The Ministry of the Assembly


Over the last few weeks I have explained the role that various liturgical ministers, such as readers and servers, undertake at Mass. What is often overlooked is the fact that every member of the assembly has a crucial part to play in the celebration of the Church’s liturgy. The ministry of each person present is to be the people of God, the body of Christ. Carrying out this role calls for as much understanding, preparation and effort as specific liturgical ministries.

At Mass we serve, or minister to, all those with whom we worship and they serve us. How we listen, respond, pray and sing influences the way others listen, respond, pray and sing. Through our presence at and participation in the liturgy, we help one another to pray, to believe and to live out the faith we celebrate.

Our participation in the Mass begins long before the opening chord of the entrance song. It consists of greeting others as we arrive, making the sign of the cross with holy water as we enter the building, and making a profound bow to the altar or genuflecting to the tabernacle if it is located in the main worship space.

The function of the Entrance Song is “to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers” (GIRM # 47). Joining in the singing of the Entrance Song is our first act of participation in the Mass proper. How can we refuse to do so?

By making the sign of the cross after the entrance song, we renew the covenant that began with our baptism and proclaim that we gather for worship as participants, not spectators.

The pattern of the Liturgy of the Word is one of dialogue - between reader and listener, between God and us. God speaks, we listen; God nourishes, we digest; God is present, we respond. We play our part in the dialogue by listening carefully to the reader and preacher, by being attentive to what God is saying to us during the readings and the homily as well as in the times of silence that follow, and by participating fully in the assembly’s responses.

Part of our response to the word of God that we hear proclaimed and preached at Mass is to restate our belief in the fundamentals of our Christian faith. On Sundays and solemnities we recite the Profession of Faith, or Creed, after the readings. It is a communal statement which is intended to be proclaimed as one voice by all the people.

Members of the assembly exercise their priestly function by interceding for all humanity in the General Intercessions or Prayer of the Faithful. The early Church took this so seriously that only the baptised were allowed to be present.

During this prayer, the reader announces a topic or focal point for which the faithful pray in the silence that follows. The petitions only become the ‘Prayer of the Faithful’ when the people respond to the invitation, formulate their own prayer in their hearts and bring their separate prayers together in the ‘Lord, hear our prayer’.

Next week’s column will outline the role of the assembly in other parts of the Mass.


Elizabeth Harrington