What is a Liturgical Minister? - 17th May 2015

My parish recently had a “drive” for more liturgical ministers. One of the organisers questioned the use of the “Minister” in role titles listed on the response form. “I suspect that there are a few people in the pews who wouldn't understand names like ‘Worship Environment Minister’”, he said. “Some may be generous enough to respond to a request for help but would not accept the name of ‘Minister’. It sounds a bit bureaucratic!”

This hesitancy about using the word “minister” may be because some people understand that it applies only to the ordained, particularly in those churches which use the title “minister” instead of “priest”.

A “minister” is anyone who performs a ministry or service. The word “ministry” comes from the Latin ministerium, meaning “service”.

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)

Christian ministry, then, is about service, not power or prestige.  It carries on the saving work of Christ in the world and finds its source in the risen Christ.  All those who minister in the Church act in Christ’s name.

A liturgical minister carries out a 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.  Individual members of the assembly 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.

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.  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 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?

The role of liturgical ministers is not to do anything for others but to assist the assembly enter into the experience of Jesus’ dying and rising – the great paschal mystery, 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?”.


Elizabeth Harrington