Serving the Church at Worship


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. Every single person who comes to Mass has a vital role, an important liturgical ministry, to carry out – that of truly being 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, extraordinary ministers of communion, sacristans and servers, readers, ministers of music and hospitality ministers.

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?’

People are called to different liturgical ministries depending on their particular gifts and their individual personalities, not on claims of age, rank or seniority. Someone should only perform a certain ministry if she or he has the skill, aptitude and competence needed to serve the community well in that role. Sometimes one person has to be upset by having their request to perform a particular ministry for the sake of the rest of the assembly and its worship.

At a church I often attend on holidays the Special Ministers of Communion are invariably white males older than 50. This seems strange when the assembly consists of a wide spectrum of age and ethnic background and females are in the majority. 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 word ‘ministry’ comes from the Latin ministerium, meaning ‘service’. Christian ministry is about service, not power or prestige. Jesus offered the Church a model of true Christian service shortly before his death when he got down on his hands and knees and washed his disciples’ 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)

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 an expectation in all sorts of fields today. Why should the vital area of liturgy be any different?

Elizabeth Harrington