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Parishes are increasingly asking for guidance as to what they can do about weekday worship when a priest is no longer available to preside at eucharist during the week.
There are no explicit “rules” for weekday celebrations. However, the documents on the liturgy offer guidance on what might be appropriate:
Bible services should be encouraged, especially on the vigils of the more solemn feasts, on some weekdays in Advent and Lent, and on Sundays and holy days. They are particularly recommended in places where no priest is available. (CSL 35.4).
The scriptures, and above all in their liturgical proclamation, are the source of all life and power. All the faithful without exception must: always be ready to listen gladly to God’s word. (LMI 47)
Hence an option that parishes might consider for weekdays is a Service of the Word. This form of worship is familiar to us from the first part of the Mass. The weekday readings from the Lectionary could be used and a rite of thanksgiving or proclamation of praise included.
There is however another possibility for weekday morning worship. The 1988 Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest recommends celebrating some part of the Liturgy of the Hours, particularly morning or evening prayer. What can replace eucharist on Sunday is certainly suitable for weekdays.
This form of worship is less well-known in parishes. Even the title is unfamiliar to many. Some may know it as the ‘Office’ or ‘Prayer of the Church’. The second Vatican Council called for the Liturgy of the Hours, which originated as the prayer of the people but had become the preserve of priests and religious, to be made available again to lay people. It said that morning and evening prayer were to be accorded ‘the highest importance as the prayer of the Christian community’.
Parishes are sometimes reluctant to consider celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours because it seems too complicated for the ordinary person. But there is a simple version based on the ancient, or ‘cathedral’, form of the prayer, which centres on psalms and prayer of intercession. A pattern for morning prayer could be:
Hymn - appropriate for the morning or liturgical seasonPsalms – one fixed, one variable
Reading– a brief passage from scripture
Gospel Canticle – Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus)
Prayer– intercessions, Lord’s Prayer, concluding prayerConcluding Rite – blessing, sign of peace
A parish could prepare its own booklet with the overall format, a small number of suitable hymns and psalms, the fixed psalm and the gospel canticle.
On special occasions the prayer could be made more festive by the addition of candles, incense and singing. Whatever form of worship is used, parishes need to prepare the people by offering some catechises on its value and style. Lay people with the appropriate gifts for liturgical leadership need to be found and trained in the skills required.
Services of the Word or the Liturgy of the Hours should never be considered as “second rate” alternatives, which we resort to only when a priest is unavailable. They have value in their own right and enable us to express and develop our faith in the presence of Christ in the gathered assembly and in the word.