Catholic Church of Montreal > Services & Resources > Liturgy > The Liturgy Committee: Ministry at the Heart of Parish Life

The Liturgy Committee: Ministry at the Heart of Parish Life

Hi Fi Vol. 127 (2009) Number 3

Liturgy is the centre of Christian life for the Church and the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ2. It is at the heart of all parish life, making the liturgy committee and its ministry among the highest priorities in any parish.

Yet attending meetings of the parish liturgy committee can be quite frustrating. Consider the following situation: on a Monday evening, a parish liturgy committee meets to prepare for the coming Advent- Christmas season. The meeting seems to go on forever, caught up in details such as where the Advent wreath should be placed, how many poinsettias should be included in the sanctuary décor for Christmas, and which setting of the Gloria will be sung... Does this call to mind a similar situation you may have experienced?

Primary Role of the Parish Liturgy Committee


The primary role of the liturgy committee is to focus on the full range of the parish's liturgical life and to represent the consensus of the community in matters related to that liturgical life. It has a mandate to ensure that celebrations are planned in such a way that they lead to a conscious, active and full participation3 of the faithful both in body and in mind, "as demanded by the very nature of the celebration and to which the Christian people have a right and duty by reason of their Baptism".4 The actual details of planning liturgical celebrations (as illustrated in the above example) should be left to those people whom we have engaged for specific liturgical ministries in our parishes (music, décor, hospitality, and so on).

Before delving into what the primary role of the liturgy committee entails, here are a few practical considerations.

Meetings and Membership


How often should the committee meet in order to fulfill its mandate? Ideally, on a monthly basis, but more or less frequently may work in your parish situation. This is particularly true for smaller parishes where the liturgy committee may be called to assume responsibility for the detailed planning of each celebration, such as choice of music, assignment of ministries, etc. Regardless of the frequency of committee meetings, remember that those who place their gifts at the service of the worshipping community are typically very busy people and their time must be respected.

A well-functioning committee should have between seven and ten members total, and incorporate two
different groups:
  • Those who are directly involved on a weekly basis in liturgical ministries, for example, the director of music and the hospitality coordinator;
  • Parishioners who are not involved in any particular liturgical ministry, but whose gifts make them sensitive to the need for ongoing evaluation of liturgy.

It is essential that the pastor, and as needed other clergy serving the parish, be included in the committee. A good pastor can be a valuable source of liturgical information. However, he need not chair the committee, but can remain free to listen to and process committee suggestions and contribute his own expertise, without having to preoccupy himself with "meeting mechanics". 

How do we discover these people in our parishes? Draw up a job description of the committee and then write a simple announcement including an example of what the committee has accomplished and how often the committee meets. Include a brief description of an interesting project which the committee will be undertaking. Look for parishioners who genuinely value liturgy and have a desire for ongoing formation in this field. 

Finally, be visible to the community. Current members could occasionally make themselves available after Mass in order to answer questions on the committee's work. 

Guidelines for Fulfilling the Liturgy Committee’s Ministry

Focusing the committee's work on the following areas will allow for smoother meetings and, over time, improvement and consolidation of the liturgy in the community.

1. Focus on the “Big Picture”;  Leave the Details to Specific Ministers

The big picture relates to the overall vitality of the liturgical life of a parish. This means formulating short and long term goals for improving your celebrations. It consists of setting up a system of feedback (both praise for jobs well done and ideas for improvement) and developing ongoing formation for both liturgy committee members as well as all who are involved in liturgical ministries. 

It includes discussion and planning around these and similar questions5: Is the overall liturgical life of the parish varied enough? Are there groups in your parish (e.g., children or seniors) that the liturgies could serve better? What seasons or feasts affect the way you celebrate liturgy as a whole parish community? Are some overemphasized... or neglected? 

These questions cannot, nor should they be dealt with in one or two meetings, but could form the basis for long term projects centered on specific areas of your liturgical celebrations in need of enhancement.

2. Focus on the Basics:  Welcome, Word and Eucharist 

It is important that the parish liturgy committee focus on celebrating exceptionally well those elements in our liturgy that do not change from celebration to celebration, rather than getting sidetracked with details similar to those illustrated in the opening paragraph of this article. The committee needs to have a clear understanding, through study and discussion, of how the Church's liturgy is meant to be celebrated and then determine the ideal expression of that celebration for their particular community. 

Some questions which might serve as a basis for reflection include:
  • Are you a welcoming community? Are regular parishioners arriving at Sunday Mass made to feel that this is a good place for all to be? Are visitors or new parishioners warmly welcomed and made to feel “at home”?
  • Is the Liturgy of theWord celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation through appropriate brief periods of silence following each reading? How well are the scriptures proclaimed? Christ himself is present in his Word. The assembly needs to hear God’s Word and to have timeto reflect upon it.
  • Is the Communion rite a manifestation of a chaos in the aisles or a joyful procession accompanied by appropriate music with participation of the assembly?


3. Focus on Evaluation

Evaluation is fundamental if our worship is to achieve the goal of reflecting the whole of Christian life centered on the Paschal Mystery. However, this process does not mean drawing up a list of all the errors which occurred during our celebrations. It is mystagogical in its approach: a reflection of what was experienced - a "breaking open" as it were of the celebration and an appreciation of the benefits derived from that experience. 

Two very good questions6 which have been used by different groups to evaluate their worship are: What in this celebration helped me praise God? What in this celebration hindered my praise? 

When you evaluate your liturgical celebrations in this manner you underline the positive and highlight ways to make a good thing even better! The answers to these questions could even suggest a future project of the liturgy committee, related to focusing on the big picture, for which an occasional additional meeting can be convened during the year.  

Without a doubt, a liturgy committee whose members enter fully into the liturgical life of the parish and who are continually renewed through ongoing formation in the Church's liturgy will be a blessing to any parish.

 

Linda Wiltshire1

1 LindaWiltshire is the coordinator of Liturgy Services for the Office for English Pastoral Services, in the Diocese of Montreal.
2 Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 2.
3 Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 14.
4 General Instruction of the RomanMissal, trans. International Commission on English in the Liturgy, 2002, art. 18.
5 Baker, T. and Ferrone, F. The Liturgy Committee Handbook. Mystic, CT: TwentyThird Publications, 1998.
6 Gasslein, Bernadette. “Evaluate your liturgy right now.” Today’s Parish Minister (Nov.-Dec. 2008), New London, CT: Twenty Third Publications.

 

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