General Instruction of the Roman Missal
Participating in the Liturgy
The 40 years ago, the 2nd Vatican Council called for a renewal of the Liturgy and said that the criteria against which that renewal should be judged was the way it assisted the full conscious and active participation of all the people (SC 14). 40 years on those with responsibility for liturgical formation and celebration in parish communities might pause and consider how well things are going in those communities for which they have responsibility. Such participation is not achieved simply by decree of the Council, or the revision of ritual books. It is the result of a good standard of liturgical celebration, and of a process of liturgical formation which alerts and prepares participants to engage with the significance and meaningfulness of that celebration. Local pastors and ministers are the ones with direct responsibility for both these things.
Of the various dimensions of liturgical participation, there are perhaps two in particular which they have special care for. The first is how the assembly understands its role in the liturgical act itself. Is it yet true that all know their proper part in the sacramental action that is the liturgical prayer of the Church? Clearly not all in the assembly perform particular ministries — for example proclaming the word, saying the sacramental formulae — which are only a (small but necessary) part of the whole. The essential encounter with Christ which lies at the heart of the liturgical action is something the principal ministers are entirely unable to do for other participants. It is something which each one must do for themselves through their own interaction with the gathered community, the Word of God, and other symbols too such as water and oil, bread and wine — if the liturgy is to be for them a present and saving encounter with the risen Christ. (SC 2, 7, 59). Providing genuine opportunities for such prayerful encounter is something Pastors have responsibility for.
The second dimension of participation in the mystery of Christ begins with the liturgy, but extends beyond it into what has been called the ‘liturgy of life’. Liturgy’s ritual provides a pattern for Christian living, and the experience of Christ’s personal presence in that ritual of worship provides continuing encouragement for our seeking to living lives of authentic discipleship and witness. Pastors and ministers do well to ask: how well are we helping people to make this connection between liturgy and life?
The Department for Christian Life and Worship has prepared a number of resources to assist such reflection. They make particular use of the content of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and so will not be published until the English translation of GIRM has been approved.
One resource, With Hearts and Minds, is aimed at the parish community as a whole. Based around six weekly meetings, for groups of 6 to 8 meeting for example in people’s homes, it invites participants to reflect on their experience of gathering for worship, of hearing the word, of sharing in the action of the offering the sacrifice of the mass, of receiving holy communion, and being sent out to be Christ in the world. It invites them to reflect on their experiences in the light of the teaching of the Church in GIRM and documents of our own Bishops’ Conference. The process seeks to enrich participants’ experience of the liturgy and to help them to develop a rich liturgical spirituality.
The second resource, Giving Thanks and Praise, is a series of very brief leaflets aimed at those exercising particular liturgical ministry in a parish — be that in preparing the General Intercessions, in assisting with the ministry of welcome, in being part of a music group or choir, in proclaiming the word, or assisting in the distribution of Holy Communion. Each leaflet offers the Church’s description of the particular liturgical ministry, and encourages ministers to new reflection on how they prepare for what their service of the community, and on how their ministry offers them a particular way of engaging with Christ’s presence to the Church. These leaflets in their simple way seek to encourage those reading them to overcome any tendency to perform their ministry by habit and to rediscover the richness of what they do. The full series of leaflets will be available for parishes to download from the web when the translation of GIRM is approved. In the meantime a sample leaflet for Ministers of the Word is available for inspection on the website.