Last week, we saw how the liturgy belongs to the Church universal and it is not up to an individual priest or community to change its fundamental elements. As we continue through Constitution on the Divine Liturgy from Vatican II, we see that, due to the liturgies public and universal nature (the very reason why it cannot be changed by an individual priest or community), the liturgy is ideally celebrated in a communal context.
As paragraph 27 notes: “It is to be stressed that whenever rites, according to their specific nature, make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and active participation of the faithful, this way of celebrating them is to be preferred, so far as possible, to a celebration that is individual and quasiprivate.”
Following this, paragraphs 28-29 speak to the reality that there are different roles, ministries, or functions in the liturgy. It is interesting to note that we are each called to fulfill our roles faithfully and completely, but not to take on the roles of others: “In liturgical celebrations each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.” For example, the priest has the responsibility toward the end of the Eucharistic prayer to say the doxology which is when he holds up the Body and Blood of Christ and says: “Through Him and with Him and in Him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours forever and ever.” However, the sung response, “Amen,” belongs to the people.
Normatively, the priest should not be singing or saying this response (Amen), just as the people do not say the doxology. So too, generally the lector is responsible for the first and second readings, and not the priest. Each person or group has their part and manner to participate in the liturgy. And, because the liturgy is of the utmost importance, each of us has a grave responsibility to make sure that we fulfill our part in this prayer to the best of our ability. We do this to give glory to God and to support our brothers and sisters in faith as they try to enter into divine worship.
Paragraph 30 emphasizes that this participation does not just belong to the lectors and musicians or the priest and deacons, it belongs to the whole gathered body of faithful: “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.”
The last paragraph of this section of the document, paragraph 32, touches briefly on the importance of respecting the equal dignity of everyone who comes to celebrate the Mass. With the exception of recognizing civil authorities who may be present for a special event, the paragraph makes it clear that “no other special honors are to be paid in the liturgy to any private persons or classes of persons, whether in the ceremonies or by external display.” An example of how the church safeguards this respect for every individual’s equal dignity is by means of the casket pall in funerals. Whether a casket is made of gold and diamonds or of simple rough wood, both are covered by the same cloth before the funeral Mass begins. For, as St. Peter says in the scriptures: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.”
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!