Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Liturgy Reflections
Defining liturgical ministry

by Father Jan Larson

(From the May 1, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Jan Larson A few decades ago there were few liturgical ministers. There were altar boys, of course, and perhaps at a “High Mass” there would be a deacon or subdeacon. But at the average liturgy the priest would perform all the functions of today’s readers and Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. Musicians, singers and ushers were not really considered ministers of the liturgy.

With the reforms of Vatican II, the various lay ministries were restored, and today a typical liturgical celebration would ideally have a full complement of liturgical ministers – readers, Eucharistic Ministers, greeters and ushers, servers, musicians, and singers – male and female.

Still, a troubling question lingers in some places. Do we have liturgical ministers in order to help the priest, or is there some other more fundamental reason for their existence?

It is important for today’s Catholics to understand that ministers are not there to help the priest. They are there to serve the needs of the assembly and the needs of the rites that the assembly celebrates. They are ministers, not because they have been permitted by some higher authority, but because they are baptized, and have certain gifts that enable and foster the assembly’s worship.

The minister’s role (and priest’s role too) as worshiper and member of the assembly is basic. Only when that is clear in the mind and manner of the ministers can their gifts enhance the liturgical celebration. Only when each minister is participating fully in the entire rite, fully attentive to every part of the rite and not merely to those parts in which one is exercising one’s ministry role, can a minister be genuinely helpful to the worshiping assembly. In other words, a good portion of a person’s ministry is ministry by example.

Sometimes there is also a conflict between a serving ministry and the wonderful gifts with which some ministers are blessed. Thus it may be too easy for worshipers to be captivated by the charismatic personality of the presiding priest, or by the operatic qualities of a singer, and forget that such personal gifts are fully unessential to good liturgy, and should not be expected at all celebrations. One can be joyfully impressed by the talents and gifts of individual leaders and ministers, but the liturgy is not the place to showcase talented people. Talented people, if ministers, are there simply to enable the assembly to celebrate.

Liturgy is performance in the sense that it is the accomplishment of a task, but not in the sense of entertainment. Father Robert Hovda, a liturgist, offered a caution in this regard when he wrote, “Any practice which communicates the notion that leaders in public worship are ‘stars’ is basically and desperately counter-productive, whether the leaders in question are clergy or musicians or any other ministers. Desirable gifts in the leader are no excuse. If her or his style in the particular role fails to communicate a sense of prayerful performance, of being (first of all) a worshiper and a member of the worshiping assembly, then he or she is not a leader but an intruder. And the gifts of such a one or such a group damage rather than enhance worship.”

(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)

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