Participating in Liturgy

Some people claim that bad things happen to them in threes. In my case, it seems that enquiries about particular liturgical issues come in groups of three. If nothing else, it gives me inspiration for “Liturgy Lines”!

First I received a phone enquiry was about the minimum age requirement for a reader at Sunday Mass. Apparently a girl had read so poorly at a parish youth Mass on the weekend that the presider had had to intervene and take over the reading. As a result several parishioners wanted a ban put on children below a certain age reading at parish Mass.

Whilst doing workshops in another diocese recently, I was asked if a reader was doing the right thing in letting his 10-year-old son share the readings with him whenever he was rostered. He did it, he explained, to give the boy an opportunity “to participate more in the liturgy”.

And yesterday a young lady preparing a family Sunday Mass for her community emailed to ask about the minimum age for readers and wanting information about other jobs that could be given to children and youth.

In every case, having young people read was seen as a means of giving them a chance to participate in the celebration. This indicates a misunderstanding about what it means to “participate” in liturgy.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says: “in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members”. (SC 7) It is Christ and the members of Christ’s body – all of them assembled – who “do” the liturgy, not the presider, or the liturgical ministers, but every single person of whatever age and stage who is present!

The role of liturgical ministers is not to do anything for others but to assist the assembly to do its work of worship. “Did I help the community to pray?” is a good question for liturgical ministers to ask themselves after carrying out their role.

The liturgy is indeed “the work of the people”. We all make the liturgy happen by acting as the Body of Christ at worship, by standing, singing, responding, praying, keeping silent together. This is our right and duty by reason of our baptism (CSL 14).

Those involved in preparing children for the sacraments misunderstand the meaning of active participation in liturgy when Confirmation and First Communion Masses are used as an opportunity to showcase the abilities of the children and every child is given an “up-front” part to play in the liturgy. But it is not “participation” when a child reads a Prayer of the Faithful petition but does not join in praying the Lord’s Prayer with the assembly.

The special role of those to be initiated is to share in the body and blood of the Lord for the first time.
Before their first reception of communion, the children need to be told how to process to the altar and to answer “Amen”, and shown how to hold out their hands, how to consume the host, how to hold the chalice and drink from it.

The parish’s usual ministers should carry out their normal roles. Others minister to them as they are confirmed and welcomed to the table.

Elizabeth Harrington