General Instruction of the Roman Missal
Formation of Lay Ministers
One of the most visible changes in the way liturgy is celebrated today compared to 50 years ago, are the prominent ministerial roles exercised by those other than the presiding priest. Of course prior to the publication of the revised Missal in 1969 there were occasions when other such ministers were to the fore — the celebrations of High Mass, with ‘deacons’ and ‘subdeacons’ to the fore (although in fact they were often nothing of the sort, but priests dressed in the vestments proper to orders of minister no longer present except as transitory stages for those preparing for priesthood). But now, even at a weekday mass, it is rare for there not to be other ministers assisting — with the ministry of the word, with the ministry of Holy Communion under both kinds, with music and so on.
Chapter III of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) speaks of the Christian people’s Duties and Ministries in the Mass. Its revision in the recent 3rd edition of the Roman Missal is instructive, and positive.
For example in the very first paragraph there is greater clarity on the ecclesial nature of the celebration, on how it is precisely as members of Christ’s Body that particular individuals exercise ministry, and that the exercise of all such ministry is therefore priestly ministry, for it is the ministry of Christ exercised through those ministers, be they lay or ordained. Every individual ministry is to be exercised according to its particular nature, but always for the greater unity of the whole Church in Christ, represented in the particular assembly gathered for worship. There is no room here for ‘It’s my ministry and I’ll minister as I want to.’
There is quite some change in the way that lay ministries are now presented in GIRM. Previously it seems to have been assumed that normally instituted acolytes and lectors would have a prominent role as ministers of word, altar and communion. In the 1970 edition of GIRM permission for non-instituted laymen to perform these functions was to be found only towards the end of the chapter. It is a sign of how things were in those times that the role of laywomen was discussed, and there was acceptance they might exercise a role, but note the caution:
‘At the discretion of the rector of the church, women may be appointed to ministries that are performed outside the sanctuary. ..The conference of bishops may permit qualified women to proclaim the readings before the gospel reading and to announce the intentions of the general intercessions. The conference may also more precisely designate a suitable place for a woman to proclaim the word of God in the liturgical assembly’.
Those words have now been deleted by the Holy See. But it is somewhat of a shock to know how very recently they remained in the books! The Church Universal had not been used to the use of lay ministers in such a key role as proclaiming the word of God for a very long time. It has taken some 30 years to remove regulation that is so offensive to contemporary ears.
What do we still have to learn, still have to make progress with? One area, surely, is to do with the formation of lay ministers. There is no room here to go into the whys and wherefores that the Church has made little progress with the introduction of the instituted ministries of acolyte and lector. But one consequence of that failure is that there has been very little effort to consider what sort of initial formation, and on going formation, is needed by those men and women to whom such ministry of word, altar and communion has been entrusted.
The instruction in the Introduction to the Lectionary, might make slightly uncomfortable reading, if it causes us then to ponder on what training and formation been provided in many parishes. But if the discomfort prompts action…
‘It is necessary that those who exercise the ministry of reader, even if they have not received institution, be truly qualified and carefully prepared so that the faithful may develop a warm and living love for Scripture from listening to the sacred texts read.
Their preparation must above all be spiritual, but what may be called a technical preparation is also needed. The spiritual preparation presupposes at least a biblical and liturgical formation. The purpose of their biblical formation is to give readers the ability to understand the readings in context and to perceive by the light of faith the central point of the revealed message. The liturgical formation ought to equip the readers to have some grasp of the meaning and structure of the liturgy of the word and of the significance of its connection with the liturgy of the eucharist.
The technical preparation should make the readers more skilled in the art of reading publicly, either with the power of their own voice or with the help of sound equipment.’ (Introduction to the Lectionary, 55)
What a difference between the money and other resources made available for the formation of the clergy for their ministry, and the resources invested in the formation of lay ministers. The change in the Church’s ministerial practice has been enormous, but in England and Wales the way in which it resources or does not resource its ministers seems to have changed very little.
Parishes and Deaneries can often seem powerless to influence Diocesan policy in this matter, but they do have control over their own budgets. It is worth asking ‘What is my parish budget for lay formation? And what for lay ministerial formation?’ Doubtless there will be some formation made available, but is it one-off, or is there an attempt to provide on-going formation, both through input from outside speakers and through facilitated-reflection on the ministers’ own experience.
A complement to such formation would be to provide ministers with material to read through the year — a parish library is one way of doing this, another is to give each minister a publication suited to their work — or a choice from a list of publications. It is not that ministers cannot, at least sometimes, resource themselves — but it is entirely right that the parish should show their present contribution and their future development something that it values and wants to support and encourage.
Increasingly parishes are finding that they have only one resident ordained priest, and that he cannot do everything that is wanted. Increasingly parishes need to recognise the gifts and abilities of all their members, so as to draw on them for the support and nourishment of their common life. The current (relative) shortage of priests should not be the only reason we recognise the need to ensure the best formation possible for all parish ministers to help develop and nurture the gifts they have. However if this historical accident provides the occasion for that to happen, then so be it.
The following three publications are fine resources for a parish’s lay ministers. The first two are likely to be most useful to ministers of word and communion, the third to those with broader responsibility for preparing liturgy, or for liturgical catechesis.
At Home with the Word, (AHTW) published by Liturgy Training Publications, provides the readings for each Sunday. The standard volume quotes the New American Bible scripture translation, but a sister volume uses the New Revised Standard Version approved for use in Canada. It is probably unfortunate that there is no edition using the Jerusalem Bible translation used in most parishes in England and Wales. However in comparing and contrasting two translations gives a reader the opportunity to enter more deeply into the richness of the text. In any case the real strength of this volume is not simply that it puts the readings into ministers’ hands, but that it supplements them with weekly commentaries, ‘Scripture Insights’, and suggestions on how the readings might connect with daily life, a section called ‘Practice of Fortitude’. One of the challenges for those who proclaim the word is to know why the readings entrusted to them matter. AHTW offers assistance to readers to help understand readings in their original context; to explore the meaning they have for us in our present context, today; and to prepare for a deeper living of this word in their own lives, and with the community of the Church. AHTW is a resource likely to prove useful not only to readers, but to catechists and homilists also.
Bible Alive offers something similar but in the is a monthly journal offering daily reflections on the readings of weekdays as well as Sundays. It offers also brief articles on a variety of issues of contemporary Catholic interest. It has what some readers will consider the distinct advantage of being prepared for the Church in England and Wales.
The Sourcebook for Sundays and Seasons, published by Liturgy Training Publications, is doubtless an aid already tried and trusted by many readers of this newsletter. For those who do not already know it, the Sourcebook offers an introduction to the Liturgical Year, and separate introductions for each season, and to each day of the year. There is a great richness of material here. In the pages introducing the season of Christmas, for example, the Sourcebook offers introductory commentary on the historical and theological background to the season, and on aspects of its present place in the Church’s life. It then goes on to highlight the saints and festivals of the season; to outline the way the Lectionary is structured for the season; the seasonal resources of the Missal; the Book of Blessings; the implications of the season for the Rite of Initiation of Adults and the Baptism of Children, for Penance and Pastoral Care of the Sick, for Marriage and for Funerals. In addition there are full recommendations to music for the season, and suggestions as to how the liturgy in the church might be linked with prayer and devotion in the home. And then there are suggestions as to some additional liturgical texts. All this before you get to the sections for the particular days of the season.
An annual publication such as this does not change a great deal every year. So why is it worth getting this year’s edition? Firstly for the convenience of this year’s calendar (albeit with its USA variants). Secondly for its updated bibliographies, and resource lists (including an ever-wider commendation of suitable resources from other Christian churches). Thirdly the bulletin resources for the year, based on the first readings of each Sunday of the year. And fourthly each year’s new graphics, delightful in themselves, and a resource for use in the parish’s service sheets and newsletters. This year’s illustrations have a zoological and botanical theme, and there is a most interesting couple of pages offering a commentary on how the particular symbolic use the various flowers, birds and animals have born in Christian tradition. Sharing these pages with flower arrangers and those others who decorate the church might assist them to bring a new freshness to what they offer.