Liturgical Ministers Morning of Renewal

September 18, 2016 by Scott Fitzgerald

Welcome Liturgical Ministers!  I am so excited to see so many of you here this morning.  This is the first annual Liturgical Ministers’ Morning of Renewal.  This morning, for the next two and a half hours, we will listen, discuss, and pray together.

First, if you are sitting next to someone you know, I would like you to move to another seat.  Try to sit next to someone who is not in your ministry area if possible.  Ok, everyone up!

This is not a “nuts & bolts” meeting.  We will not be discussing how to read, or how to wash the vessels, or how to sing better.  We will not talk about ushering and greeting.  Those are all important things, and will be addressed by your captains and me at a later date, but this morning is meant to give you some better understanding of the foundations of liturgy—liturgical theology.  Now you know that in your field of work there is technical jargon specific to your expertise.  Liturgy is no different.  I will be introducing you to some terms and concepts concerning the “what, why, and how” of liturgy.

In the first session, we will talk about liturgy in general, the Second Vatican Council and its document on the Liturgy, and the General Instruction to the Roman Missal, 3rd edition.  We will have a breakout session with some specific questions I will provide which you will discuss at your tables.

In the second session, we will go through the Mass itself, and look at some things you may not have noticed, why we do what we do, and especially the meaning of Real Presence in the Eucharist, a concept mostly misunderstood by modern Catholics.  Again, there will be a break out session with some specific ideas for your consideration.

When concluded, there will be time to take questions you have, which I will try to answer.  Keep in mind, St. Boniface is unique in some of its approach to liturgy, so some questions may be particular to here, and some to liturgy you might have experienced elsewhere.

Finally, we will gather in the Church together to pray what is called, “Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer”.  This is the prayer of the Church, prayed more often than Mass in the Church world-wide.  When we go to the church, it will be important to fill up the center two sections, sitting together and up front.  We know that Catholics always get to church early to get a seat in the back!

First, let’s take apart the words “liturgy” and “theology”.  “Liturgy” comes from the Greek word “liturgeia” and describes a certain kind of prayer.  It literally means “the work of the people”.  Every Mass is liturgical, but not all prayer is liturgical.  What prayer is liturgical?  Well, chiefly, Mass and Liturgy of the Hours, also called The Divine Office.  Communion Services are also liturgical.  All the Sacraments are to be celebrated in a liturgical fashion.  What makes prayer liturgical?  It is a “noble simplicity” of ritual and rite, give and take, talking and listening.  It is full of gestures and always full of Scripture.

What type of prayer is not liturgical?  Chiefly, what we call devotional prayers, such as the Rosary, praying the scriptures, or any private prayer you may experience.  Liturgy is almost always public.  If you are praying privately, you are not praying liturgically.  (The Liturgy of the Hours is an exception to this.  I’ll talk more about that when we go to Church to pray later.)

Theology comes from two words in Greek, “theo” meaning God, and “logos” meaning word.  It has come down to mean the study of religion, just as geology is the study of rock formations and the like.  The classical definition of theology is an important one, it is “faith seeking understanding.”  Theology presupposes faith and is looked at through the lens of faith.  The scriptures are full of theology because the books of the bible were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, through the eyes and perspective of faith”.  The Mass has very little meaning to people who are not well disposed to faith.  Indeed for years we have had Catholics go to Mass under an attitude of obligation who are not converted to Christ, and have no living relationship with God.  It is hard to give praise and thanksgiving (the word Eucharist means “thanksgiving”), when you have no relationship with the one to whom you are supposed to be giving thanks.  If you are studying religion without faith, you are not doing theology, you are doing religious studies.

Just a note about my credentials in regards to the above, I hold two theology degrees, both from Catholic schools.  In addition to my musical studies, I hold a BA in both theology and philosophy, and a Master’s Degree in a special field of theology called Systematic Theology.  It is from this background that I am able to talk to you today.  In addition to working in parishes professionally for over 25 years, I spent eight years in school studying theology and liturgy.  I am also a former Benedictine Monk from Belmont Abbey in North Carolina.  For five years, I spent time in church with my community praying liturgy five times a day.  I still pray Liturgy of the Hours mostly on a daily basis.  There’s even an app for that!

Ok, what does Vatican II have to teach us about Liturgy?  Actually quite a lot.  But you might be surprised to hear that much of what Vatican II tells us actually was discussed and debated in academic circles for decades prior to the council.  In the journal “Worship” one of the articles in 1924 asked the question, “What is active participation in the liturgy?”  We will address that very question shortly this morning.

When the council as announced by St. Pope John XXIII in (date), theologians began to gather to draft the document on the liturgy.  Every sentence in that document was scrutinized and debated by the Council Fathers, and voted upon.  There were over 2000 voting prelates at the council.  Some of what is in that document was controversial, but most of what it contains far exceeded the 2/3rd majority required to pass.

The council reaffirmed the value of the pre-Vatican II liturgy and liturgical theology of the popes who followed over the past 500 years.  It also went beyond the Council of Trent to address the needs of today’s Church, thus begin the reform of the liturgy which we are still experiencing today.  The official document published on the liturgy was the first produced from the council.  It is not simply a document, but a “constitution”, which means it holds teaching which must be adhered to for all time.  In Latin it is called simply Sacrosanctum Concilium, or in English, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  I encourage you to read it.  It is readily available in English at the Vatican website.  And, yes, there’s an app for that too!

In the past 50 years, we have witnessed further official reform in the English speaking world first with the publication of the Sacramentary and the Rites of the Church in the early 1970’s, The Liturgy of the Hours, New Code of Canon Law in early ‘80s, the new translation of the Lectionary in 1992, and the new Roman Missal with its General Instruction (published in 2000, but came to us in English for use in 2011).  The latest major document we have is the revision of the Rite of Marriage which was promulgated in English just a few weeks ago.  Its mandatory use date is the first Sunday of Advent this coming November.

Every official document on the liturgy – the Lectionary, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rites, and the Roman Missal have introductions which lay down the theology of the document and instructions on how to do and what to do in the various liturgies.  These documents constitute liturgical law equal in standing to Canon Law, but more changeable.  Here we will limit ourselves to some ideas specifically in the Vatican II document on the Liturgy, and the General Instruction to the Roman Missal, called in liturgical circles the GIRM.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council

Let’s turn and look at the Constitution on the Liturgy from Vatican II.  This was the first document published (promulgated) by the Pope Paul VI.  The date was December 4, 1963, and it was passed by a vote of 2,147 to 4.  The document from its very beginning puts liturgy into the context of scripture and reads the tradition of liturgy back into the Old Testament.  It called for a “renewal of the sacred rites” of the liturgy – a new Roman Missal.

A key quote from this document you should get is this: “14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.  Such participation by the Christian people as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people’ (1 Peter 2:9), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.”

This is not a new concept to Vatican II.  Like I said earlier, the idea of a greater active participation in the liturgy had been in development going back to the 19th century and even talked about at the Council of Trent.  Because it was a chief call of Luther and the reformers of the 1500’s, Trent tended to squash the concept rather than promote it.  Despite this, in Germany and other places, parts of the Mass were already being translated into the vernacular including hymns.

So when you think about ‘active participation’ in the Mass, remember that it is a pre-Vatican II idea!

The document goes on to explain that at Mass, every person has a role to play, and he or she should do only what their role is.  There are no spectators at Mass, no audience – only participants, each with a role to play.  Remember this is your right and your duty. Catholics today seem to forget that even attending Mass on a weekly basis is both a right and a duty.

In the re-writing of the Missal, the Constitution goes on to say: “34. The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation.”

The persons responsible for the creation of the Novus Ordo, or the ‘new rite’, took this into consideration.  The term “noble simplicity” is key here.  It is a both/and proposition, not an either/or.

Like I said above, faith precedes understanding.  I honestly believe that once a person awakens in faith, the comprehension of the Mass starts to infuse.  With an active relationship with Christ, you begin to get it.


 The General Instruction to the Roman Missal (GIRM)

In the opening lines of the new GIRM, published in English in 2003, the document teaches that the new Roman Missal stands in a line of unbroken tradition since The Council of Trent in the 16th century and prior.  The new Roman Missal restores the language, prayers, and much of the lost grandeur of the 1971 missal, while retaining the ‘noble simplicity’ called for in Vatican II.  There were changes called for in the Mass, much of which had to be implemented by Advent of 2011.  Some parishes have been more successful at implementing these changes than others.

The document reintroduces us to a concept long held in liturgical circles, and a guiding principal of liturgical interpretation: in Latin, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”.  “The rule of prayer (orandi) is the rule of belief (credendi).  This means that whatever we do or fail to do as ritual and rite in the liturgy says something about what we believe.  Liturgy literally teaches us about our faith.  From the songs, to the readings, to the prayers, to the ritual actions, to the signs present – these all teach us about what we believe.

In this, we are truly taught that “the sacrifice of his Cross and its sacramental renewal in the Mass, which Christ the Lord instituted at the Last Supper and commanded his Apostles to do in his memory, are one and the same, differing only in the manner of their offering; and as a result, that the Mass is at one and the same time a sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, propitiation [atonement], and satisfaction.” (2c.)

In the very following paragraph, the document reconfirms that it is the teaching of Vatican II, and other teachings of the authority (Magisterium) of the Church, and the same as the Council of Trent, that the in the Eucharistic bread and wine, Christ “is made present through transubstantiation”, calling for reverence and adoration.

What is “transubstantiation”?

This word entered the vocabulary of the church in the early 13th century at a church council.  In order to come to an understanding of the what that transpires when the simple bread and wine are changed into the very Real Presence (body, blood, soul, and divinity) of Jesus – into his Body and Blood, they had to look outside the Bible to philosophy to find the language helpful to describe this change.

Aristotle describes beings (and objects) as of two parts: forms (or essence) and accidents.  Forms are the essence of what a thing is.  It is unseen, but lets us see a tree as a tree, even how one tree looks like another.  Its “tree-ness” is its form.  It is its life-force for Aristotle.  Accidents (don’t think of this word as we commonly us it today – like something that happens accidently), are what our senses detect: they are what we see, feel, taste, hear, and smell).

When the priest calls down the Holy Spirit on the gifts of bread and wine (at the Epiclesis) and finally pronounces the words of consecration, we believe that although our senses do not detect a change (accidents), the essence of the thing (the form or substance) has changed from bread and wine, to the form of Jesus’ Body and Blood.  This is transubstantiation.  You CANNOT detect any change, but we believe, indeed we must believe as Catholics that this change has occurred.

The consecrated bread and wine on the altar are now the Real Presence of Jesus Christ.  This teaching is unique for Catholicism, and is what separates us from all the Protestant faith communities that say they believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist.  They don’t mean it in this way.  This is very important.

In the Eucharist, Jesus is present to us in a unique way – more present than in any other way.  The GIRM describes many way that Jesus is present in the Mass: in the Word proclaimed, in the songs sung, in the person of the priest, in the gathered assembly, but is most present, most fully present in the Eucharistic species.

If we believe this, it should be transformative to us.  Every time we receive with faith and good disposition the Body and Blood of Christ, we should become “Catholics on Fire”.  If we really were cognizant of what we are doing when we receive Communion, when we commune with Jesus, taking his form directly into ours, we would be changed, and certainly celebrate the mass with more vitality and frequency.

This is just the first two sections of the GIRM in its prologue.



  1. What was my understanding of the Body and Blood in the Eucharist prior to this meeting?
  2. What is my understanding of the teaching now?
  3. Do I believe it?

The Structure of the Mass, Its Elements, and Its Parts

Chapter II teaches that the priest represents Christ in the assembly and stands in for Christ.  It teaches that when the Word of God is proclaimed, it is Christ himself who is doing the proclaiming.  It describes the Homily as integral for those gathered to gain a fuller understanding of the Word that was just proclaimed.  The document describes what parts are particular to the priest, calling these the “Presidential Prayers”.  They include the Collect, the Eucharistic Prayer, and the Prayer after Communion.

The GIRM describes liturgy as dialogical.  It is a dialog between priest and people, between Christ and His Body.

Other parts – the acclamations, the songs, the Intercessions, etc. belong rightly to the people exercising their baptismal priesthood in their offering.

Section 39 describes the importance of singing.  It says that “whoever sings WELL prays twice”.  It encourages congregations to sing with enthusiasm, as this is part of the people’s prayer.  The text implores congregations to retain some semblance of Latin in the liturgy as this is the tradition of the Church.

In regards to gestures and postures, the document stresses uniformity and to follow the instructions of the local authority.  In other words, do it as the priest says do it.

The document has a heavy stress on what is called “The Liturgy of Silence”.  The opening prayer is called a “Collect” because it is to collect the prayers of the people of God gathered silently praying.  When the priest says, “Let us pray,” he is not referring to the book, but rather calling us to pray quietly for this Eucharist.  The prayer is concluded by his prayer.  The document calls for silence right before Mass, and in between readings, after the homily, and in certain places of preparation for Mass.


The Individual Parts of the Mass

Each section is described as a “rite” or a ritual moment in which a subsection of ritual occurs.  The Introductory Rites are the Entrance, the Greeting (In the name of the Father…), the Penitential Act, the Kyrie, the Gloria and the Collect.

Next is the Liturgy of the Word.  These are readings from Scripture.  On most Sundays, the first is always from the Old Testament, then there is the Responsorial Psalm.  The second reading is generally taken from the writings of St. Paul, but also from other letters in the New Testament.  Then there is the Gospel.  Right now we are reading Luke’s gospel in this cycle of readings.

There are three cycles of readings for Sunday masses, called A, B, and C.  In the readings, we believe that Christ himself is made present “through his word in the midst of his people.” (55.)

“By silence and by singing, the people make this divine word their own, and affirm their adherence to it by means of the Profession of Faith.” (The Creed)  Finally, “the people pour out their petitions by means of the Universal Prayer (formally called Prayers of the Faithful) for the needs of the whole Church and for the salvation of the world.” (55.)

The Liturgy of the Eucharist

The entire action of this part of the Mass is built around the Last Supper when Jesus took, broke, and gave, saying “This is my bread”, “This is my blood”.

Offerings brought forward.

The Eucharistic Prayer: a) thanksgiving, b) Sanctus, c) epiclesis, d) institution narrative and consecration, e) amamnesis, f) oblation (offering), g) intercessions, and h) concluding doxology

The Communion Rite

  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • The Rite of Peace
  • The Fraction Rite
  • Communion

The Concluding Rites

  • Priest’s Greeting and Blessing
  • Dismissal and Sending Forth (Commissioning)
  • Kissing the Altar, Recessional

There is much more to the GIRM than I am presenting here, from how to process, to how to swing the therible, to what to do if you drop a host on the altar.  It addresses purification of the vessels and what to do if Precious Blood is spilled on the floor.

One more thing…pet peeve of mine…genuflection.  When, where and why?