mercoledì 18 luglio 2007

Manifestations of Lay Liturgical Ministry in the Parish (Paper for Lay Liturgical Ministry Class)


This paper might be personal as I have done almost all the lay liturgical ministries available. In other words, I have transcended all these. I am primarily an altar server who attended too many seminars and was designated as the parish terrorist. [1] I have also been a lector[2]. I have also been an extraordinary minister of holy communion[3]. I have also sung with the choir and led the congregation in the Responsorial Psalm. I have also dabbled in liturgical environment[4], helping in the collection, and ushering in the Mass[5]. I also prepare the visual aid for Mass[6]. And what keeps me busy these days, aside from work, is liturgical planning as I have been (unfortunately) delegated(/elected/forced) to be the worship coordinator of another parish. As I have mentioned, I have transcended all these.

I am blaming all of this to my baptism[7] and confirmation. They appear to have been too effective.

Baptism is the primary foundation which allows and requires any Christian to participate in the Church.[8] By Baptism, every Christian shares in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light."[9] All Christians are able to participate in liturgical celebrations because they are members of the Mystical Body of Christ, who is the eternal High Priest. It is also because they have received the Spirit in Baptism and perfected in Confirmation that they possess gifts which they use to serve the Christian community.[10]

Starting from Vatican II, the Church has continually drawn more people to participate in her activities. In liturgical celebrations, the faithful “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 action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration.”[11] Preference is also given to celebrations of rites with the participation of the people. The liturgy is also by definition, something done by the Mystical Body of Christ, with the Head and its members arrayed hierarchically,[12] thus it provides for various roles and offices.

The parish offers an obvious example of participation in the Church. As far as possible the laity ought to provide helpful collaboration for every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their local parish. [13] Their activity is so necessary within the Church communities that without it the apostolate of the pastors is often unable to achieve its full effectiveness. [14]

The laity in the typical Filipino parish (here and in our colonies abroad) is very much active in the parish. The Church provides modes of participation for the laity in various ministries and we, the lay people, have responded generously and zealously to the needs of the parish. More so in the liturgical ministries, the lay people have taken upon themselves much of the activity of the Church in the face of dwindling numbers of the clergy. Although lay liturgical ministries are strong, there are some issues and areas that need to be looked at.

This paper will survey at how the ministries indicated in Ministeria Quaedam and Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani are applied in the local parish setting, having as examples the parishes of the Diocese of Cubao particularly Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Project 8, where I am involved.

Particular Ministries in the Mass

Paul VI’s Ministeria Quaedam removed vestigial minor orders, leaving only what is still applicable for post-Vatican II liturgy – the ministries of reader, acolyte and subdeacon.[15] The functions of the subdeacon he assigned to the reader and acolyte. Thus, there are only two, which he restored to the laity as was in the early Christian eras. The reader and the acolyte are not to be ordained but instituted for service to the parish. These ministries are still to be conferred to those training to be priests.

In the Philippines, the ministries of reader and acolyte are, however, still reserved for those training to be priests. The Philippine Church had made a seeming distinction between these and what the ordinary lay people are doing as ministries. A reader is not the same as a lector. An altar server is not the same as an acolyte.

The function of a reader is to proclaim the readings in the Mass and also a somewhat catechetical function. The acolyte’s function of assisting the priest and performing duties pertaining to ceremonies is delegated to altar servers while assisting in giving communion is given to extraordinary ministers of holy communion. Instead of institution, lectors, altar servers and extraordinary ministers of holy communion are ‘commissioned.’ In practice, ordinary lay people who are not training for priesthood are not instituted.

The IGMR mentions that “in the absence of an instituted acolyte, lay ministers may be deputed to serve at the altar and assist the priest and the deacon; they may carry the cross, the candles, the thurible, the bread, the wine, and the water, and they may also be deputed to distribute Holy Communion as extraordinary ministers,” [16] and that “in the absence of an instituted lector, other laypersons may be commissioned to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture. They should be truly suited to perform this function and should receive careful preparation, so that the faithful by listening to the readings from the sacred texts may develop in their hearts a warm and living love for Sacred Scripture.”[17] There is that impression that these ministries are only for lay people just because there are no instituted readers and acolytes from the seminaries; it is still not for them. But in practice, instituted readers and acolytes only exercise these ministries in seminaries, religious communities and special occasions in the Diocese.

Altar servers assist the ordained ministers in the rites. The novels of Rizal witness to altar boys who are trained (and later killed) by the sacristan mayor. Altar boys are no longer the norm. Young boys (and in some places, girls) are trained and formed in a different manner. These young people know what they are doing and the deeper meaning of the things they do.

Extraordinary ministers of holy communion assume a myriad of names. They are known as lay ministers (as if they are the only ones), special ministers of holy communion, special ministers of the eucharist, eucharistic ministers, etc. Strictly speaking, they are extraordinary ministers of holy communion. [18] They assist the priest in distributing communion to the people in and outside the church.

Lectors have the same function as the instituted reader, except for the catechetical part, which is done by catechists.

The musical ministries of psalmist, schola cantorum and cantor are performed (in a broad sense of the word) by the choir or music ministry. The psalmist sings the chants between the readings (responsorial psalm and chant before the Gospel). [19] The schola cantorum leads and fosters the active participation of the faithful in singing. [20] The cantor leads and sustains the singing when there is no choir. [21] A tendency of this group is to perform and not lead. This tendency is brought about by the wrong understanding of their function and the lack of formation.

The sacristan’s function is to arrange the liturgical books, vestments and other things needed in the Mass. [22] This job unfortunately does not seem to be a liturgical ministry as the sacristan is usually the parish priest’s employee which is equivalent to a house help who is not really formed for a liturgical function. It is also part of the sacristan’s job to clean the church. In short, he is also a janitor. The sad part is that sacristans have the tendency to act as if they know things even when they don’t.

Half of the work of the sacristan is taken over by old women, popularly called the Mother Butler Guild, which serves as those that provide, donate and maintain liturgical vestments and decorations in the church such as statues, images and flowers. Usually, they are also members of the collectors and church-based groups such as Apostleship of Prayer, Catholic Women’s League, Daughters of Mary Immaculate, etc.

The commentator provides the faithful with brief explanations and commentaries with the purpose of introducing them to the celebration and preparing them to understand it better. [23] The commentator is lumped with the lectors’ ministry, which is why the ministry of lectors is commonly called Ministry of Lectors and Commentators. The commentator also leads the people in the responses they already know and at times, they even usurp the people’s function by answering by themselves. Some of them usurp the choir’s function and sing in Mass.

Among the ministries, priests joke that the closest to their hearts are the collectors, who take up the collection in the Mass.[24] The collectors are collectors. In more transparent administrations, collectors count the collection.

A recent addition is the ministry of greeters who meet the faithful at the church entrance, lead them to appropriate places, and direct processions. [25] The ministry of greeters sprung from the need to make the parish appear more welcoming. The greeters are there to make the faithful feel like they are part of the community. More than ministers of the liturgy, greeters are ministers for community-building. Sadly, not many parishes have been successful in creating and strengthening greeters.

The IGMR also indicates the need for planning and directing the liturgy. It mentions the role of the master of ceremonies, who is a competent minister to oversee the proper planning of sacred actions and their being carried out by the sacred ministers and the lay faithful with decorum, order, and devotion. [26] Overseeing implies that a group would be in charge of planning. It is not a popular notion among priests to have a ministry of liturgical planning. And this is reflected in the way liturgy is done in their parish – through missalettes. Good liturgy is always planned.[27]

All these ministries form a coordinating body called Worship, which is like a department in the organizational structure of the parish. The Worship ‘department’ usually has more people than Education and Service.

Lay liturgical ministries in the Philippines are packed with more volunteers than the ministries under Education and Service. One factor is that the roles and functions of lay liturgical ministries are more seen than those in Education. This is not to imply that people volunteer to be seen, but because most Filipinos are Sunday Catholics, a need in the liturgical ministries is more visible.

It is however an opportunity to draw more people to serve in the parish, not just in liturgical ministries but also in the other ministries in the parish. Liturgy, as what the Vatican II Fathers saw, is a good starting point for improving the Church.

A lot of people dedicate their time, energy and intellect, and at times even money, in these ministries. Those who become part of lay liturgical ministries are generally helpful to their pastor, even more helpful to him than him to them. Generally, they give all they could out of the goodness of their heart.

They are also very open to formation and most of them see the need for it. Church documents require lay liturgical ministers to undergo liturgical, spiritual and technical formation so that they may exercise their ministries properly and with piety and sincere love.

The Archdiocese of Manila started giving formation seminars for liturgical ministers. This practice has been laudably continued by most of its new suffragans. The Diocese of Cubao, through the Diocesan Ministry for Liturgical Affairs, has given its own yearly formation to altar servers, lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy communion. Improvements to the program are underway.

Lay liturgical ministries are also prone to becoming sources of conflict and abuses in the parish. Sometimes, members of ministries cause issues and conflicts with other members or even the pastor. There is also that tendency to push this participation to the point that lay people seem to own the parish and they deem the parish priest not to have the authority to implement necessary changes, especially those against their interest. They are also prone to commit the abuse of usurpation of function, even the function of the ordained. But this problem doesn’t stem from their ministries; it is more of the sociological context.

Another challenge is the resistance to formation by some people, both lay and clergy. The negative connotation of the word “parochial” seems to apply here. Some parish ministries intentionally exempt themselves from attending formation seminars because they feel that the Diocese is meddling with them or because they feel that they are self-sufficient. For example, in the last seminar held in the Diocese of Cubao, nine parishes didn’t send representatives.

A peculiarity of many lay liturgical ministers is the preoccupation with little things. In many seminars, lectures and talks, the little things are the problems – how to bow, where and when to put the collection, flowers, candles, offertory, etc. And it is always the same thing that goes on every time.


The liturgy is arranged in such a way that it is a microcosm of the entire Church, with Christ as the Head, represented by the presider and the rest as parts of a body that work together to achieve a common goal – glorification of God and sanctification of man. The parish is another image of the entire Church. Thus, every parish liturgy is an image of the entire Church and how a parish celebrates worship manifests how it is as a Church. Lay liturgical ministries are indispensable in the parish and whatever strengths it has must be nourished and developed while all who belong to it must keep undergoing formation so that they may “learn all matters concerning public divine worship and strive to grasp their inner spiritual meaning: in that way they will be able each day to offer themselves entirely to God, be an example to all by their gravity and reverence in church, and have a sincere love for the Mystical Body of Christ, the people of God, especially for the weak and the sick.” [28] Through participation in the liturgy, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church is built up and from the liturgy, all good works flow. [29]

[1] i.e. Master of Ceremonies

[2] It was upon the request of their coordinator because the 7 pm Sunday Mass was in Filipino and although all of them are Filipinos, they couldn’t speak Filipino.

[3] In my original parish, I was delegated once when there were no EMHC’s and after a long search, also no religious sister. In another parish, I am commissioned as one but I only exercise it when the EMHC’s are absent/insufficient/too old.

[4] I design banners that hang in the sanctuary. The old ladies who are in charge are too old and they ask my help to arrange the sanctuary. Also, I amend their floral decorations when they don’t know (don’t remember) where to put them or when these disturb the liturgical action. I have also been tasked to design the altar of repose twice. There are many instances when groups volunteer to do decorations and don’t, and we end up doing it.

[5] The Youth Ministry, which I used to head also, was asked to do the ushering at Mass.

[6] PowerPoint presentations of responses, songs and the homily

[7] Sacrosanctum Concilium 14.

[8] Ibid.

[9] 1 Peter 2:9

[10] 1 Cor 12:11

[11] SC 48.

[12] SC 7.

[13] Apostolicam Actuositatem 10.

[14] ibid.

[15] Paul VI, Ministeria Quaedam.

[16] Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani 100.

[17] Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani 101.

[18] Redemptionis Sacramentum, 156.

[19] Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani 102.

[20] Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani 103.

[21] Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani 104.

[22] Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani 105.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani 106.

[27] Lecture of Rev. JF Garces, OAR.

[28] Paul VI, Ministeria Quaedam.

[29] SC 10.

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