscious participation is dissipated.

A parish liturgy committee is responsible to assist the whole of the assembly in the awareness of their right and duty as full, conscious and active participants. To help enliven parish liturgies in this way, the committee could gather all liturgical ministers for a time of reflection and renewal. Invite them to reflect upon HOW their actions and words effect the community. Remind them that everything liturgical ministers do in the liturgy communicates something. Unconsciously, attitudes and actions speak to others, and it is important that all liturgical ministers communicate the appropriate values. Invite them to discuss ways they can better communicate a spirit of invitation and participation within the assembly. Encourage them in a spirit of “servant leadership.”

The Office for Worship can assist you in developing renewal events for liturgical ministers. Contact us at [email protected]