Saturday, March 28, 2009

On Liturgical Ministries and the American Way

In many parish settings, an idea is prevalent among the congregation that liturgical participation means doing a liturgical ministry. This seems to be the normative view among Catholics today, with more extreme views on both sides. The liberal/modern view is that everyone has a right to exercize a liturgical ministry (dealing with such people was one of the more difficult parts of being on Liturgy Committee). The traditional/conservative view is that no one has a right to do particular actions in the Sacred Liturgy, even the priest (though argument could be made that his ordination does give him a lot more sway in that department).

I had kept the former idea in my head for years, because my parents were formed in the years when lay ministerial participation was in vogue, and we were always one of this heavily involved, highly visible families - there'd been many a Mass when Mom was the cantor, I was also in the choir, Dad was an EMHC, and T was an altar server. Admittedly, my reason for being in liturgical choirs was more because I loved to sing than because I felt a need to be "active", but I would have ended up as an altar server were I not otherwise occupied in the choir. It was just what you did.

I eventually learned that liturgical participation means so much more than merely doing a ministry in the liturgy, and began (after far too many Masses at which I filled two or three lay-ministerial roles) to step back and learn to pray the Mass as an unremarkable member of the congregation.

Then I discovered the traditional Latin Mass, at which the sheer volume of lay ministerial roles is shrunk exponentially, and at which I had to sit in the congregation. Here I learned a completely different way of entering my soul into the priest's prayers, and, later, of communing with God even in ways that didn't look exactly like what was being said out loud! But I'm getting off-topic. :)

When you hear "It's the American Way!" and you're in a somewhat cynical mood, of what do you think? I think of self-centeredness (both as individuals and as a nation), of impatience, of complaining, and of demanding our rights (I also think of dumb lawsuits, but that's just an obnoxiously loud subpoint of this last one). Think about it - everything we've been taught since youth is that we have a right to things - good education, a decent standard of living, the freedom to live life how we want, the ability to pursue any career, to be treated with respect, a good family life, our own personal choice of leisure activities &/or vices... the list goes on. But the point is clear: I have a right to do what I want when I want it how I want it just because I want it!

Pretend there's a segue here. Or, if you prefer, pretend there's a Segway here.

In recent months, I’ve been enjoying my felt right to simply sit quietly in the congregation and pray the corporate worship of the Church in my individual way. As any Catholic with a decent singing voice knows, this never lasts long. I hadn’t even yet considered joining the parish when I was first hit up to join the choir! My fatal mistake was agreeing to sing with for Christmas. Admittedly, possibly more than half of us who sang for Midnight Mass were not regular choir members – but all the rest of them were also not regular parishioners! (I suppose making friends with the family of the choir director probably also helped drag me in.) Agreeing to sing occasionally for weekday feasts got me in even deeper. But what really put the nail in the coffin is the fact that I knew every single polyphonic piece they sang during Lent. Every single one! And I was sitting in the congregation instead of lending my voice to help the poor one other alto (who’s new at this, to boot) to round out the sound for the greater glory of God. Every single song! And I don’t even think I have that great of a repertoire of traditional liturgical music!

The point I’m trying to elicit here is this: I find myself, yet again, on the opposite side of “most people”. Instead of demanding my right to participate in the liturgy via a ministry, my “right” to not participate in the liturgy via a ministry has been forfeited. Ah, well. Me singing in the choir for liturgical events is an unbroken trend since 4th grade, and I don’t foresee it stopping any time soon. Perhaps when I have kids I’ll get a break. Maybe.


  1. That segway link was over the top, out of control etc... I bet you were waiting for months to use that.


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