Monday, September 20, 2004

3 Simple Things You Can Do This Sunday to Improve your Liturgy

1) Music ministers: Start the Communion song immediately.

When I first became a music minister, our choir didn’t want to begin the Communion song until “after Father did his Communion.” Twenty-five years later, most music ministers are still “waiting for Father.” The “Lamb of God” ends, the priest says, “Behold the Lamb of God...” and the assembly responds, “Lord, I am not worthy....” Then there’s a span of silence while everyone watches the priest take his Communion. Sometimes, this silence continues as we watch the priest distribute Communion to the Communion ministers.

No matter what the reason is—respect for the priest, not having music ready, or “we’ve always done it that way”—delaying the start of the Communion song breaks down the flow of the Communion Rite and, worse, immediately puts the assembly into a passive mode at the very climax of the Mass. Further, and perhaps more harmful, it subliminally teaches that Father’s Communion is different and perhaps “more special” than anyone else’s. Yet, Communion by its very definition cannot be individualistic, nor can it make distinctions among the members of the faithful. There are not two Communions—the priest’s and mine, or even yours and mine; there is only one Communion—ours with Christ. This is why the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 86, says:
While the priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion chant is begun. Its purpose is to express the communicants’ union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to show joy of heart, and to highlight more clearly the ‘communitarian’ nature of the procession to receive Communion. (emphasis added)
The Communion song accompanies the action of sharing Communion. This action formally begins after the invitation to the table: “Behold, the Lamb of God….” Thus, the Communion song must begin immediately after the assembly’s response to that invitation: “Lord, I am not worthy….” Prepare your music binder and songbooks before Mass so that you can begin the Communion song at the right time.

2) Celebrants: Give your chalice to the assembly.

Just as delaying the start of the Communion song makes distinctions between the “priest’s Communion” and the assembly’s, not using the main chalice as one of the cups for the assembly subconsciously teaches that “Father’s cup” is more special and shouldn’t be touched by anyone else. I know no one wants to teach that, but our actions teach better than our words and intentions.

Avoid reserving the main chalice for the presider alone. Use it as one of the cups distributed to the assembly during Communion. The same goes for the main paten.

3) All liturgical ministers: Smile and look pleasant while you’re doing your ministry.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for cheesy Miss America grins plastered on your face while you proclaim the reading or distribute Communion or whatever your ministry is. I’m only asking that if you believe the Gospel—that is, the “Good News”—then let your face and demeanor show it! As the saying goes, “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Your face and your body do preach. The way your face looks when you say “The Word of the Lord” or “The Body of Christ” helps communicate your belief in what you’re saying. Singing and believing “Alleluia,” which means “Praise the Lord,” starts with your face. Energy, joy, and faith are infectious. Express them with your whole body.


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