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The word ‘ministry’ is frequently used in relation to Church activity these days. The true meaning of the term, and the nature of ministry in the context of liturgy, is not always fully understood.
The Collins dictionary defines ‘ministry’ as pertaining to the duties of government ministries or ministers of religion. The meaning of the verb ‘to minister’ is given as ‘to attend to the needs of or to take care of’. The word ‘ministry’ comes from the Latin ministerium, meaning ‘service’.
Jesus offered the Church a model of true Christian service shortly before his death. Jesus took off his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist, got down on his hands and knees and washed his disciples dirty, smelly feet. Afterwards Jesus said to them: ‘I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’ (Jn 13: 15)
Christian ministry, then, is about service, not power or prestige. It carries on the saving work of Christ in the world and finds its source in the risen Christ. All those who minister in the Church act in Christ’s name.
The term ‘liturgical ministry’ refers to service within and to the worshipping community. When the people of God gather for public worship – liturgy – they participate in the sacred action of the whole Church. The first ministry of all those who come to Mass is their ministry as members of the assembly.
This means serving the community by participating fully and actively in the singing and responses, sharing the sign of peace, standing and kneeling together, being present to one another. Mass is not a spectator sport but a participatory event! It is everyone’s right and duty to be involved.
In addition to the ministry of the whole assembly, individual members are called to perform particular liturgical ministries in order to help the people to worship well. These liturgical ministers include the priest celebrant or presider, ministers of communion, sacristans and servers, readers, ministers of music and hospitality ministers.
People are called to different ministries depending on their particular gifts and their individual personalities. Someone should only perform a certain ministry if she or he has the skills and qualities needed to serve the community well in that role. The mix of people involved in liturgical ministry needs to reflect the nature of the Church itself – women and men, young and old, people of many races and ways of life.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states clearly that all involved in liturgical ministry ‘must be deeply imbued with the spirit of liturgy…. and trained to perform their functions in a correct and orderly manner’ (CSL 29).
The documents on the liturgy emphasise that liturgical, biblical and technical preparation and ongoing renewal are needed to help ministers serve the community well. Pre-service and in-service formation is considered the norm in all sorts of fields today. Why should the vital area of liturgy be any different?
The role of liturgical ministers is not to do anything for others but to assist the assembly to do its work of worship and help them to enter into the experience of Jesus’ dying and rising, the heart of all our worship.
The question for all liturgical ministers to ask themselves after carrying out their role is ‘Did I help the community to pray?’