Article 93 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1135-1144 I recall a time many years ago that left a lasting impression on me. It was before my ordination to the priesthood when I lived with a religious community of priests and brothers while serving as Campus Minister at a Catholic college.
One evening, a priest who lived in our community house returned home from a long trip about 15 minutes before midnight. He knocked on my door to ask whether I would serve Mass for him since he had not yet offered Mass that day and had only a few minutes before midnight to begin the Liturgy. Of course, I obliged.
The next day, when some of the other community members learned that the priest offered Mass at such a late hour, they ridiculed the priest for being too scrupulous about having Mass at all, since it was not obligatory but optional to have Mass on a weekday.
The most important lesson I learned about the Mass that night was the fact that the Liturgy is never a private event or, as the Catechism states, “liturgical services are not private functions but are celebrations of the Church which is ‘the sacrament of unity’” (ccc 1140). Even when a Mass is celebrated with a few people present, “it is the whole community, the Body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates” (ccc 1140). This includes those present in the flesh as well as the whole mystical body of Christ throughout the world AND, as the preface of the Mass states, “with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven …” Given the public nature of the liturgy with “the whole community,” the Catechism makes it a point to emphasize that such “rites which are meant to be celebrated in common, with the faithful present and actively participating, should as far as possible be celebrated in that way rather than by an individual and quasi-privately” (ccc 1140). This seems to contradict my opening anecdote of previously
having served Mass for a lone priest without a congregation. However, not necessarily so. Why? Because the intent was not to have a private Mass with a select group of invited participants. Rather, the intent of the priest in question was to fulfill a commitment to the Lord to pray the “daily” Mass despite the inability to do so with a full congregation.
Who celebrates the Church’s liturgy?
Normally, an assembly of the baptized who have been consecrated in baptism “to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood” gather together to “offer spiritual sacrifices” (ccc 1141). This common priesthood of the baptized “is that of Christ the sole priest, in which all his members participate” (ccc 1141). Quoting from the Second Vatican Council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium), the Catechism explains that the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,” have a right and an obligation (to participate in liturgical celebrations) by reason of their Baptism (ccc 1141). This was a popular theme in the writing of many popes before and after the Second Vatican Council. For example, in the 1940s and 1950s, Pope Pius XII taught that active participation by the faithful in the Liturgy is not merely external, mechanical movements and gestures, but an internal disposition intimately related to one’s baptismal union with Christ in His Mystical Body, the Church.
In 1958, a comprehensive instruction called De musica sacra (Sacred Music), was issued by the Sacred Congregation of Rites with the following points that were later incorporated into the Second Vatican Council’s Sacrosanctum Concilium: — The Mass of its nature requires that all those present participate in it, in the fashion proper to each. — This participation must primarily be interior (i.e., in union with Christ the Priest; offered with and through Christ). — The participation of those present is more complete when internal attention is joined to external participation (standing, sitting, genuflecting, responses, prayers, singing, etc.). — Active participation includes the celebrating
priest and ministers who, with due interior devotion and exact observance of the rubrics and ceremonies, minister at the altar. — A more complete and active participation of the faithful is accomplished when Holy Communion is received.
— Active participation by the faithful includes proper catechesis so that the faithful understand and freely embrace their role. This 1958 document reaffirmed that it is the baptismal “seal” or “character” that forms the foundation of active participation of the faithful at Mass.
The next paragraph in the Catechism explains that although all Christians (laity and clergy) have equal status as members of the People of God, all “do not all have the same function” (ccc 1142). Some are “chosen and consecrated by the sacrament of Holy Orders, by which the Holy Spirit enables them to act in the person of Christ the head, for the service of all the members of the Church” (ccc 1142).
Other ministries also exist, to assist with the liturgical life of the Church, including extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, ushers, “servers, readers, commentators, and members of the choir” (ccc 1143).
When all is said and done, however, it is your participation in the assembly at holy Mass that is the most important. Why? Because your internal and external disposition as “full, active, and conscious participants” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14) far outweighs the functionary roles, scheduled assignments that change with the passing of time … something to think about next time you attend Mass.