The Role of the Commentator at Mass


It is not unusual to hear people complain about TV cricket commentators who don’t seem to know when to remain silent and let the picture tell the story.
Occasionally I am asked whether commentators still have a place at liturgical celebrations or if perhaps they, too, should let (liturgical) actions speak louder than words.
When the current Order of Mass was first introduced, commentators had an important role to play in assisting the active participation of the assembly by explaining what was happening, indicating whether the assembly should stand, sit or kneel, and so on. More than 30 years on, such commentary is no longer necessary.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal describes the commentator as the liturgical minister “who provides the faithful, when appropriate, with brief explanations and commentaries with the purpose of introducing them to the celebrationand preparing them to understand it better”. (GIRM 2000 # 105)
It has been customary before the entrance procession to hear an announcement such as: “Good morning and welcome. Today is the third Sunday of Lent. Please stand and join in the entrance hymn From Ashes to the Living Font”.
It is worth remembering that provision exists in the missal for a short introduction to the day’s celebration to be given after the Opening Greeting. This option avoids having two greetings and puts the focus on the liturgical greeting “The Lord be with you”, which reminds us that Christ is present as we gather for worship.
The Mass can easily begin in silence. The opening chords of the entrance hymn and a gesture from the cantor provide sufficient cue for the assembly to stand and start singing. There is no need to announce the name of the presider: he can do that himself if necessary after the opening dialogue.
The practice of giving commentary on the readings either before the introductory rites or before each reading is best replaced by printing short explanations in the bulletin which people can read in their own time.
The Lectionary for Mass: Introduction clearly indicates the function of the commentator:
The commentator also fulfils a genuine liturgical ministry, which consists in presenting to the assembly of the faithful, from a suitable place, relevant explanations and comments that are clear, of marked simplicity, meticulously prepared, as a rule written out, and approved beforehand by the celebrant.(# 57)
In other words, the commentator does not present a personal interpretation of the scriptures or a mini-homily. The Mass is wordy enough: any additions need to be brief.
Just as the altar is reserved for the celebration of the Eucharist, the ambo is reserved for the proclamation and breaking open of scripture and is not a ‘suitable place’ for the commentator to use.
The need for all liturgical ministers, including commentators, to be well trained and prepared is emphasised in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy:
Servers, lectors, commentators, and members of the choir also exercise a
genuine liturgical function. They ought, therefore, to discharge their office with the sincere piety and decorum demanded by so exalted a ministry and rightly expected of them by God's people.
Consequently they must all be deeply imbued with the spirit of the liturgy, each in his own measure, and they must be trained to perform their functions ina correct andorderly manner.(# 29)

Elizabeth Harrington