Preparing the People
The role of the assembly is of primary importance in the preparation of the liturgy; the full, active, conscious participation of all the people is the norm to be considered before all else. However, that participation is not merely external, it is also internal. Participation in the liturgy is not about responding more vigorously, singing louder, or genuflecting more reverently--although we would like it if our assemblies did all of that; participation requires that we be formed in the ways of prayer, understand what we are doing and be enriched by it, and that we be transformed to be sent out to be what we have celebrated. It has been said that we come to the liturgy to "rehearse" the kingdom of God: to proclaim Good News to the brokenhearted, to reverence and incense and bow to those who are without honor, to feast on the Paschal Lamb at the Lord's own table. Participation in the liturgy is not just about an hour in church on Sunday morning, it is about doing the works of justice, peace, and mercy, being the very presence of Christ in the midst of a world with other priorities. Just like the apostles who experienced the Transfiguration, we must continue the journey to Jerusalem with the Lord. We are sent into the highways and by-ways to spread the gospel we have heard, to share our bread with the hungry, to lift up those in need, to be broken and given and poured out with Christ for the life of the world.
There are a diversity of ministries exercised within the liturgy, but all ministers are first and foremost members of the assembly. No minister stands apart from the people he or she serves, but we are one Body with Christ the high priest who gathers us together. Each minister needs both spirituality and skills to perform their specific role within the celebration. The spirituality of the minister is rooted in who we are, not in what we do; we are called to ministry by our baptism. Those who have died with Christ have been raised with him to new life. We celebrate that life each time we gather and we are called to live that life each day in whatever journey we walk. We, like Jesus, are servant disciples and our ministry is for the good of the Body. Our ministry is a share in the ministry of Christ--it is not individual, it is ecclesial; it is how we live out who we are in Christ through the mission he has entrusted to the Church.
We read in 1 Corinthians 12: "There are different gifts, but the same Spirit; there are different ministries, but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone. To each person a manifestation of the Spirit has been given for the common good." The ministries we do in liturgy may be different--they require different gifts and talents--but they are equal in value for they are all a share in the ministry of Christ. In preparing the liturgy, we must also prepare the ministers for liturgy, --nurturing their prayer life, helping them grow in holiness and in the baptismal ministry of all the faithful, and giving them special training and skills to do the specific roles within the liturgical celebration for the building up of the entire Body. There are numerous resources--written, audio and videotapes, conferences and seminars--to assist in the formation of ministers for the liturgy. As liturgy teams, we should provide the best resources available to our communities as well as ample opportunities for prayer and reflection so that those who lead us in prayer will truly be people of prayer themselves.
"No other single factor affects the liturgy as much as the attitude, style, and bearing of the celebrant: his sincere faith and warmth as he welcomes the worshipping community; his human naturalness combined with dignity and seriousness as he breaks the Bread of Word and Eucharist." (MCW, 21) The presider must have a clear sense of the unity of the rite and reverence for the Church's prayer. He presides over the worshipping assembly giving voice to its prayer and evoking its response. He must be formed in the Word so that he may proclaim the texts of the prayers and the scriptures with clarity and understanding and break open the Word in the homily. He must also be formed in the ritual of the Church and bring to life the powerful symbolic action of the liturgy.
Readers also need to be imbued with the presence and power of the Word of God, be frequent readers and pray-ers of the word, and strive to integrate God's word more deeply into their own lives. The skills required of the reader include the art of public speaking and proclamation: expression, interpretation, good diction, eye contact, and knowledge of how to use a sound system if necessary.
Ministers of the Eucharist should reverence the Body of Christ both in the Eucharist they distribute and the people whom they serve; they embody a concern for feeding both the spiritual and physical hungers of the world. Their specific skills include knowledge of the rites for communion at Mass and to the sick and dying. They should be trained in the proper way to distribute the Eucharist, have familiarity with the sacristy and be able to purify and care for the vessels used for communion. At times they may be called upon to preside at communion services or other liturgical prayers.
Ministers of Hospitality should be warm, welcoming people who notice the stranger and are willing to be of service to those who need special assistance. They must also understand the flow of the liturgy, be able to adapt to special needs for various rites, and be full participants in the prayer of the assembly--not simply ushers and collection-gatherers!
Each ministry of the liturgy requires unique gifts for the service of the Church. However, all ministers--the assembly and those who exercise special roles—are to be people of prayer who are prepared to exercise their proper function within the celebration. We all need both the spirituality and the skills to celebrate beautifully, prayerfully and reverently.
Preparing the liturgy is work—"the work of the people"—the work of the whole Church. In the liturgy we celebrate and make present God's saving deeds among humankind. It deserves our best efforts in order that we may engage the faithful in full, conscious, active worship that forms and transforms us into the very presence of Christ.